by Selene Ashewood ’22
“Everybody could stand to act a little nicer.” That sentiment feels naive and even obsolete in today’s political climate. But CNN’s new release, “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President,” displays the prevailing good nature of people even in an era bookended by wrath. The documentary shined a light on some of the honorable history of our country that often gets washed away by the sins of it.
As America has relearned in the past four years, celebrity does not equal a justified presidency. But Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States from 1976 to 1980 was celebrity adjacent, many would say. His love and appreciation of music, from Rock to Country to Jazz, proved integral to the unifying aspects of his 1976 campaign. But hanging out with Johnny Cash, Cher, Nile Rodgers, and Bob Dylan, or holding Jazz concerts outside the White House where Charlie Mingus was brought to tears at the racial equality he saw, were not done for approval ratings. The infusion of music into politics was more so out of Carter’s loving gaze of the lives of American people, their pastimes and interests, and what songs were played on repeat in their own homes.
When learning about U.S. history through a program by a news network, one expects to hear about racism in a time period from 40 years ago. Carter rips through those expectations, personifying a first wave in improving Southern values and views. From gaining full endorsement from The Black Panthers to a polite and even personal relationship with Middle Eastern leaders and governments, Carter, born and raised in Georgia, changed the way that many thought about people from the South.
Much of the documentary is spent in interview sequences of various celebrities, former White House employees, and Carter himself, with a score playing under their voices making the viewer feel like they’re casually reminiscing about the 70s. Yet Carter could not shield the country from everything. The Iranian hostage crisis coverage in the film was riveting and stressed out the audience as if they were in the President’s position.
It’s a possibility that the CNN documentary turned out so great because of an escapism factor. When the democratic practices the country takes pride in feel like they’re toppling, the smile from a humble peanut farmer in office carries that much more warmth. Credit also to the masterful editing on the film, perfectly transitioning from segment to segment. “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President” doesn’t just inform viewers about a former president; it serves as a reminder about integrity.