Public Administration in the Movies
On the surface, it would seem that a film focusing on the rise and fall of a naive and idealistic Senator would have very little in common with a film that deals with 1940s mobsters and the creation of Las Vegas. Indeed, most would say that the 1939 classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, holds no commonality whatsoever with the semi-accurate, 1992 biographical film, Bugsy. Yet, that would be a very surface level assumption; under this exterior, the two films showcase organizations that are similar in many ways and the two main characters also share a similar leadership style. Through a closer examination of these two films’ main characters’ leadership style and their organizations in terms of culture, hierarchy, and leadership, it is hoped that the similarities between the two will be illuminated.
Firstly, it must be admitted that the main characters of these two films are quite different in moral character and personality, yet in attitude and perseverance, Jefferson Smith of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel of Bugsy are very similar. Both face multiple challenges that would detract a more normal man, but not either of these characters. Jefferson Smith is, as mentioned before, very idealistic and rather naive when he first is appointed by a corrupt governor to become a member of the Senate. He is hand-picked for these exact qualities, as the current political machine- run by the powerful Jim Taylor- wants a puppet that it can control for its own profit. This, as the machine comes to quickly realize, is not Jefferson Smith. Smith’s idealism is not strictly a result of his naiveté but rather from a strong moral backbone and a great belief in the ideals of justice and liberty. Smith is revered by the young boys he mentors as a Boy Ranger leader because he is truly a good man who is focused more on others and the common good than himself. It is this strong and ethical backbone that makes him the antithesis of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. Siegel is one of the most feared mobsters in the country at the start of the film and one can certainly assume that his reputation was not gained through Smith’s ethical means; evidence of this is shown clearly in the first scene of the film where Bugsy walks into an associate’s office, whom may or may not have stolen from the crime syndicate, and shoots him in cold blood in front of an office of witnesses. Bugsy is shown to be very vain- as exhibited by his obsession with tanning, facials, and mirrors- and is not above adultery- as shown in nearly every scene that has a female character present. In personality and moral fiber, these two could not be more different, but it is their leadership style that binds them as one.
Both characters exhibit an attitude of resistance towards the current organization and a perseverance in their resistance that rises above their personal interests that marks them as transformational leaders. The first mark of a transformational leader is recognizing a need for change within a system or organization and then having the vision of how it should be done. Jefferson Smith recognizes that the Senate is not upholding the ideals of justice and liberty by allowing itself to be corrupted by members that care more for personal gain than the common good. After this realization, his vision for what the Senate should stand for becomes his main guide and his motivation to keep fighting for the common good that the organization should seek to promote; the main difference between the current organization and the vision that Smith hopes will eventually take hold is in the placement of priorities. Smith’s fight is not about him, it goes beyond his personal interests and is instead a fight for the common good of all people. The organization has been so corrupted with members that care more about their personal advancement, such as Senator Paine- the once just and moral senator who has been corrupted by his need to...
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