RECENLTY, SOME MEDIA CRITICS have cited the increasing visibility of African American men on TV and in films with making Barack Obama's candidacy for president palatable to mainstream America, including a short piece on NPR. Television shows like Queer Eye for a Straight Guy, Will & Grace, Ellen, brought gayness out of the closet and onto the sofas of living rooms across Middle America. Now, it's just weird if there isn't a quirky, well-dressed gay man in a sitcom. It has become almost quotidian.
With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as frontrunners for the Democratic nomination for president, one wonders which candidate America has been best prepared for by popular culture. The Black Man or the White Woman?
On one hand, the popular espionage series 24 allowed us to believe the impossible--that our president could also sell us Allstate Insurance. Beyond that, though, viewers were given a rare luxury: a smart, capable, ethical Black president. The charismatic David Palmer navigated the treacherous waters of terrorism, assassination attempts, and overly dramatic background music and became (much like Martin Sheen in West Wing) a far more desirable president than the one running the actual world.
That said, he didn't last long. Unfortunately for all of us, the writers of 24 had Palmer assassinated, and we were never supposed to think it was racially motivated. Now that's fantasy!
Still, a few seasons later, his brother, Wayne Palmer, became president, enabling us once again to imagine a Black Man in the White House. But, just as W is not H, Wayne was not David. Both Palmer Presidents were good men and seemed appropriate for the position, and I have to say, I loved thinking of David Palmer as my Commander-in-Chief. But, it’s hard to think of persuasive examples beyond 24.
Contrast this with the numerous examples of female presidents.
First, network television elected MacKenzie Allen to the presidency in the short-lived but good-hearted Commander-In-Chief, in which MacKenzie Allen looks a lot like Geena Davis. She may not have been in the oval office as long as George W. Bush, but she is taller.
The best thing about the remake of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica is the wonderful Mary McDonnell as the president of the Colonies--the metaphorical United States. She out-thinks the male Commander Adama, and her character never descends into caricature.
Most convincing, though, is the fact that the new president on 24 will be a woman! That's right, Hillary herself has agreed to star in the new season of the show, which may make her the first sitting president to hang out with Kiefer Sutherland but not the first sitting president on the Fox payroll.
Okay, so it's not true that Hillary will be the next Fox president--that goes to two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones--but it is a fact that the conservative network has supplanted a Black president with a female one. Is Fox trying to scare us? Is it all part of a larger right-wing conspiracy? Or, is imagining a woman as president now so plausible, so seemingly normal that the network of Bill O’Reilly is ready for the change as well?