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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bob Roberts fakes an assassination attempt, manipulates the media, and cultivates a gang of the disaffected who eventually kill a journalist. Bob also sings about stringing drug users up by the highest tree, preaches self-interest, and fosters anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, and anti-minority sentiment among his devoted followers ... all in the name of satire, of course.
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What's the story?
What would happen if a fascist leader -- the kind with a funny mustache and a taste for genocide -- came back as Bob Dylan? That's the question Tim Robbins asks and answers icily in BOB ROBERTS. Robbins wrote, directed, and stars as the eponymous, clean-cut and charismatic folk singer who soothingly sings of "taking my inheritance and investing it with pride" and urges his followers to take crack users and "string 'em up from the highest tree." He sings about welfare cheats and lazy, complaining liberals and attracts acolytes in the form of angry, young, rich, white boys. But can Roberts, who was raised on a commune and later forged a check to pay for college, evade criminal charges (that he's stolen affordable housing money to pay for drug-smuggling planes) long enough to win the election? Will his charisma hold out?
Is it any good?
As in Wag the Dog, the answer is a foregone conclusion; but unlike that other '90s-era political satire, Bob Roberts is as humorless as a heart attack. Robbins doesn't make any attempt to get viewers comfortable with Roberts, and, in fact, invites derision. "Bob Roberts is Nixon, but he's shrewder, more complicated," says a skeptical newscaster, one of many such heavy-handed speeches in the film. "Here's a man who adopted the persona and mindset of a free-thinking rebel and turned it on itself: The rebel conservative. That's deviant brilliance. What a Machiavellian master."
Like most dystopian tales (1984 and Brave New World come to mind), Bob Roberts carries its premise to the most extreme conclusion. So here, African American men lose their lives, and the public is tricked into electing Roberts without ever hearing how he would govern. We already know the answer when that same newscaster asks, "Are we to believe that what Bob Roberts wants to see in America is a compliant and silent public which respects the wishes and actions of its presidents no matter how immoral or illegal?"
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how they consume both political media and how they react to political candidates. Where do they get their news? Do they trust it? Do they look for alternative forms of media? What kind of political candidate are they attracted to? Do they notice when their fears are stirred by politicians? Are they savvy citizens as well as savvy media consumers? Do you think you could become enthralled with a politician?
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