The Collision of Politics & Pop-Culture By: Agustin Duran, America Garza, Genna Gold and Shana Sobel

Politics and pop culture have been dancing around each other since the early 1900’s. We will be evaluating the tipping point at which the two have collided, possibly irreversibly, the events that led to this immersion and how it has affected the American people’s perceptions of and participation in the political system.

"Celebrity" Politician vs "Political" Celebrity

“Political figures may show up anywhere, at any time, doing anything, without being thought odd, presumptuous, or in any way out of place. Which is to say, they have become assimilated into general television culture as celebrities”- Neil Postman, 1987

Type 1: The Political "Celebrity"

  • Legitimately elected representative (or aspires to be)
  • Engages in world of pop culture
  • For the purpose of enhancing or advancing their pre-established political goals.
  • A: Background in entertainment, show-business, or sports.
  • Uses skills, popularity, and image from their trade to get elected
  • Ex: Schwarzenegger, Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Jesse Ventura Type
  • B: Uses the forms, associations, techniques of “celebrity” to enhance image or send message
  • Ex: photo-ops, party advertisements, use of non-traditional platforms, marketing techniques of celebrities.

Type 2: The Celebrity “Politician”

  • The “entertainer” who uses status and medium to voice opinion on politics
  • Claims the right to represent groups of people or causes
  • Is taken seriously in their political views
  • A: Does so without seeking or acquiring elected office
  • Ex: Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Oprah Winfrey, Matt Damon
  • B: “Famed non-politicos” who change from careers in pop culture to careers in politics
  • Ex: Emma Watson, Angelina Jolie, Victoria Beckham, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sonny Bono

Nixon vs. Kennedy Debate, 1960



  • 1957 - Soviets launched Sputnik into space; the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth.
  • 1960 - Election campaign was dominated by Cold War tensions between the US and the Soviet Union.
  • 1960 - American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet territory and its pilot was captured; lead to cancellation of President Eisenhower's trip to Moscow.
  • Fidel Castro (Cuba) became an ally of the Soviet Union.
  • Public opinion polls showed that more than half the American people thought war with the Soviet Union was inevitable.
  • The American people were looking for a strong leader.
Information above sourced from:

Background of candidates:

Richard Nixon

  • 47-years-old
  • Experienced, VP
  • Peace and prosperity during Eisenhower administration
  • Assured voters that he would maintain American prestige, leadership, and military strength.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

  • 43-years-old
  • Seeming lack of experience in foreign affairs
  • Catholic faith
  • Declared that the United States "would have the will and the strength to resist communism around the world."
  • Prestigious family

“For the most part, the exchanges were distinguished by a suavity, earnestness and courtesy that suggested that the two men were more concerned about ‘image projection’ to their huge television audience than about scoring debating points.” - New York Times, 2011.

"I don't think it's overstating the fact that, on that date, politics and television changed forever. After that debate, it was not just what you said in a campaign that was important, but how you looked saying it." - Bruce DuMont, president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications.


Power of Context:

  • In 1950, only 11 percent of American homes had television; by 1960, the number was up to 88 percent.
  • This was the first time television became the main source of information for voters.
  • Nearly 40 percent of the nation's 180 million citizens tuned in to view the debates.
  • On the radio, most pundits and polls scored the debate as a draw, with some giving Nixon the advantage.

Stickiness Factor:

  • All debates from 1960 on have been televised
  • Television's wide-reach; candidate controls the message.

Law of the Few:

  • Connectors: Television Stations/News, Television Producers/Directors, Newscasters/Journalists, Campaign Team(s), Cameramen
  • Mavens: Richard Nixon, JFK
  • Salesmen: Richard Nixon, JFK, Makeup Artists

Attack ads used by Lyndon B. Johnson during Presidential election, 1964

The message was clear: "Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was a genocidal maniac who threatened the world’s future."

Power of Context:

  • Extensive use of the television began during the 1952 election between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson.
  • Eisenhower's use of short spot commercials enhanced his image and helped him win the election.
  • Johnson's commercial was the most controversial political advertisement for its time.

Stickiness Factor:

  • TV ads allow candidates to reach a wide audience with the message under their control.
  • The commercials were widely criticized, but surveys showed that it helped him win.
  • During the first 50 years of political advertising on television, one-third of the commercials were negative.
  • DDB "didn’t set out to revolutionize political advertising; what they wanted to do was to break the established rules of political ads—then dominated by stodgy 30-minute speeches mixed with shorter policy-focused spots—by injecting creativity and emotion."
  • Made emotions a staple of political spots (fear, anger, etc.).

Law of the Few:

  • Connectors: Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) advertising agency, Tony Schwartz (sound designer and media consultant)
  • Mavens: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon
  • Salesmen: DDB, Tony Schwartz, Sid Myers (Art Director), Aaron Ehrlich (Producer), Stan Lee (Senior Copywriter), Gene Case (Junior Copywriter)
Information above sourced from:

Media's coverage of the Vietnam War, 1965

The horrors of war entered the living rooms of Americans for the first time during the Vietnam War. For almost a decade the American people watched from their couches and diner tables as villages were destroyed, Vietnamese children burned and soldiers on both sides lost their lives.


Stickiness Factor:

  • Images of the war stick in your mind; not easily forgotten.

Power of Context:

  • 1964 - 58% of US respondents said that they “got most of their news” from television.
  • As the war progressed, the numbers of press who were sent to South Vietnam increased from 40 in 1964 to 419 in August 1965.
Information above sourced from:

Election of Ronald Reagan, 1981

Sources: Top Left:, Top Right, Bottom Left:, Bottom Right:
  • 1930’s radio’s golden age; he became a radio celebrity
  • 1940’s top of his t.v. career
  • 1950’s polished his public speaking skills for 9 years around the country (40 states)
  • 1964, Reagan’s speech on national television; people saw him presidential
  • 1967, his popularity and connection with Hollywood helped him become a politician
  • He was the first actor to become a politician, governor and president of the U.S.
  • Type 1 Political Celebrity

Power of Context?

Stickiness Factor?

Law of the Few?

80's Television Explosion

  • T.V expands to cable
  • CNN (1980), Fox News (1986), MSNBC (1996)
  • T.V. shows, a step up for politicians
  • SNL, 1975; Late Night with David Letterman, 1982; MTV-1984; Arsenio Hall Show, 1989; The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, 1992.
  • By this time, 9 out of 10 people watched the main networks.

Clinton takes advantage of 80's media innovations

Sources: Left:, Top Right:, Bottom Right:
  • 1946 Bill Clinton was Born in Arkansas.
  • 1963 Clinton met President JFK.
  • 1978 Became the youngest governor in the country. He was 32.
  • 1992 Clinton became the 42nd President.

Clinton is highlighted on television as charming and intelligent:

  • Plays his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show
  • Appears on MTV
“We know that moments of passion, personal reflection, and humor do more for us than any six-second sound bite on the network news or for that matter any thirty-second television spot.” - Mandy Grunwald, who served as Clinton’s media adviser and devised his ‘pop culture strategy’, which was written in an April 1992 memo to staff.

Power of Context?

Stickiness Factor?

Law of the Few?


1990's and President Obama


Power of Context: How the Internet Changed Politics and Pop Culture Forever

New Medium = New Political Playground X New Pop Culture Playground

The internet as a unique mass medium and turning point in politics:

  • Acts as medium of other mass medium
  • Enhances performance of other media (ex: video, audio, photo, integrated, live-streaming)
  • Flexibility of usage (anytime, anywhere)
  • Empowers audience as active users (users create and respond to content)
  • Acts as medium for two-way communication (comments, petitions)
  • Has worldwide audience (World wide web= exponential impact)
  • Challenges conventional mass communication: everyone can use it (vs: TV, broadcast)”
Information in this section sourced from: Ohiagu, O. P. (2011). The Internet: The Medium of the Mass Media. Kiabara Journal of Humanities 16 (2), 225-232.

Law of the Few: The Obama Effect


  • Occidental College
  • Columbia University (Graduated 1983)
  • Director of Developing Communities Project (1985-1988)
  • Harvard Law Graduate (1991)
  • Civil Rights Attorney for Miner, Barnhill & Galland (1992)
  • Taught Constitutional Law at University of Chicago Law School (1992-1994)


  • Ellen Degeneres
  • Beyonce, Jay-z
  • Taylor Swift
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Stephen Curry
  • And it goes on...


“Reporters and politicians continually use the word authenticity to describe Mr. Obama, pointing to his ability to come across to voters as a regular person, not a prepackaged pol.”- Michiko Kakutani , The New York Times

“Obama also uses his voice effectively. He slows it down, lowers his volume, and pauses for impact...An effective speech or presentation can raise the hopes of your audience and give them something to believe in.”- Carmine Gallo, Forbes

Information in this section sourced from: Barack Obama. (2017, January 31). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from, Kakutani, M. (2006, October 16). Obama’s Foursquare Politics, With a Dab of Dijon. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from, Gallo, C. (2013, January 21). Barack Obama: A Master Class in Public Speaking [Video]. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

Stickiness Factor: Obama’s Use of Media Platforms

The “celebrity” politician utilized the the media tactics of celebrities by sending his message through less conventional media platforms. He relayed his message of hope, change, and unity by connecting with a younger demographic in innovative ways that have never been accomplished before his time as president:

  • Large Social Media Presence
  • Unconventional Media Exposure
  • Endless Pop-Culture References

First President to:

  • Have @POTUS on Twitter
  • Use Facebook Live from Oval Office
  • Answer Questions from Youtube Platform
  • Use Snapchat Filter
Information above sourced from: The Digital Transition: How the Presidential Transition Works in the Social Media Age. (2017). Retrieved 19 April 2017, from

Unconventional Media Exposure


Pew Research Center: one-third of people aged 18-29 (34%), higher than any other age group, learn about campaigns/candidates from late night comedy shows (Huddleston, Fortune).

  • Jay Leno NBC’s Tonight Show
  • David Letterman’s CBS
  • Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Stephen Colbert
  • Jimmy Kimmel- “Reads Mean Tweets”
  • Between Two Ferns, Zach Galifianakis

Endless Pop Culture References

Is Obama the “coolest” president we’ve ever had?

These viral pop culture moments suggest that he is...

Trump and the Twitter Election, 2016



Power of Context

  • Businessman and Brand
  • Media Environment: Hollywood Values
  • World: Cultural Backlash

Law of the Few

  • Trump’s business experience makes him Salesman and a Connector
  • Real estate developer = world-wide connections
  • Washington Outsider
  • “Sold” himself as President
  • “Connected” himself with Rex Tillerson [former CEO Exxon Mobil], now Secretary of State

Trump surrounds himself with Mavens and Connectors

  • Senior Advisors: Ivanka & Jarred
  • RNC Chairmen Reince Preibus
  • Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
  • Vice President Mike Pence

The Stickiness Factor & "Teflon Don"

"The specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of 'stickiness.' Is the message-or the food, or the movie, or the product-memorable? Is it so memorable, in fact, that it can create change, that it can spur someone to action?" - Malcolm Gladwell

Trumpism’s that “stuck”

  • Little Marco | Lying Ted | Crooked Hilary
  • Huge
  • Bigly / Big League
  • Bad Hombres
  • Firing of Michael Flynn
  • Russian interference in 2016 election
  • Obama wiretap claims
  • Devin Nunes’ handling of investigation
  • Conflicts of interest and ethics violation
  • Appointing “Revolving-door” businessmen
  • Tom Price stock trading
  • Inciting violence at rally’s
  • Sexual Assault allegations
  • Beauty Pageant scandals
  • Housing discrimination
  • Mafia ties
  • Trump University & Trump Insititute
  • Tenant Intimation
  • Four Bankruptcies
  • Undocumented Polish workers
  • Alleged marital rape by ex-wife
  • Breaking Casino Rules
  • Antitrust violations
  • Condo-Hotel questionable deals
  • Corey Lewandowski
  • Refusing to pay workers and contractors
  • Buying his own books with campaign funds
  • Undocumented models
  • Trump Foundation
  • Cuban embargo violations
  • 2016 Election
  • Brexit
  • Syrian War / Refugee Crisis
  • Globalization
  • Opioid Crisis
  • Fake News
  • Russian Interference

Twitter: 140 character-death-punch

  • Transformed use of platform for polticians
  • Informal, uncensored, direct form of communication
  • Newsworthiness or filling time?
  • Media AMPLIFIED his reach + NORMALIZED his behavior

15 of Trumps Most Popular Tweets

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