I Got Shutdown at the Movies: 10 Pop Culture Analogies in the Government Shutdown

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The shutdown of the federal government is about to enter its fifth day, and as politicians and pundits battle it out over who’s blame and who’s going to “win,” many have fallen back on that old standby: Movie analogies:

 1. Government Shutdown as “Mean Girls”  

 This was an entire Buzzfeed picture listicle juxtaposing lines from that movie with Congress this week. Hit or miss, sure- there are, after all, very few “girls” involved at any stage of the negotiation- but I liked this one:


The defunding of Obamacare is like “fetch”- stop trying to make it happen, because it’s not going to happen. 




2. Government Shutdown as Breaking Bad:

Stephen Colbert really is on a roll, isn’t he:

3. Government Shutdown as Breaking Bad (again)

New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins doesn’t touch much on the series in this column, aside from the headline (“Congress Breaks Bad”) and the final line about how the high ratings of the Breaking Bad finale shows that “Americans would already prefer to spend time with a murderous methamphetamine dealer than the House of Representatives.” I bet anyone $1,000 that Collins’ shallow-pop-culture-analogy-loving colleague, Maureen Dowd, saw that headline and stomped her feet because she had the idea first.

4. Government Shutdown as “Fargo

I guess that was your Congress in the woodchipper

I guess that was your Congress in the woodchipper

Liberal pundit Jonathan Chait of New York magazine compares House Speaker John Boehner to another Midwestern sad sack, Jerry Lundegard:

 “Boehner resembles William H. Macy’s character in Fargo, who concocts a simple plan to have his wife kidnapped and skim the proceeds, failing to think a step forward about what happens once she’s actually seized by violent criminals. He doesn’t intend for her to be harmed, but also has no ability to control the plan once he’s set it in motion. In the end, Boehner’s Speakership is likely to end up in the wood chipper, anyway.”

In that analogy, the parts of Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud are played by Louie Gohmert and Steve King, and I guess Nancy Pelosi is Marge Gunderson.

 5. Government Shutdown as The Sopranos:

Chait again, also on Boehner’s negotiating strategy:

 Boehner is not proposing a “deal,” as in a deal involving the swapping of concessions. Indeed, all the previous agreements he cites involved the two sides making mutually agreeable policy bargains. None of them, save the 2011 debt-ceiling ransom, involved Congress threatening debt default in order to extract concessions. Boehner isn’t looking for a deal, except in the sense that Richie Aprile was looking for a deal with Beansie to share the profits from his restaurant.

 Is he saying the shutdown will end with Boehner getting shot by his wife?

6. Government Shutdown as The West Wing

There haven’t been that many fictional government shutdowns in TV or the movies, because seriously, government shutdowns are pretty boring. The only one I can think of is from The West Wing‘s fifth season, the one right after Aaron Sorkin left the show:

The shutdown was based pretty clearly on the ones in the mid-1990s during the Clinton Administration, although, as many have pointed out, the fictional shutdown was pretty prescient about what’s happening in Washington now.

7. Government Shutdown as “High Noon” 

The government shutdown isn’t really all that like “High Noon,” but Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was quoted by Politico over the weekend as saying “This is like the movie ‘High Noon.”

8. Government Shutdown as “Groundhog Day” 

Obama Groundhog





An email was sent to President Obama’s mailing list last month asking “Is This Groundhog Day?,” referring to the 41 previous attempts by the House to defund or repeal Obamacare. The same analogy has been used by CNN, NBC News, and Fox Business Channel, as well as by Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, amidst a possible toppling of his government this week.

Although in reality, all the shutdown really has in common with that great Bill Murray movie is that it’s something that’s happened before, and is happening again.




 9. Government Shutdown as “The Purge” 

Numerous commentators– including actor B.J. Novak of The Office (above)- have expressed concern that the shutdown period will resemble the movie from earlier this year, in the government has instituted an annual period in which all crime- murder included- is legalized. That hasn’t come to pass- not yet- but I could see it being floated next week as a condition for raising the debt ceiling.

Rhys Wakefield as the masked psycho leader

10. Government Shutdown as movie trailer: 

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the shutdown may amount to merely “the trailer to a movie” of a later battle over the debt ceiling. At least there’s one and not nine of them, I suppose.

I can only hope the shutdown is over prior the release, next Friday, of the hostage-situation-based Tom Hanks movie “Captain Phillips,” because the lazy columns sort of write themselves.  

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