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The American President in Film and Television

Myth, Politics and Representation

Gregory Frame

As evidenced by the election of celebrity and reality television star Donald Trump, popular culture has played a vital role in the conceptualisation of political leadership. This revised edition of The American President in Film and Television explores the complex relationship between the construction of fictional presidents on screen and the political cultures from which they emerged. How have our popular cultural fantasies of presidential leadership contributed to the current political reality? Combining textual analysis with close attention to political and historical contexts, the book addresses the reasons behind the proliferation of images of the president in the past twenty-five years, from the archetype in American genre cinema (Air Force One, Independence Day and Deep Impact) to the idealised fantasy figure in network television (The West Wing, 24 and Commander in Chief). With the election of a president whose worldview appears to have been formed entirely by the aesthetics and rhetoric of popular culture, where does the presidency – either on screen or in the White House – go from here?


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Chapter 2. The Symbolic Presidency: Washington and Hollywood, 1932–1989


CHAPTER 2 The Symbolic Presidency: Washington and Hollywood, 1932–1989 Having addressed the methodological approach of this book, and its posi- tion in relation to the existing literature in the field, I now turn to the presidency specifically. Although my central focus is the cinematic and tel- evisual presidency, the institution has a symbolic significance that extends beyond Hollywood, and possesses a rich history that has had a manifest impact on its recent, fictional incarnations. I think a simultaneous discus- sion of the office’s evolution alongside its fictional representation is the most illuminating way to address these issues. This is not to replicate the uncomplicated application of the films of the period onto the context in which they were produced, but to demonstrate the extent to which Hollywood’s representations of politics and the presidency participate within these structures of feeling. This short chapter is intended to func- tion as a microcosm of the book’s overall approach, as well as to map the contours of Hollywood’s representations of politics and the presidency. I intend this to be a broad and discursive exploration that will raise crucial questions that I will address throughout the book. The position of ‘President of the United States’ has fundamentally transformed since its conception, with the most profound of these changes occurring in the last eighty years. The office was constructed between a series of competing notions. Conceived in opposition to a monarchy, America’s Founding Fathers suggested the president should be an ordinary man and not hold...

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