If you think of Texas filmmakers, Richard Linklater surely comes to mind right away. Despite the success and acclaim he has steadily garnered over the past three decades, the director of Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and the Before trilogy remains resolutely based in Austin, and even continues to set many of his movies in his home state. If you think of Texas politicians, can you possibly keep Ted Cruz from coming to mind? The state’s junior senator has remained a fixture on the highest-profile American political scene since at least his candidacy in the Republican presidential primaries of 2016. Linklater and Cruz’s fan bases might not overlap much, and given Texas’ famously enormous size, the men themselves may never have run into each other before. But now, in the form of political advertisements, their worlds have collided.
Since his rise to prominence, Cruz has suffered something of an image problem. (“Cruz may be unique among politicians anywhere in that every mention of his name is always accompanied by remarks on his loathesomeness,” as essayist Eliot Weinberger puts it.) His campaign in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections has attempted to correct that problem with the slogan “Tough as Texas,” but not every Texan has accepted its portrayal of the candidate as a macho, no-nonsense son of the Lone Star State.
Certainly Linklater seems to have had trouble swallowing it, seeing as he’s directed a couple of video ads for the unambiguously named political action committee Fire Ted Cruz. Both feature actor Sonny Carl Davis, seemingly staying in the character he played in Bernie, one of Linklater’s most thoroughly Texan pictures. In them he airs the kind of criticisms of Cruz one might imagine coming from the mouth of the straight-talking and somewhat ornery Texas everyman.
In Linklater’s first anti-Cruz spot, Davis questions whether someone who so publicly allies himself with a president who insulted him so viciously during the last election has truly demonstrated a Texas-grade toughness (not that he puts it quite that way). The second moves on to a territory even more suited to fightin’ words: cheeseburgers. It seems that Cruz recently called his election rival Beto O’Rourke a “Triple Meat Whataburger liberal who is out of touch with Texas values.” But to the mind of Davis’ character, such a tone-deaf insult to as beloved a Texas institution as Whataburger — especially from a man who has also praised the “little burgers” of White Castle — cannot stand. Can the power of such ridicule, harnessed to the power of cinema, unseat a senator? We’ll have to wait until November to find out, but if I were Cruz, I wouldn’t exactly be looking forward to what Linklater comes up with next.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.