Obama, the Pop Culture President


President Obama’s pedestrian State of the Union address had only one memorable moment: his suggestion that “It is time to do away with policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.” In Forbes today, I argue that the reference was not a throw away line, but part of our TV-loving president’s very conscious strategy to use popular culture to his advantage.

He does this in a number of ways. First, he uses pop culture to connect with his audiences.  His popularity is low, and interest in the State of the Union is declining, but his Mad Men reference generated 34,000 tweets.  

He also reaches out to voters by appearing on pop culture venues rather than hard news shows; uses his Hollywood connections to raise loads of money; and employs his celebrity buddies to amplify his message.  

As I argue in the piece, this strategy is not without risks, but it has been effective for Obama in two presidential elections. The American people may be tiring of his act, but he’s unlikely to abandonbeing the pop culture president.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive

    It was the Clintons, I think, who made an industry of celebritizing the President.  But Obama makes them look like pikers.  Every appearance and every image authorized for dissemination by the Obamas is deliberately calculated to enhance celebrity.  It’s unseemly but so much in character

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  2. Profile Photo Inactive

    He’s a teeny bopper narcissist boy searching for the next adoring fan.   The Bieber presidency or perhaps this….http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd32mevlLNE

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  3. Profile Photo Member

    Obama as the Pop Culture president. I have no idea what Mad Men is. I know it’s a TV show but that’s it. Now if he were an Anime/Videogame President maybe I’d feel differently.  

    I wonder how much of his “Pop Culture” is just him using that to connect to the base, and how much of that is him having really absorbed what’s going on in the TV shows? If he’s absorbed a lot of this, it has to reflect his worldview some right? If TV shows largely reflect lefty NY and CA values, of course (for example) “Mad Men era policies” would look like bad policies.  In some ways we may be caught in a loop here. 

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  4. Profile Photo Inactive

    Brings to mind the “President” in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano”

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  5. Profile Photo Contributor

    I’m kind of surprised that all speechwriters don’t do this more. Such an easy way to tell a story and make a point — even with our fractured culture.

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  6. Profile Photo Inactive

    Why does it work?

    34,000 tweets provide the clue.

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  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    The most recent season of Mad Men gave us a wonderful moment for the show’s prototypical underpaid working woman, Peggy Olson.

    When her left wing Village Voice journalist boyfriend Abe insisted that they live in a dangerous neighborhood, Peggy had to arm herself with a kitchen knife taped to a broom handle.

    When Abe surprised her, Peggy turned quickly and …. oops!

    In the ambulance to the emergency room, bleeding Abe tells Peggy he’s breaking up with her, because her work in advertising is “offensive to my every waking moment. You’ll always be the enemy.”

    Pretty much sums up the attitude of the hard left to working class strivers in 1968. Mad Men is too deep and textured a program to be one dimensional about the challenges women faced in the 1960’s.

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  8. Profile Photo Member

    Is he trying to make a point that he’s against policies from the 60’s?  Because I’m pretty sure a lot of what he advocates — welfare state, redistribution, etc.– is just (failed) leftovers from the 60’s.

    But of course he is so smug about being “progressive” and “forward-thinking” that he wouldn’t even catch the irony.

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  9. Profile Photo Member

    Obama demonstrates on a daily basis why it is that his academic records are locked away from public view. He doesn’t condescend to his audience. He demonstrates with every speech that he possesses a mediocre intellect. 

    I remember John Kennedy and the aura of culture and intellect he brought to the White House. Whether it was real or theater doesn’t matter, because, ultimately, the Presidency is theater, as is all politics. The question is to whom do you play? Do you strive to elevate your audience or do you play to the pit? 

    Obama is strictly low brow, intellectually vacuous, culturally void. He does nothing to enrich his country or countrymen. 

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  10. Profile Photo Contributor
    Mollie Hemingway: I’m kind of surprised that all speechwriters don’t do this more. Such an easy way to tell a story and make a point — even with our fractured culture. · 1 hour ago

    Peggy Noonan used to justify spending lots of her  time in the White House watching TV as a way to stay in step with the rhythms and language of the country. That strikes me as (A) an obvious cop-out and (B) something I wish I had thought of.

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  11. Profile Photo Member

    The upside of the celebrity-as-president is Hillary doesn’t do it well. She won’t be able to get down with hip-hoppers with foul mouths as well as the cool dude in the White House. When she went into her southern-talkin’ “g” droppin’ speech before a crowd of black women it was embarrassing. On the point of Mad Men, it is a mistake for anyone hoping to have political influence in this country to disdain entertainment as beneath notice.

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