THE BLOG

The First Pop Culture President in History

11/07/2012 08:01 am ET | Updated Jan 07, 2013

In 2008 Barack Obama made history by being the first African American to be elected president, and he was recently reelected to a second term against Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Barack Obama has also accomplished another historic first; he is the first president who has not only embraced, but utilized popular culture in a way that no previous commander-in-chief has ever done before. Previous presidents have crossed into the pop culture world to a certain extent, such as JFK being serenaded by Marilyn Monroe for his birthday (which was probably not the only birthday gift she gave him), or Richard Nixon's famous picture with Elvis Presley taken in the oval office, and even an appearance by Bill Clinton playing his saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show prior to his presidency. However, many president elects have avoided the pop culture scene entirely. Some refused to make appearances on popular TV shows and talk shows because they felt it was beneath the office, while others saw no political gain or advantage; even the former movie star and General Motors spokesperson himself, Ronald Reagan, became much more selective in his TV appearances as president than he ever was as a working actor.

George W. Bush was president during the time in which politics began to blend with pop culture due to such shows as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, and he became the first president who was thrown into pop culture, and not by choice. During George W. Bush's presidency, there was not a day that went by without hearing a comedian, celebrity or talk show host make him the pun of their jokes or comments. Rappers and musicians mocked him in their song lyrics; something that would have been unheard of only a few decades earlier. Unlike his predecessors, who tended to avoid crossing over from politics into entertainment, Barack Obama has brought together politics and popular culture in a way that no president has ever done before. From Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, in which he sang in a skit with the host, to The View and Oprah, President Obama has proven that it is just as useful to appear on talk shows as it is on news shows and in debates.

Not only has President Obama used pop culture and even social media to increase his popularity and reveal a humane and likeable side that resonates with all Americans; he knows that more Americans tune in daily to talk shows than they do to debates or political news shows. The president and first lady tweet on a regular basis to their millions of followers (though they sadly don't have as many followers as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga), including the world's biggest names; it's a fair assumption to say that Barack Obama is mentioned more on a daily basis in the social media world than any president or politician ever has been before, and timing does have a lot to do with it. When you have the likes of Perez Hilton, Rihanna, Beyonce and Kim Kardashian supporting and following you; you also have the American youth in your corner.

But being president is an extremely time consuming job, and although Americans love to see their president make TV appearances and act "normal," and even poke fun at himself; they would much rather him commit his time to our country's problems. This is why the first lady brilliantly appears on various shows on her husband's behalf, earning her the title of the first "Pop Culture First Lady." Michelle Obama has made appearances on Ellen, sat with Letterman and Leno, visited Sesame Street and even made a cameo on Disney's iCarly, and she is just as charming, likeable and charismatic as her husband.

There is no question that Barack Obama has achieved many firsts in his first term as president, but, the "first" that helped him get reelected in this recent election is his ability to embrace and utilize pop culture in such a way that he successfully blended politics with pop culture, and without losing any of the integrity and character that comes with the office of president. Whether it's singing a few lines of "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green (in perfect pitch, might I add), to roasting Jimmy Kimmel and other special guests at the Correspondence Dinner, Barack Obama will undoubtedly go down in history as the "coolest" president, and even one of the most likeable. His ability to share his human side with the American people reveals a certain humility that many prior presidents felt the need to conceal from the public makes him a true "people's president." But it is his understanding of the importance of pop culture and its significance to present-day American society and Americans that has earned him the title of the first "pop culture president" of the United States.

YOU MAY LIKE