America / Culture / Politics / Presidency

The Cost of Being “Cool”: Politics and Pop Culture

Heading into the 2014 elections, politicians will no doubt use pop culture in an attempt to engage the electorate, specifically young Americans, in the political process in order to encourage voter participation. The question is who will use pop culture effectively and why should politicians care about pop culture in the first place? According to the Washington Post article,  “Why popular culture matters in politics,” politicians need to care about popular culture especially in the year 2014 because pop culture is one of the biggest common bonds that ties the increasingly segmented Americans together. Caring about and utilizing pop culture involves skillfully navigating popular culture references and appearing in well-liked venues in order to appeal to the American public.  However biased or depleted, pop culture affects politics and no smart politician would turn it off completely.

In a new book by Bush administration adviser Tevi Troy, What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House there are angles to examine when it comes to popular culture and politics. Liberals in general are more glorified in pop culture, which tends to make conservatives cautious. 


“Conservatives are indeed wary of pop culture, and for good reason. Hollywood is a strongly Democratic town, and references to politics in pop culture tend to glorify Democrats and demonize Republicans,” said Troy in the interview with The Washington Post.

The greatest example of using pop culture to its fullest advantage is the President himself. The cultural influences on our American presidents are powerful and plentiful and Obama has been strategically proficient in his usage of pop culture references since before he was elected president. You could say his soft media presence is what gave him his edge in the 2008 and 2012 elections. According to The Washington Post, he strategically uses pop culture in three distinct ways. Since he knows the media eagerly reports on what television shows he watches, he makes quick and easy references to his favorite shows whenever he can. Second, he utilizes and goes on soft media entertainment shows that he knows are well liked popular venues of the electorate. Thirdly and by far the most frustrating but effective- he uses Hollywood celebrities to campaign and raise money for him. Unsurprising , he has taken his knowledge and usage of pop culture to make missteps, getting in trouble for referencing pop culture at inappropriate times. For example, during his fifth State of the Union address Obama referenced the television show Mad Men during his segment regarding equal pay for women, stating: 

“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds,” said Obama.

It’s clear that our current president is “cool” but as he struggles in his second term it has us questioning his proficiency in other aspects of his job–off the top of my head healthcare, foreign policy and other areas of great issue. We want great leaders not celebrities or “cool” people running our country. But unfortunately in this day in age, in order for Republicans to regain the majority in the Senate in 2014 the conservatives need to keep up with these pop culture trends or they are sure to fall behind. With this being said there are effective ways to incorporate pop culture without crossing the line and acting like a celebrity. While republicans have been at a disadvantage in the past when it comes to pop culture, the 2014 GOP elections will reveal which candidates used pop culture the most and which of those GOP candidates will win.