Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Barack Obama and 24

Have David Palmer and Wayne Palmer - two powerful, admirable, African-American Presidents on Fox's 24 - contributed to Barack Obama's success as the first African-American candidate with a real chance to win the White House?

Win, lose, or draw in the important primaries tonight, Obama has a already made an undeniably extraordinary impact. I happen to think (and hope) he is the next President, but even if he doesn't get there, his candidacy has already changed American Presidential politics forever, and for the better.

As a professor and author of books about popular culture and its impact, I take a keen interest in the way of our media fiction influences our real politics. I've already blogged here about the importance of the Obama Girl videos in the early days of Barack Obama's campaign.

As I also reported here last July, Obama Girl producer Ben Relles told my class at Fordham University that the original "I've Got a Crush on Obama" song was "I've Got a Crush on Jack Bauer". So Obama's candidacy and 24 were linked from the start.

More important, I'd say, was the image of African-American Presidents conveyed by David Palmer (superbly played by Dennis Haysbert) and his brother Wayne Palmer (superbly played by D. B. Woodside). Although David was assassinated and Wayne wound up in a coma, their behavior as Presidents always showed a highly intelligent Commander-in-Chief will to take on acutely difficult and internationally threatening issues, and handle these crises with grace and aplomb.

That had to have some kind of positive, educational effect on 24's millions of viewers.

Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's Countdown is fond of citing 24 for stirring up fears of nuclear terror (at one point even absurdly implying that 24's producers were in league with the Bush administration). But the far greater truth - or only truth - about 24's impact on real American politics may be the role it played in making all Americans more comfortable with the prospect of an African-American President.

A woman in the White House was powerfully presented in the excellent Commander in Chief on ABC, with Geena Davis just outstanding as President Mackenzie Allen. But that series didn't even survive one complete season...
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