During his eight tumultuous years in office, President George W.
Bush has been portrayed in popular culture as a hubristic cowboy, a
puppet of Dick Cheney, and the worst mangler of the English language
since Shakespeare's Dogberry. Oliver Stone's new biopic, "W.," even
focuses on Bush's supposed "daddy issues."
And those are the gentler depictions. He's also been branded a
liar in Neil Young's "Let's Impeach the President," accused of being
in cahoots with Saudi oilmen in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11,"
and pilloried in the post-hurricane Katrina mash-up video "George
Bush Doesn't Care about Black People."
Bush is hardly the first White House occupant to endure invective
from entertainers, and such clashes tend to be particularly
pronounced when a Republican is pitted against left-leaning creative
types. But the 43rd president's time in office has marked a
fundamental turning point in the relationship between popular
culture and politics. The proliferation of new forms of media -
coupled with a democratization of communication that allows anyone
with a modem to become a filmmaker, broadcaster, or pundit - has
meant that no other sitting president has had quite so many slings
and arrows to suffer. Against such a backdrop, Bush may find it
exceedingly difficult to control the final narrative of his
"I believe Bush's legacy will be almost entirely shaped by pop
culture," says Leslie Kreiner Wilson, executive director of
Americana, the Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture.
"Pop culture has always had some impact on our perception of
presidents, but the media explosion since the 1980s has made things
much harder on the presidents since then, like Bill Clinton and
Other observers believe that history's verdict on Bush will be
more forgiving than, say, his depiction in the TV sitcom "That's My
Bush" or the Eminem protest song "Mosh." Put it this way: Bush's
ratings can only go up. When the Siena Research Institute asked 744
leading historians and political scientists to rank Bush as a
president, the results spawned a "Rolling Stone" cover story
proclaiming him the worst president ever. But the institute's Tom
Kelly, a history professor at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.,
says it takes at least 25 years to establish the academic record of
a presidency. By then, emotions are lower and perspective is
"Pop culture is like cartooning," says Mr. Kelly. "It creates a
sharp image which reflects more, probably, about the mind of the
individual who creates the image, than reality - although that
doesn't mean the image is wrong. But, also, it tends to pass."
Still, Kelly says, some pop-culture images do linger. For
example, a combination of Johnny Carson jokes and Chevy Chase
impersonations on "Saturday Night Live" created an enduring image of
Gerald Ford as being more prone to pratfalls than Inspector
But there's a profound difference in today's media landscape,
argues Donick Cary, creator of the Comedy Central cartoons "Lil'
Bush" and "The Adventures of John McCain." "Forty years ago, a
comedy take on a president would be 13 episodes of 'Saturday Night
Live' in a year," says Mr. Cary. "Now, every day, as soon as there's
a [presidential] debate there's literally 100,000 takes on the
Internet as well as 'The Daily Show,' 'Colbert Report,' Bill Maher. …