For Election Day: Political Satire Songs from Movies

Laugh your cares away with these comic tunes of doom

It’s Election Day, aren’t we lucky? At last, we will solve all of America’s problems the way our Founders intended: peacefully, at the ballot box. After today is over, we can go back to living a nice normal life right here in the good old USofA.

Or, as the overplayed bluesman Robert Cray once sang, “The forecast calls for pain.” We have no control over the political process at Book and Film Globe. If we did, the pandemic would be over, movie theaters would be open, and no one would allow children under the age of 10 into restaurants. But we can highlight some great political songs from the movies. While away the nervous hours with these amazing clips. You’ll thank us.

Duck Soup

The granddaddy of all musical political satire arrived in this 1933 Marx Brothers number, which captures the vibe of the times, as Mussolini and Hitler consolidated their power in Europe as the rest of the world dithered. They perfectly captured the naive militarism that would soon plunge the world into its deadliest conflict, with a hey nonny nonny and a hot cha cha.

A Face in the Crowd

Director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg warned us about the dangers of folksy populism on TV back in 1957. This satirical drama, starring a blistering Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, a drunken drifter with boundless ambition, shows what can happen when big media saddles itself to down-home sentiment. In this scene, Patricia Neal, an unethical radio producers, latches herself to Griffith’s comet. He bursts into a howl of sweaty guitar-playing and nonsense lyrics, and a star is born.

Nashville

America was at its height of political alienation in 1976, and with good reason. Watergate and Vietnam left everyone with a hangover, and the cocaine didn’t help, either. In ‘Nashville,’ Robert Altman mocked (and also lionized) the country-music industry, the last refuge of patriotism. In this number, which opens the movie, Henry Gibson, as Haven Hamilton, the king of country music, sings a nonsense paean to the military. It’s sentimental, violent, and hilarious, and it takes place during election season.

Bob Roberts

There are really too many songs to choose from in this brilliant 1992 Tim Robbins satire of Boomer narcissism. His ‘Bob Roberts’ is a right-wing folksinger who seizes upon the language and tropes of 1960s protest to rise to the top of the political system, eventually winning a Senate seat on Election Day. He runs against a weak old-school Democrat named Brickley Paiste, played by Gore Vidal, of all people, who’s no match for Roberts’ hilarious and frightening fake folk songs. Here’s one of his many duets with his sidekick “Clarissa Flan,” played to musical perfection by Austin, Texas’s own Kelly Willis.

And it’s not all folk music. Check out this “Wall Street Rap”. The style of rap is deeply dated and will make you feel old, but it’s a perfect snapshot of early-90s left-wing political thinking, and a blistering Bob Dylan parody at the same times.

Bulworth

The ultimate cringe “white man rapping” moment in cinema history came when Warren Beatty’s candidate started dropping rhymes about big money’s influence on politics. It’s peak Old Beatty, as he plays the lefty hipster while surrounded by a supporting cast of hot dancing black women. Still, the song speaks to Clinton-era corporate corruption, and it’s fun playing “find the famous actor” in the crowd reaction shots.

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

The two greatest musical moments in Oscar history? First, when Bret McKenzie won for his song “Man Or Muppet.” But even better, when the South Park musical won for “Blame Canada,” one of the greatest satirical songs ever written. A blistering indictment on censorship, jingoism, and parental hypocrisy, people will be humming this tune on their deathbeds for decades. Should we blame the matches? Should we blame the fire? Or the doctors who allowed him to expire? Heck no!

Borat

It doesn’t get much better than Sacha Baron Cohen singing the National Anthem of Kazakhstan at a Texas rodeo to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. “Other Central Asian countries have inferior potassium” indeed.

While we’re at it, let’s listen to the full song from the most recent Borat film, captured illegally at a right-wing anti-lockdown rally from July. The quality of the video is insanely blurry, but it shows us how much they edited out. “Sushi eaters, what you gonna do? Inject them with the Wuhan flu!” go the lyrics at the six-minute mark. It’ll make you laugh and cringe. But it goes to show that no matter the politics of the time, nothing stings quite like a satirical song in the movies.

Happy Election Day, even if it doesn’t go your way, which it almost certainly won’t.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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