John McCain – Three Factors of Character Type

john_mccain ETB ScreenwritingI’ve written extensively on the differences in Character Type between John McCain and Barack Obama.  Both candidates’ response to the recent American financial crisis is tremendously revealing of all aspects of their Character Types.

A Character Type is made up of three key factors:

1. Immediate Tactics: This is how a character reacts to a specific challenge, opportunity or threat.  It is a character’s immediate tactical response or maneuvers to deal with a specific problem or obstacle in the short-term.

2.  Long-term Orientation: This is how the character views the world, sees his or her role in it and is what a character believes is true about life and love.  It is a character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self.

3.  Strategic Approach: This is how a character goes about leading or getting things done over the long haul.  It is how a character works with others overall. It is how a character takes charge or commands to achieve a larger goal.  Strategy deals with the art of of obtaining a grand overarching objective.

Each of these key factors is motivated by the fight, flight or embrace/submit response.  These are the three possible biological reactions to anything.  A character can confront something (fight).  He or she can withdraw from something (flight).  Or a character can embrace or submit to something.

Today let’s look at John McCain.  He is a classic Power of Idealism character.

1. Immediate Tactics: Power of Idealism characters embrace an opportunity, challenge or threat as a personal test of courage. They see difficulty or opportunity as an individual call of destiny. When presented with a challenge or threat, their first response is to move toward it as a mission or personal call to greatness.

These characters believe their immediate tactic must be a grand gesture or bold move. They want to display individual heroism or do something uniquely dramatic. They believe their extraordinary actions will somehow inspire others to follow their lead.

When confronted with a challenge, opportunity or threat, John McCain opts for a big “game-changing” response. When financial crisis seemed inevitable, McCain boldly announced he was suspending his campaign. He parachuted into the middle of the crisis in Washington, calling for a Presidential level meeting of the candidates and Congressional leaders. He made a dire and dramatic pronouncement that “the country could be plunged into another Depression by Monday.” He then claimed victory for himself as the leader of his party before the actual vote.

2. Long-term Orientation: Power of Idealism characters view life through a very idiosyncratic lens. They withdraw from the crowd, popular opinion or conventional wisdom to protect or promote their own individuality and special distinctiveness. Their philosophy is to follow their own personal star or individual sense of destiny regardless of the cost.

Noteworthiness, individuality or personal eccentricity is what these characters value most highly in themselves and others. John McCain proudly calls himself a maverick or an outsider. He is especially proud of his special or unique status as a Viet Nam POW.

These characters are lone wolf heroes. If they must go down in flames to prove their heroism so be it. McCain has often said: “I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war (in Iraq).” He sees his position on an unpopular war as a heroic offer of personal sacrifice for the nation.

McCain most often uses the word “I” in his campaign speeches. “I would fire the SEC chairman.” “I am suspending my campaign.” “I will follow Bin Laden to the gates of hell.” He sees leadership in terms of a singular heroic action leading the charge.

These characters believe that passion is everything. At their worst, Power of Idealism characters suffer from delusions of grandeur. They can be self-destructive and/or self-harming. In their Dark Side they are narcissistic, melancholy, self-pitying, cynical and embittered.

3. Strategic Approach: A Power of Idealism character’s overall method of working with others toward a goal is to step back or withdraw for personal reasons. These characters delay taking action until they are certain how they feel about something. They must feel sufficiently inspired, encouraged or affirmed in order to act or move forward.

When impassioned or inspired, these characters lead best in short bursts of intense activity or creativity. They engage others by a personal appeal to valor and courage or a romantic call for patriotic action. But they are not overly concerned about the consequences of their bold gesture.

They withdraw from the tedious small tasks involved in the daily execution of a command. These character’s greatest liability as a leader is that they often lack the patience to see through the practical application of their dramatic appeal. They don’t always adequately follow-up. They are often unprepared (or not inspired) to make the niggling, routine or ordinary small sacrifices long-term leadership requires.

Power of Idealism characters are rarely interested in sticking around for the clean-up after their big moment is over. They would rather withdraw into the glorious memory of the grand occasion or glorious battle. These characters need to act in the normal and ordinary course of things. They need to learn that everything doesn’t have to be individually suited to their personal sense of destiny or their passionate individual temperament.

John McCain took a long time to recognize the financial crisis. When he felt a call to action was necessary, he took the problem on personally, made a grand gesture and then said very little in the Presidential level meeting he so urgently called. His bold interjection of personal Presidential politics actually derailed an early accord that was building in Congress.Then he withdrew and left it to others to complete the task.

McCain’s actions during the crisis seem erratic because the dynamic opposites of his Immediate Tactics (embrace) and his Strategic Approach (withdraw) pull him in two different directions. He has been criticized for a lot of “sound and fury” that is followed by very little of the detail-oriented and painstaking leadership that solving a complex problem requires. He has admitted that the details of economic policy are not his strong suit. All of this has produced a whipsaw effect that makes him seem unstable.

Tomorrow I will look at the dynamic opposites in Power of Imagination Barack Obama’s Immediate Tactics and Strategic Approach. Interestingly, Obama’s dynamics are exactly the same: Immediate Tactic (embrace) and Strategic Approach (withdraw). This combination manifests itself very differently because a Power of Imagination character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self is poles apart from that of the Power of Idealism character.

Long-term Orientation is the prism through which a character sees everything. The same tactics and approach can create totally dissimilar strengths and weaknesses, problems and opportunities because the two characters view the world so differently.

Raising the Bar – Not Bochco at His Best

raising-the-bar-etbscreenwritingAccording to Media Post Publications: “TNT’s Raising the Bar (Steven Bochco’s new legal show) rocketed to a record-setting 7.7 million viewers in its early September premiere. But in the most recent outing–week four– the show’s viewer balloon has much less air–now down to 2.3 million viewers in its most recent outing (this past week).”

Why aren’t viewers more enthused? Want a quick take-away line: The audience needs to be actively concerned about a character’s sanity, safety or soul to be truly engaged.

Power of Idealism

Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays the show’s hero and nominal protagonist, Jerry Kellerman, a lawyer in the New York City public defender’s office. He is a classic Power of Idealism character. Kellerman is rebellious, passionate, intense, short-tempered and given to explosive dramatic grandstanding on principle. Think of a late-twenties, at the beginning of his career, John McCain with floppy (slightly greasy) hippie-length hair and a baggy suit. Not a pretty sight, and for my taste, an over the top portrayal. There’s too much flailing about and not enough deep smoldering danger, which is key to the most delicious angry young man characters.

Power of Conscience

Jane Kaczmarek, plays Judge Trudy Kessler, Kellerman’s nemesis with an Ann Coulter-style mean streak. Judge Kessler is a Power of Conscience character gone a bit to the Dark Side. She is smart, inflexible, harsh, a stickler for rules and proper conduct and very concerned with “judicial process.” She’d be much more interesting if her desire to rise in elective office were driven by duty and sense of mission rather than the desire for personal accomplishment. She’s a bit blurry right now. Hillary Clinton at her steely best would be a good model here.

Power of Ambiton

Melissa Sagemiller plays Michelle Ernhardt, Kellerman’s girlfriend, and a young prosecutor. She is a beautiful highly-motivated Power of Ambition character who will do anything for a “win.” She is willing to bend the law until it breaks, play fast and loose with the facts and wants to rise quickly in the prosecutor’s office. Not suprisingly, Ernhardt and Kellerman repeatedly clash but their arguments are predictable.

Not Enough Personal Urgency

Unfortunately, everyone is pretty much a stock character without the deep rich internal conflicts so viscerally present in Bochco’s sensational NYPD Blue. There is little personal urgency for any of the characters. The audience doesn’t need to worry for principal character, Jerry Kellerman, like they worried for Andy Sipowicz. The wrenching internal struggle for the character is absent and so the audience’s emotional bond is weak.

The setting has urgency and certainly, crime and punishment is always a high stakes arena. That’s not enough. The audience needs to be actively concerned about a character’s sanity, safety or soul to be truly engaged. The audience should be forced to tune in because personal disaster is always right around the corner. It’s like cheering for your favorite sports team– if you don’t tune in and personally “will” them to victory they could lose! And if they lose, then next time they need you all the more!!

Lack of Complexity

Equally problematic for Raising the Bar, are its rather pat simplistic stories. Everything gets wrapped up neatly in less than 44 minutes. I understand the need to have “stand alone” episodes for commercial reasons but short-cutting story and tidying loose ends in a hurry can cripple authenticity and credibility. Too often the show does this and doesn’t “feel” real. The iconic Law and Order, an endless replayed staple on TNT, does this much better.

The degree of “innocent” accused criminals also hampers authenticity. It is stereotypical to portray everyone represented by the public defender’s offfice as guilty. But it begs credulity to believe so many of those charged are somehow “not guilty.”

Most of the cases have a racial angle and reach for social significance, a Bochco trademark. But in Raising the Bar the really tough questions of racism and the wrenching struggle to protect the rights of individuals vs the safety of society are not tackled in a complex, emotionally gut-wrenching way. NYPD Blue had a much more intense, multi-layered and explosive take on racism that brought the topic alive and made it feel real and very urgent to the story.

At this stage, the show lacks sufficient authenticity and personal urgency to be a hit. I don’t feel compelled to tune in and it looks like many viewers who initially gave the show a look aren’t compelled to come back. Raising the Bar has a second season order but Bochco and company will have to dig deeper if they want a third season.

#WritingAdviceWednesday – Coming of Age Films and Power of Idealism

400blows ETBScreenwriterComing of Age films, as I define them, are Power of Idealism films.  Anyone telling stories about young people should see a wide selection from the following films.

They offer a broad diverse but incredibly consistent view of the struggles, values at stake and conflicts involved in growing-up and defining one’s self as an individual.  Get out your Netfilx list!  Drop me a line if I’ve missed one of your favorites.

▪  The 400 Blows
▪    8 Mile
▪    Almost Famous
▪    Amarcord
▪    American Graffiti
▪    Angus
▪    Au revoir, les enfants
▪    The Basketball Diaries
▪    Bend It Like Beckham
▪    Boyz n the Hood
▪    The Breakfast Club
▪    Breaking Away
▪    The Chosen
▪    Cinema Paradiso
▪    Dead Poets Society
▪    Dear Frankie
▪    Diner
▪    Dirty Dancing
▪    Donnie Darko
▪    Driving Lessons
▪    East of Eden
▪    Educating Rita
▪    Endless Love
▪    Footloose
▪    Giant
▪    Girl, Interrupted
▪    The Graduate
▪    A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
▪    Juno
▪    The Karate Kid
▪    Labyrinth
▪    The Last Picture Show
▪    The Lion King
▪    A Little Romance
▪    Little Women (1949 film)
▪    The Lost Boys
▪    Love & Basketball
▪    My Brilliant Career
▪    My Girl
▪    Old Yeller (1957 film)
▪    The Outsiders
▪    Pretty in Pink
▪    Real Women Have Curves
▪    Reality Bites
▪    Rebel Without a Cause
▪    A River Runs Through It
▪    Say Anything…
▪    Sixteen Candles
▪    Sounder
▪    Splendor in the Grass
▪    St. Elmo’s Fire
▪    Stand by Me
▪    Summer of ’42
▪    A Walk to Remember
▪    Whale Rider
▪    What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
▪    The Wild Ones
▪    White Oleander
▪    Y tu mamá también

John McCain – Power of Idealism

john_mccain ETBScreenwritingIn watching the grand drama of the American election play out, it’s interesting to look at the candidates’ Character Type.  John McCain is a classic Power of Idealism character.

John McCain’s campaign slogan during the primaries was: “Never Surrender.”

The words McCain and others use in describing him and his campaign are:  courageous, hero, honor, valor and maverick.  When he is criticized his opponents often use words like:  hot-tempered, cranky, loose cannon, temperamental and stubborn. These are the keywords in describing or deriding a Power of Idealism character.

Power of Idealism characters often play the role of the rebel, the outsider, the iconoclast or the maverick.  That has always been McCain’s role in the Republican party. He has prided himself (whether true or not) on his independence, autonomy and straight talk.

His statement on his current campaign his website is:  “I am running for President of the United States because I believe in the greatness of this nation as a beacon of goodwill throughout the world.”

These characters often look to the greatness of a more glorious and noble past. Their stories often take place at the end of an era.  McCain harks back to what he sees as a nobler era of American world dominance.

He views patriotism in terms of traditions and symbols.  That’s what the whole flag pin controversy is about.  How can you respect flag and country unless you display it proudly?

Barack Obama is a Power of Imagination character and sees his role, the country and patriotism very differently. I did a detailed analysis of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in a previous newsletter.

Revolutionary or Rebel

tom_joad_ETB ScreenwritingMy last day in Milwaukee is a sausage buying extravaganza.  I stopped at Usingers and bought several varieties with their own special spices.  Flying back to Santa Monica tomorrow.

I’ve been working on the final edit of the Power of Conscience eBook.  That particular Character Type is often confused with the Power of Idealism character.  The distinction between the two is subtle but clear. It is rather like the difference between a revolutionary and a rebel.

A revolutionary is someone who works for political or social change.  The orientation is toward changing and improving society.  The basic orientation of a Power of Conscience character is to seek moral and ethical perfection. They believe they could do better, others could improve and the world could be a better place.

A rebel is a person who resists authority, control, or tradition.  The orientation is more individualistic. The basic orientation of the Power of Idealism character is to seek aesthetic perfection.  Noteworthiness, rarity, distinctiveness, individuality and/or the unusual, idiosyncratic or eccentric are what these characters value most highly in themselves and others.

Power of Conscience characters cause revolution to conform society, as a whole, to a higher moral or ethical standard. Power of Idealism characters rebel against the status quo to resist authority or conformity and to promote or preserve their personal autonomy.

A Power of Conscience character looks at the world like this:

“Wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build– I’ll be there, too.”  Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) in The Grapes of Wrath

A  Power of Idealism character looks at the world like this:

Mildred: “What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?”
Johnny: “Whaddya got?”  Johnny Strable (Marlon Brando) in The Wild One

“And maybe there’s no peace in this world, for us or for anyone else, I don’t know. But I do know that, as long as we live, we must remain true to ourselves.”  Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) in Spartacus