A Face in the Crowd Wields Influence

A Face in the Crowd Wields Influence
From the short story, Your Arkansas Traveler, written by Budd Schulberg, A Face in the Crowd demonstrates how quickly power bred from influence can dissolve into disaster and despair.

Andy Griffith makes his film debut as Lonesome Rhodes, a drunken guitar player who is sleeping one off in a local jailhouse. There, he is discovered by reporter Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), producer of a local radio program which showcases ordinary people living their ordinary lives.

Shucks, good ol’ Lonesome is far from ordinary.

Using his down-home charm and folksy anecdotes, he is instantly propelled into popular culture. This down-to-earth country boy resonates with the public. He’s a friendly guy, an affable entertainer, and most of all he’s like a trusted friend, invited into millions of homes by way of radio and then by television.

It seems that he has all of the answers, and he soon discovers that his home-spun recommendations are accepted by his fans without question. As his influence grows, the masses blindly follow him. They do what he says to do, buy the products he says to buy, and they adopt his opinions as their own. As his public stands in agreement with him, he applauds them for their good judgement.

There is but one unforeseen caveat: As long as he is trusted, he isn’t tested.

The film was critically acclaimed when it premiered, and its timeless message about the abuses of power was not buried subtly in the screenplay but rather presented outright for all to see. Rhodes is an opportunist and a manipulator, but he is also a talented marketer. He has a knack for knowing what others want to hear, and he uses that knowledge to his advantage.

As Marcia Jeffries, Patricia Neal plays the reporter who discovers Lonesome and virtually paves the way for his success as an entertainer. Unlike his fanbase, she knows the truth about Lonesome’s pathological nature; yet, this doesn’t prevent her from falling in love with him and going along with his schemes. She, too, has fallen under his influence.

Rhodes is truly lonesome. With the exception of Jeffries, members of his inner circle are simply Remoras. They’re attached to Lonesome, gleaning as many benefits as they can, without questioning his direction or his motives.

As his fabricated yarns slowly morph into ruthless deceptions, it is obvious that Lonesome isn’t hungry for popularity, he is hungry for power. It isn’t until Lonesome intends to influence an election that an anguished Jeffries is forced to stop him.

Although A Face in the Crowd is a work of fiction, its warning remains a valid part of our current, internet dependent world.

There have always been pitchmen, snake-oil salesmen, grifters and cons. While not all who engage in the art of influence are criminals, all influence comes with temptation and responsibility.

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