Being There (1979)

In one of his final roles, Peter Sellers stars as Chance, a mentally challenged, illiterate gardener who becomes a media darling and political superstar after a billionaire mistakes his mindless gibberish as complex socioeconomic dialogue. Director Hal Ashby portrays Chance as a product of the media, a figure whose sole perception of reality is through television and is both largely indifferent to the outside world and ignorant of his ensuing popularity with the public.  Since its debut, Being There and the Chance character has often been used as a critique the growing influence of television and commercial media in politics and society’s increasing demand for oversimplified political commentary (as noted by J. Hoberman in his book “Make My Day,” Ronald Reagan, who held a private White House screening of Being There in 1981, even borrowed Chance’s misconstrued juxtaposition of the domestic economy with the seasons, declaring “Economic recovery is like a seedling.  For a while, it grows underground and you don’t see it above ground.  And then it shoots up and seeds are sprouting all over the place.”).  Yet Ashby is far too fawning of Chance for Being There to be considered a pointed satire of a media-obsessed society, painting Sellers’ character as too amicable and charming (and, if the ending is to be interpreted literally, magical) for us to dislike him.  Although a few scenes seem to convey the danger Chance’s media dominance poses on American society, Ashby fails to truly implicate audiences in their obsession with television.

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