Obama's Decisions Providing Pop Culture Inspiration

Wednesday, 30 Apr 2014 11:03 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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President Barack Obama's more controversial decisions are giving screenwriters, novelists, and filmmakers fodder for movies, novels, plays, and works of art that explore some of the bleaker parts of the president's legacy.

"The arts are often a left or progressive community," Nato Thompson, the chief curator at Creative Time, a public arts group in New York City, told The New York Times. "There are a lot of people being let down by a president they were very enthusiastic about. There's a big sense of betrayal."

The latest example, reports the Times, is in the latest Marvel superhero movie, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."  In the movie, Captain America is up against Hydra, which has infiltrated the U.S. government. In addition to car chases and evil assassins, the movie also deals with supercomputers that mine Americans' data, as well as giant killer drones that are ready to kill millions of people.

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"We were trying to find a bridge to the same sort of questions that Barack Obama has to address," said Joe Russo, who directed the movie with his brother Anthony. "If you're saying with a drone strike, we can eradicate an enemy of the state, what if you say with 100 drone strikes, we can eradicate 100? With 1,000, we can eradicate 1,000? At what point do you stop?"

In the movie, Robert Redford plays a politician who wants to use super drones to kill 20 million people to save Earth's remaining 7 billion.

The other director, Anthony Russo, said the movie company wanted to create an exciting film while giving people something to think about.

"That was very much our thinking in terms of trying to turn these helicarriers and Project Insight into the ultimate drone technology gone bad," he said.

But the drone strikes aren't the only Obama decision that's becoming an inspiration for many fictional plots. Godzilla comic-book writers have used the commando raid the president ordered to kill Osama bin Laden as the basis for its fictional President Ogden, and several episodes of CBS' "The Good Wife" deal with mysterious National Security Agency wiretaps.

In addition, California artists are protesting drones with a life-size Predator drone created from mud.

And while Obama and the first lady have made numerous personal appearances on television shows to promote his agenda items such as Obamacare and Michelle's push against childhood obesity, the president's actual influence on pop culture isn't proving to be as friendly to the administration.

"The drone wars are really one of Obama's signature foreign policies," photographer Trevor Paglen, whose images of flying drones are in galleries worldwide, told The Times. "We are living in a moment that's characterized by this mass surveillance. I think art can help us call attention to certain things. It can help contribute to the cultural vocabulary that we use."

Obama isn't the only president to influence popular culture. For example, late President Ronald Reagan's fight against Communism led to movies in the 1980s such as "Red Dawn," and Michael J. Fox's Alex P. Keaton role was inspired by Reaganomics.

In addition, NBC's "The West Wing" was inspired by former President Bill Clinton's White House, and his affair with Monica Lewinsky was used in many storylines.

Thompson said that issues like racial disparities in prisons are often becoming material, as well.

"Where you have a black president but deeply racist policies are continuing like in the prison population, you have a lot of artists who are deeply interested in these contradictions," he said.

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