Tainted Image of Nixon
President Richard Nixon, the 37th president, became one of the first political figures to experience both the positive and negative effects of the media. He was inaugurated in January of 1969 and remained in office until August 9, 1974, when he became the first president to ever resign from presidency. Two major events President Nixon is remembered for are the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. The media coverage experienced by President Nixon throughout his political career led to these events becoming wide spread news. Since the resignation of President Nixon, many movies have recalled the events of Watergate and the presidency in general. The wide spread knowledge of Watergate and President Nixon bled into popular culture. Television shows, such as Saturday Night Live, and movies have recalled the Watergate incident or even reenacted the events and its aftermath. One movie in particular that presented a satirical representation of President Nixon and the events of his administration was “Dick”. “Dick” portrayed President Nixon and his administration as incompetent through the offered explanations and depictions of events that occurred during Nixon’s presidency.
“Dick” was released in 1991 and starred Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, and company. The film highlighted characteristics of Nixon, played by Dan Hedaya, and events that occurred as a result of the administration. “Dick” provided explanations for Nixon’s paranoia and foreign policy regarding the Vietnam War. The film incorporated aspects of life in the 1970s, such as food and clothing, which were prominent in popular culture at this time. There were scenes in the film that showed individuals wearing attire associated with the Hippie Movement, as well as promoting the peace sign that President Nixon sported in his infamous picture. There was also an infatuation with McDonald’s seen in the movie. The movie began at the Watergate incident and tells the story of the administration until the very end of President Nixon’s presidency.
On the night of the infamous Watergate scandal, the two main characters, Betsy Jobs, played by Kirsten Dunst, and Arlene Lorenzo, played by Michelle Williams, were writing a letter to a celebrity, Bobby Sherman, about how much Arlene loved him. The teenagers were portrayed as dense to further add an amusing twist to the happenings of the Nixon administration. In an attempt to send the letter late at night to evade Arlene’s mother, the girls inadvertently alerted the security guard to the scandal and happenings at Watergate. This scene mocked the Nixon administration by demonstrating how ridiculous the attempt to enter the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and wiretap the phone lines appeared. The use of tape on the doors, a trick used by the girls in the film and the burglars in the scandal, presented the idea as simpleminded or dimwitted.
Betsy and Arlene informed the President that war and bombing were not the answers to the events in Vietnam. Further in the film, Betsy’s brother, Larry, gets drafted into the Vietnam War. In an attempt to save her brother, Betsy and Arlene decided to speak to President Nixon in order to convince him to stop the Vietnam War. After what appears to only be hours, President Nixon declared that he would begin pulling soldiers out of Vietnam and ending the war started by the Johnson administration, a fact stressed by the Nixon administration. The film presented President Nixon’s decision to stop the Vietnam War as influenced by Betsy and Arlene and their marijuana cookies.
The film offered a comedic explanation for the paranoia experienced by President Nixon: marijuana. The two girls made cookies, called Hello Dollies, using walnuts mixed with marijuana. This explanation depicts the usage of marijuana in the 1970s by the population, and joked that the President of the United States smoked as well. The first time President Nixon tried the cookies he stammered, “Feeling light headed. These are scrumptious. Well I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t felt this way in a… Whoa Hoe!” This image of President Nixon in popular culture seemed to make him more relatable and less presidential, when in actuality it made him less credible because he was under the influence of the marijuana. The marijuana laced cookies are later used in the movie to settle a disagreement between Russia and the United States. Through the use of marijuana, the movie presented President Nixon as constantly under the influence and further reasoned the incompetence of the administration.
The paranoia experienced by Nixon related to various matters that, as mentioned prior, the film depicted in a humorous manner to appeal to popular culture. As soon as the two girls began speaking about the war to President Nixon, the film showed President Nixon taping the conversation in order to record all that was being said in his office. President Nixon kept tapes of almost every conversation had in the Oval Office during his presidency. The Watergate incident was an extension of the taping issue because President Nixon wanted access to the phone calls that the DNC were receiving. The Watergate issue has become the legacy of President Nixon, as shown in the film by focusing on the Watergate scandal. The Plumbers were created in response to the leak of the Pentagon papers, which were filled with information about the Vietnam War. President Nixon became paranoid that other confidential information, such as secret relations with China, would reach the newspapers and retaliated with his own group that would stop issues as these from becoming prevalent.
During his presidency, Nixon created a group called the Plumbers as his paranoia increased. The Plumbers were created to stop information from the administration leaking into the newspapers. The film depicted President Nixon’s use of this group when, in the film, he had Betsy and Arlene trailed for fear of them informing people about the tapes they had found and listened to within the White House. The Plumbers followed the girls in a big black van that had the words ‘The Plumbers’ written on the side in big bold letters. The Plumbers tailed the girls, who walked home, from a humorously short distance away. The use of the Plumbers, and their horrible tailing technique, portrayed that President Nixon did not know how to properly complete undercover work, as seen in the Watergate scandal. The administration of President Nixon hardly receives any kind remarks by people, which “Dick” emphasized on and used to their advantage.
When running as the Vice Presidential candidate under Eisenhower, Nixon delivered a speech in which he explained and listed all of his financial expenses. He also told of a dog that they had received as a gift. That dog was named Checkers. Checkers played a big role in establishing Nixon’s ethos and relatability to the American people. The film depicted the relationship between President Nixon and Checkers. President Nixon complained that Checkers did not like him. The name of the dog in the film was not named Checkers, nor was he a black and white cocker spaniel. As such, the film conveyed that President Nixon preserved the idea of Checkers throughout his presidency to stay connected to the American people. The popular culture image of Nixon, seen in “Dick”, shows Nixon as concerned about his image, especially in light of the Watergate incident that “Dick” emphasized.
A controversial issue that arose with the Watergate incident involved erasing segments of the tapes. The erasing of big segments of information in the tapes was said to have erased confidential information. However in the film, the reason for erasing sections of the tapes was shown as being connected to Arlene, who professed her love to President Nixon. The film joked that this proclamation became the central reason for the erasing of the tapes that he was forced to hand over to Congress. Arlene’s interest in President Nixon mocked the administrations proclaimed reasoning.
The film also showed two journalists receiving a manuscript of the discussions on the tapes that incriminated President Nixon by Betsy and Arlene, under the alias ‘Deep Throat’. The identity of ‘Deep Throat’ had not yet been revealed when the film was made, allowing the film to create an explanation for the identity of ‘Deep Throat’. The film took a comical view on the events when Betsy and Arlene were made ‘Deep Throat’. Assigning the alias to the two girls continued the theme of the film in mocking the administration. These two girls played the greatest role in connecting Watergate to the White House. The investigation, that had been ongoing, was speed up by the work of the two girls. The use of Betsy and Arlene mocked the intelligence of the administration as the girls were constantly seen as dimwitted, but they were able to outmaneuver the president.
In one scene, the girls walked into the room where Nixon ordered for the mass shredding of evidence that would incriminate him in any way. There was also a suitcase full of money that was going to be used to pay off certain individuals in order to keep their mouths shut. The film later showed President Nixon attempting to pay off Arlene because she made a connection between G. Gordon Liddy and the White House. The attempts to cover the incident by Nixon further showed how he actually was a crook, no matter how many times he insisted that he was not.
The overall presentation of the Nixon administration through “Dick” focused on the administration’s explanations and depictions of various incidents. The film answered prior unanswered questions through humor and demonstrated how the actions taken by President Nixon were rooted behind his paranoia. Many of the situations and tactics used in situations were simple and still simple mistakes were made. For instance, the movie showed Liddy walking with a piece of paper filled with important information on the bottom of his shoe that Betsy and Arlene picked up as a ‘souvenir’.
Popular culture played on the legacy of the Nixon presidency. President Nixon will forever be remembered for Watergate and forgotten for the relationship he created between the United States and China. The Watergate incident, as mentioned previously, was a response to the paranoia that filled President Nixon. Popular culture manufactured this incident by not only making the events relatable to the people, but doing so in a manner that mocked and pocked fun at the events. President Nixon’s portrayal in popular culture is less than ideal. His voice and demeanor are constant sources of entertainment that individuals in comedy and popular culture use to ridicule former President Nixon.