Monday, July 18, 2011

Gilliam vs. Madison

Mays Gilliam
Portrayed in the movie Head of State by Chris Rock
Age: Rock was 42 when the movie was released

PROS: No stranger to hard work — When we first meet Mays Gilliam, he's serving as alderman to Washington D.C.'s fictitious 9th Ward. And damn if he isn't working the hell out of that job.
Now, yes, within a few minutes (in movie time) of all this, Mays loses his job, his car, his girlfriend, his office, and his bike. But, really, most of that can be chalked up to the fact that the girlfriend in question is somewhat crazy. And the rest is because you shouldn't park your damn bike in the middle of the street.

Point is, Gilliam is a leader, a problem solver, and an all around helluva guy. The kind of guy who knows how to handle himself in the Arena.

Man of integrity — Remember that clip in the beginning? When he told the guy he'd drive him to work if the bus line was shut down? Well, on election day, two big things happen: first, the Teamsters, who have been on the fence throughout the election, decide they're going to endorse Gilliam. This is seen as being somewhat important. However, the same day, that bus line gets shut down. So, what does Mays do? He takes his campaign bus down to the 9th ward, and drives everyone to work, Teamsters be damned.
SPOILER: It gets funky.
The Gilliam campaign is full of moments like that. Even when they're low on cash, Gilliam won't accept a donation from a bottling company that traffics in a malt liquor called Crib. Crib comes with a nipple top, and Mays is just slightly concerned that they're marketing to children. So that means, no deal with the company for Gilliam.

What does all of this have to do with the Arena? Well, it means he's not going to go in for any tricky business. And that's good, right?

CONS: When thing go bad, they go REALLY bad — The day that Mays Gilliam was tabbed as his party's candidate for president? That day actually started out kinda shitty for him. Actually, the fun began the previous night, when his girlfriend announced she was dumping him. Oh, and that she had neglected to take care of any of his bills, as per their arrangement. Which meant that his car got repossessed. The next day, he biked to his office to find that he had been evicted from said office. As he processes all that, a bus runs over his bike.
Mays doesn't seem to realize that he's been left with half of a perfectly-functioning unicycle. You gotta think of the positives, here.
And the fun doesn't end there! He heads downtown to find he's being replaced as 9th Ward Alderman (which seems weird, because... isn't that an elected position? Whatever, D.C. politics are weird). And when things couldn't get any lower, he runs into his ex- again, and promptly receives his own personal thunderstorm.
*insert the "Price is Right" fail sound clip, here.
So yeah, everything basically falls apart on him, all at once. This is a pattern that recurs later in the movie. After a remark Mays meant to be off-camera starts circulating, his campaign quickly finds itself part of a Bad News Montage.
The pattern is clear. Once something starts going wrong for Mays Gilliam, everything else follows suit. So, if his first move in the Arena is to trip over his own shoelaces, well, you can bet everything is going to go downhill for him, and quickly.

Man of Mystery — The thing about Mays Gilliam is, we don't know a heck of a lot about him. You'd think that being the focus of a 90-minute motion picture would lend insight into one's character. But over the course of Head of State, how much do we really learn about Mays Gilliam? Well, there's that he's committed to helping people. That's good! That's a quality trait. We also learn that he's unconventional, which can be good or bad, depending on how things shake out.

But what do we learn about his background? Not much, other than that he has a brother who is a bit of a thief. Well, I mean, in the movie, his brother is a bail bondsman. But really, the guy is played by Bernie Mac, and damn if Mac doesn't try to steal the movie right out from under Chris Rock's nose.

James Madison
4th President of the United States
Served: 1809-1817
Ages served: 57-65

PROS: Kind of a big deal, constitutionally — Madison may have a strategic edge. I’m saying this because (1) all of his ideas have remarkable staying power and (2) the First Amendment says I can say that (ehh, that’s mostly true, but you get the point). The fact that I’m able to quote the First Amendment 220 years after it was ratified is a testament to the staying power of the staying power of the ideas that come from Madison — the “Father of the Constitution” and the author of the United States Bill of Rights.
"I am your father!" Madison said after cutting off the U.S. Constitution's hand.
The U.S. had been operating under the Articles of Confederation, which was a document that loosely linked the 13 states under one military alliance. It kind of got the job done during the Revolutionary War, but with no central power keep the things in line, it kind of sucked. Like, “poor farmer organized a private army to try to invade a federal armory” suck.

That’s when Madison got the ball rolling on changing things rather than letting things devolve into allowing 13 bankrupt states go it alone. Long story slightly abridged, the U.S. Constitution was drafted, with Madison playing a major role. Getting 13 quasi-independent states to go along with this agreement that pretty much took away a bulk of the states’ rights was tough, so Madison headed the writing of the Federalist Papers, which argued for the ratification of the Constitution.

When the states ratified the Constitution, but still bristled at the fact that it granted the federal government too much power and that it didn’t enumerate rights to the people, BOOM, Madison gave us the Bill of Rights.
"I was an amendment-to-be. Oh yes, an amendment-to-be,
And I'm glad that they ratified me."
The fact that he dreamed up all of this and that we’re still living under this system experimental system centuries later show that Madison is a pretty masterful at planning things out.

Stood up to a superpower — When Madison was president, the U.S. was still getting its bearings. We were also getting no respect from England, who had been treating us as a colony despite the fact that we had actually successfully gained our independence a few decades back. They blocked our trade with France, encouraged Indian tribes to attack settlers and even took our sailors and forced them to serve in the Royal Navy.

What was a militarily ill-prepared nation to do? Declare war against a major superpower, of course.
The only royalty we're interested in is our idiotic Hollywood royalty, thank you very much.
Oh, and we're going to go crazy for your royal weddings too, I suppose.
How well did that go? Not well at first. British troops occupied our nation’s capital and destroyed the White House. Madison wasn’t there at the time. Instead he was away personally rallying the American troops. What kind of 63-year-old man spends four solid days on a horse to tell people to fight the way more powerful nation? Madison the badass, that’s who. Madison and his ragtag army led by brilliant generals — like Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison — eventually won the war and the British stepped off from our American grill.

Point is, he stared down a major superpower and rallied what little military he had to defeat it. He’s pretty fearless. Plus, we got a poem that would later become our national anthem and a pretty nice overture out of the whole deal, as well.

CONS: Dainty and delicate — At 5’4”, Madison was the shortest president. It’s not even close competition. The next shortest presidents are Martin Van Buren and Benjamin Harrison, who were 2 inches taller. And it’s not like he was just a stocky powerhouse, either. He was said to have weighed about 100 pounds.

Okay, maybe he’s just wiry. Hmm, it doesn’t seem so. When it was time for him to go away to college, he decided not to go to William & Mary, like most well-educated Virginians of the time did. He worried that Williamsburg’s climate would strain his health. To paraphrase Steely Dan, he said, "Whoa no! William & Mary won't do." Instead, he went to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton).
"Princeton allowed that wuss here?"
And even then, he spent so much time studying that he did some damage to his health, possibly even suffering a nervous collapse.

If he can’t handle hitting the books, can he handle getting hit?

Public displays of kickass and his lack thereof — Madison was a brilliant writer with great ideas, but he was a terrible public speaker. When he was pitching the idea of the Constitution to the Virginia ratifying commission, he had to go up against Patrick Henry. Yes, the “Give me liberty or give me death” guy who was generally considered one of the great orators of the time.

Madison only squeaked by in the debate only because he laid out the facts of how amazingly good his ideas were.

I don’t know how this tack will do in the Arena. I’m guessing probably not well. He might write a brilliant piece explaining why he should win this fight, and he would probably win over most of the spectators. If left to debate it, he might do kind of well, assuming his reasons are thought out and air-tight. But when it comes to actually throwing punches, Little Jemmy might be in over his head.

The Fight

Tony: So let me get this straight: Madison's big pluses are all about how good he is at writing? How persuasive his arguments for federalism are? Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all of that good stuff...  but did he write any of that with someone punching him repeatedly in the face? I'm thinking he didn't. If he did, more power to him, and that'll probably change the dynamic of the fight. But history says... not so much.

Doug: Yes, Madison was being punched repeatedly in the face by humidity. Humidity doesn't rest and it hits the entire body all at once. Can you appreciate the difficult balancing act the Constitutional Convention was? He was finding a compromise between Alexander Hamilton and his camp and Thomas Jefferson and his. And he did this all in the oppressive heat of a Philadelphia summer, wearing full 18th century garb complete with powdered wigs. I've lived in Philadelphia in the summer. That humidity is not one to mess with. This is coming from someone who spent most of his summer days wearing shorts. I lived in modern air conditioning. The biggest compromises I had to make was to figure out where my friends and I were going to drink that night.

Tony: Okay, see, humidity doesn't exactly leave bruises, does it? Or draw blood? Or break bones? Mays Gilliam does-- or at least, I'm fairly certain that he could do those things. Also, I'd like to posit the following: being in Philadelphia during the summer sucks, granted. However, there's an important difference between your Philadelphia experience and Madison's: you could get away from that ridiculousness with the application of air conditioning. Madison didn't have that luxury, obviously. Which means that since he had nothing to compare it to, he had less reason to complain about it. I mean, what would that sound like? "Gosh, it's hot and humid today, just like every day since March." He's probably well-suited, or at least, well-adjusted to the conditions.

Doug: Humidity certainly wears a guy out. And it's not like Madison was just sitting around complaining about the heat. He was busy writing the basis of government for a future superpower. That's some pretty difficult shit.

Tony: Yeah, it's difficult, but again-- he wasn't exactly in life-threatening jeopardy the entire time. Let's have some perspective, here.

Doug: No, I agree. Madison's time with the Constitutional Convention wasn't life threatening. I'm just imagining myself moderating an argument between the Federalists and the Republicans during a Philly summer and just turning to George Mason and asking him — possibly even begging — for a punch square to the face, because it's probably better than having to pay attention to the other things going on in that room.

Anyway, it's going to feel nice to him when he steps into the somewhat climate-controlled Arena. I realize we've never established if the Arena is climate-controlled or not, but I'm going to say it is just because the Arena's owners are trying to draw a crowd here. It's for the comfort of the spectators, not necessarily the combatants, but they get to enjoy it as well.

Tony: No, the Arena is totally climate-controlled. Because, seriously. We haven't exactly established where the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™ is located, but chances are better than not it's in some place that's hotter than balls and more humid than an Amazonian locker room. It's climate-controlled.

Meanwhile, let's talk about Gilliam. See, Gilliam is no stranger to a little punching and jabbing, seeing as though he and his brother have been roughhousing for years. It's not quite fight to the death territory, but it'll probably serve him well in a fight with Shrimpboy McAmendments over here.

Doug: I'm a little confused how being a man of integrity, like Gilliam, is of any help in the Arena. You can't be a man of integrity and then take down one of our country's forefathers. Madison single-handedly raised an army while the British were raiding Gilliam's hometown. You think Gilliam's man of integrity would be able to turn around and start wailing on this guy?

Tony: A man of integrity knows that being true to himself means surviving a cage match against some short, dead, white president. Gilliam may respect Madison, but that doesn't mean he's going to lie down and get (very slowly) pummeled to death.

Doug: I don't see how Gilliam is going to keep the shitstorm of misfortune from raining on him while he's in the Arena. Obviously, he was able to get over it long enough to get elected president, but who's to say it won't turn right back around? Madison was able to turn around his misfortune by kicking the British out and making them realize that they can't push the U.S. around anymore.

Tony: So your entire argument comes down to Madison somehow being able to marshal the fortunes of fate enough to make Gilliam unlucky? Seems like a dicey strategy to me.

Doug: No, I'm not saying Madison is going to wait around for Gilliam's luck to crap out. I'm saying that Madison is going to rally until the inevitable happens. Let me remind you of the 62-year-old president who, when Britain backed his country up against the wall, rode around for four days nonstop to get an army up and going. When returned to what was left of Washington, his Cabinet couldn't believe that he still hand the energy to go around and command-in-chief.

Madison could probably handle feuding political parties, invading Brits AND Gilliam all at the same time.

The Chief: Sounds like it's time for our readers to decide! Polls are now open, and will remain so through Friday 9 a.m., MDT. Have at it!

Gilliam vs. Madison


  1. I feel as if I must comment on Chris Rock, not Gilliam for a brief moment: "Rock was born in Andrews, South Carolina. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. A few years later, they relocated and settled in the working-class area of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

    Rock was bused to schools in predominately white neighborhoods of Brooklyn where he endured bullying and beatings from white students. As he got older, the bullying became worse and Rock's parents pulled him out of James Madison High School."

    First of all, Ironic that the school name was his now opponent. Secondly, and more importantly, it must have been hard for Rock growing up in Confederate South, and then Brooklyn during the 60's and Early 70's. I would assume the same would be true for Gilliam - no matter where he may have grown up. I bet there was some pent-up aggression somewhere inside Gilliam's past to reward Madison with a BK Beat down! Hell, I was bullied a lot when I was a kid, and if I were in a fight right now, I bet I would conger up some of those memories to help kick some ass.
    So I think Gilliam has the edge. Youth aside, I think deep down Gilliam has a sub conscience score to settle with this valiant, yet slave-owning forefather.

  2. I agree with Timbo; I think President Gilliam upon being face to face with an actual Virginian slave holder, would get a surge of murderous rage and righteous anger and use that to, in his mind, redress centuries of institutional racism by exercising some cruel & unusual punishment on Madison.
    Plus President Madison was only 100 lbs- I doubt his punches would have much power.