A few days ago, I published a piece here praising Frank Capra's 1941 film Meet John Doe, one of the best movies ever made about mass politics and mass culture. Doe is both jaded and hopeful; it damns the hollowed-out phony populism that shady figures use to seize power, but it also imagines that something authentic and valuable could grow out of even the most factitious crusades. Capra made some better pictures, but I don't think he ever made another as politically complex as this one. "What it anticipates," I wrote, "is a world where media deceptions aren't just ubiquitous; they're a landscape of mutating memes outside anyone's control."
One more thing about the movie: It's in the public domain. If you've never watched it before, you really should:
Update: A hat tip to reader Robert Goodman, who points out that Richard Connell's short story "A Reputation," which loosely inspired Doe, is also online. Its plot and themes don't really have much in common with the plot and themes of the movie, but it's a witty little story and it's worth a read in its own right. Check it out here.