Saturday, February 21, 2004

Talk Hard!

I've been reading a lot of post-mortems the last few days and comments on same from various bloggers and comments to those bloggers comments, leading, of course, to a bit of comment overload.

But I do have one more comment to add to the mix: I was struck by the repeated comments by many that the Dean legacy would only have meaning if it resulted in a continued rise in "insurgent" campaigns against the old-style political machine. That machine may still have had enough energy to strike down Dean (as mentioned in the previous post), but would it be able strike down multiple campaigns? Could the viral strategy of the Dean campaign lead to a new viral politics that produces more independently minded politicians who are not beholden to the establishment?

This reminds me of one of my favorite movies, a little picture called "Pump Up The Volume". PUTV has some of the standard elements of a teen-angst drama, but it manages to move beyond the confines of the formula to present a compelling image of the powerless standing up and exerting the power that they never realized they had. I might call the movie a "guilty pleasure" but I'm not the least bit guilty about enjoying it.


PUTV is the story of a high school run by a repressive principal and her minions (the football coach and the school guidance counselor) who are more interested in boosting the performance rating of the school than in actually teaching the kids they are responsible for. Towards that end, the principal black-balls "troubled teenagers" and kicks them out of school, thus brining up the overall school rankings and winning plaudits for her inspirational leadership (ahh, the wonders of standardized testing).

Into this mix comes Mark (played by Christian Slater), a shy teenager whose family has just moved to town because his father was hired as commissioner of the local school system. His father is oblivious to the kind of actions the principal is taking at the school. He only sees the high marks and not the lives wasted by the quest for those marks.

Mark, has problems making friends and withdraws to his basement where he uses a small transmitter his father bought him to run a pirate radio station. He adopts an on-air personality whose moniker is Happy Harry Hardon ("Talk Hard!" is the slogan of his show). Happy Harry is the mirror image of the shy Marl from the "real" world. He cracks jokes about masturbation, spins obscene and profane music about sex and violence, and rails against the rampant angst and despair he sees all around him.

To Mark's surprise, his show, which he never expected anyone to listen to, becomes an instant hit amongst the kids at his high school. Unbeknownst to him, Mark has tapped into something that he wasn't even consciously aware of and becomes the head of a rebellious movement in the high school halls (sound familiar?) Mark is at once both thrilled and freaked out by the influence he wields over the kids around him. After all, he's just this shy geeky kid who has no more clue about what it all means than anyone else. All he wants is someone to tell him what he should do. Yet now all these desperate kids are looking to him for the answers.

The establishment powers (the principal, coach, guidance counselor and even his father (at first)) work hard to shut down this revolution within their midst. Showing once again that the greatest fear of those in power is that those they wield influence over might realize that they aren't as powerful as they want to appear.

In the end Mark is tracked down and arrested. But as he is being dragged away by the police he calls out to the crowds of kids around him to "Talk Hard!". As the screen fades to black we hear the sound of other young kids crackling in the ether as their own pirate radio shows blossom all around the country.


I would hope the analogy here is obvious enough for everyone to see it.

Whether the slogan is "Talk Hard" or "You Have The Power", the message is the same: we can change the world. Perhaps only in small, but still significant, ways. But we can't do it if we aren't willing to step outside our presumed limits and take chances. "Failing" on an individual level is impossible so long  as we can inspire others to achieve great things.

In that sense, Howard Dean will have failed only if we fail to fight on.

Talk Hard!


Blogger Anne KG Murphy said...

Hi there! I totally believe in what you're going for. I also wanted to let you know about a new blog I've started, at

It aims to speak primarily to young people, pulling from the Pump up the Volume message exactly as you describe here. If you would like to guest blog there some time drop me an email at talktome(at) and let me know.

8:12 AM  
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