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Thursday, August 16 2018

Does art imitate life, or does politics imitate pop culture?


Lately, I've been wondering about the correllation between the presidents we elect and society. Do we elect based on our attraction to the candidates (which was the assumption after JFK won a debate, soundly, according to those that saw him on TV, whereas Nixon won according to those who heard only the radio broadcast.)? Do we elect the least of the available evils (as one of my more cyncial friends suggested)?

Do we select presidents based on who we are? Do we select them based on who we wish to be? Does the president reflect us, or do we as a society reflect the standards created by the president?

In essence, does society imitate politics, or does politics reflect society? I set out to see if there's a circumstantial correllation to be found. (Click “read more” to see it in all its unscientific glory)

  • I instant messaged any of my friends that were on, yesterday, and asked them to give me descriptors for the presidents since Carter, that they thought reflected the view of those presidents at the time.

  • I then tried (with limited success) to find the Billboard top pop charts for given years (aw, who cares...Billboard represents the views of the younger minority of voters, more than anything).

  • I went to imdb and looked up the top grossing movies at the box office for given years.

  • ...and I unsuccessfully tried to dig up NY Times bestseller lists for those years.

The data's at the bottom of this article.

But come on, you want to know what I figured out from it, right? I figure there are n possibilities for correllation (it's hard to tell whether contemporary mores affect who we vote for, or whether the elected president determines social mores, I'm just looking for correllation, not the direction of causality):

  1. Correllation between popular culture at election time, and the president elected.

  2. Correllation between popular culture during a president's term in office and that president.

It sure does look to me like the pop culture immediately before and after an election do reflect the electoral victor's persona more than the loser's.

Before President Reagan came into office, we had movies about getting old and working hard. Afterward, we had movies about nationalism, personal communication. And here he was, the older, “great communicator”. The movies featured characters who were well-liked and popular, even if they lacked sophistication. This continued through his re-election, where he trounced Mondale, and the movies reflected nationalism...something Mondale didn't engender.

Surrounding Bush the first's election, we had movies and music about love lost, and longing for the past. Perhaps that's why he wasn't re-elected.

Or perhaps it was that pop culture began to reflect a value for style over substance, and an obsession with sex and fantasy. That suggests Clinton over Bush the first as well as Bob Dole.

The pop culture around President W has been largely movies of fantasy, but music about anger and disappointment conjoined with protests of being down-to-earth.

I don't know who's going to go head-to-head against President Bush (representing the Democrats). And I can't say for sure what the pop culture will do over the next year. But it seems like a lot of the music has to do with love lost, while the movie titles this year reflect recklessness (Daredevil), dumping (How to lose a guy in 10 days), and destruction (Bringing down the house). (Yeah, I know, that's the titles, not the subject matter of the films...) That's not looking good for President Bush, at first blush.

At the end of the year, perhaps I'll find the Billboard charts, movie charts, and use that to formulate a prediction...


Popular Culture




Movies: Grease, Animal House, Superman

#1 Songs: Baby Come Back (Player), Boogie Oogie Oogie (A Taste of Honey), Do Ya Think I'm Sexy (Rod Stewart), Grease (Frankie Valli), Hot Child in the City (Nick Gilder), If I Can't Have You (Yvonne Elliman), Kiss You All Over (Exile), Le Freak (Chic), (Love Is) Thicker Than Water (Andy Gibb), MacArthur Park (Donna Summer), Miss You (The Rolling Stones), Night Fever (Bee Gees), Shadow Dancing (Andy Gibb), Stayin' Alive (Bee Gees), Three Times A Lady (Commodores), Too Much, Too Little, Too Late (Johnny Mathis & Deneice Williams), With a Little Luck (Paul McCartney & Wings), You Don't Bring Me Flowers (Barbra Streisand & Neil Diamond), You Needed Me (Anne Murray), You're the One That I Want (Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta)

Jimmy Carter (over Gerald Ford)

  • Trying to do right

  • Intelligent

  • Diplomatic

  • Southern charm

  • Mired in details

  • Focused on negative

  • Hard working

  • Likes peanuts


Movies: Kramer vs. Kramer, The Amityville Horror, Star Trek the Motion Picture

#1 Songs: Babe (Styx), Bad Girls (Donna Summer), Don't Stop Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson), Escape (The Pina Colada Song) (Rupert Holmes), After the Love Has Gone (Earth, Wind & Fire), Good Times (Chic), Heart of Glass (Blondie), Heartache Tonight (Eagles), Hot Stuff (Donna Summer), I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor), Knock on Wood (Amii Stewart), Love You Inside Out (Bee Gees), My Sharona (The Knack), No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) (Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer), Pop Muzik (M), Reunited (Peaches & Herb), Ring My Bell (Anita Ward), Rise (Herb Alpert), Sad Eyes (Robert John), Still (Commodores), Too Much Heaven (Bee Gees), Tragedy (Bee Gees), What A Fool Believes (Doobie Brothers)


Movies: Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, Nine to Five


Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark, On Golden Pond, Porky's


Movies: E.T., Tootsie, An Officer and a Gentleman

Ronald Reagan (over Jimmy Carter, then over Walter Mondale)

  • Old

  • Great communicator

  • Gentle, yet firm

  • Cowboy

  • Tough

  • Poor grasp of issues

  • Well-liked

  • Popular with the people

  • Father figure, image


Movies: Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance


Movies: Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


Movies: Back to the Future, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rocky IV


Movies: Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, Platoon


Movies: Three Men and a Baby, Fatal Attrraction, Beverly Hills Cop II


Movies: Rain Man, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming to America

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Man In The Mirror, Michael Jackson; 2. Endless Summer Nights, Richard Marx; 3. Never Gonna Give You Up, Rick Astley; 4. Out Of The Blue, Debbie Gibson; 5. Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car, Billy Ocean


Movies: Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2

George H.W. Bush (Over Michael Dukakis)

  • Intelligent

  • Boring

  • Poor communicator

  • Conservative

  • Not living up to Reagan


Movies: Home Alone, Ghost, Dances with Wolves

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Hold On - Wilson Phillips; 2. It Must Have Been Love – Roxette; 3. Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor; 4. Poison - Bell Biv Devoe; 5. Vogue - Madonna


Movies: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Silence of the Lambs

Billboard Hot 100:1. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You - Bryan Adams; 2. I Wanna Sex You Up - Color Me Badd; 3. Gonna Make You Sweat - C+C Music Factory; 4. Rush Rush - Paula Abdul; 5. One More Try - Timmy T


Movies: Aladdin, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Batman Returns

Billboard Hot 100: 1. End Of The Road - Boyz II Men; 2. Baby Got Back - Sir Mix A-lot; 3. Jump - Kris Kross; 4. Save The Best For Last - Vanessa Williams; 5. Baby-Baby-Baby - TLC


Movies: Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fugitive

Billboard Hot 100:1. I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston; 2. Whoomp! (There It Is) - Tag Team; 3. Can't Help Falling In Love – UB40; 4. That's The Way Love Goes - Janet Jackson; 5. Freak Me - Silk

Bill Clinton (Over George H.W. Bush, then over Bob Dole)

  • Slick/slippery

  • Intelligent

  • Populist president

  • Sexy

  • Politician's politician


Movies: Forrest Gump, The Lion King, True Lies

Billboard Hot 100: 1. The Sign - Ace Of Base; 2. I Swear – All-4-One; 3. I'll Make Love To You - Boyz II Men; 4. The Power Of Love - Celine Dion; 5. Hero - Mariah Carey


Movies: Toy Story, Batman Forever, Apollo 13

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Gangsta's Paradise – Coolio; 2. Waterfalls – TLC; 3. Creep – TLC; 4. Kiss From A Rose – Seal; 5. On Bended Knee - Boyz II Men


Movies: Twister, Independence Day, Mission: Impossible

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix) - Los Del Rio; 2. One Sweet Day - Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men; 3. Because You Loved Me - Celine Dion; 4. Nobody Knows - Tony Rich Project; 5. Always Be My Baby - Mariah Carey


Movies: Titanic, Men In Black, The Lost World – Jurassic Park

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Candle In The Wind 1997 - Elton John; 2. Foolish Games / You Were Meant For Me – Jewe; 3. I'll Be Missing You - Puff Daddy & Faith Evans; 4. Un-Break My Heart - Toni Braxton; 5. Can't Nobody Hold Me Down - Puff Daddy


Movies: Saving Private Ryan, Armageddon, There's Something About Mary

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Too Close – Next; 2. The Boy Is Mine - Brandy & Monica; 3. You're Still The One - Shania Twain; 4. Truly Madly Deeply - Savage Garden; 5. How Do I Live - LeAnn Rimes


Movies: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Believe – Cher; 2. No Scrubs – TLC; 3. Angel Of Mine – Monica; 4. Heartbreak Hotel - Whitney Houston; 5. ...Baby One More Time - Britney Spears


Movies: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Cast Away, Mission: Impossible 2

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Breathe - Faith Hill ;2. Smooth - Santana Featuring Rob Thomas;3. Maria Maria - Santana Featuring The Product G&B; 4. I Wanna Know - Joe; 5. Everything You Want - Vertical Horizon


Movies: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Shrek

Billboard Hot 100: 1. Hanging By A Moment – Lifehouse; 2. Fallin' - Alicia Keys; 3. All For You – Jane; 4. Drops Of Jupiter (Tell Me) – Train; 5. I'm Real - Jennifer Lopez Featuring Ja Rule

George W. Bush (Over Al Gore)

  • Dumb

  • Spoiled

  • Arrogant

  • Intellectually lazy

  • Folksy

  • MBA

  • Greedy

  • Idiot

  • Knows what he doesn't know

  • Honest/sincere


Movies: Spiderman, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Billboard Hot 100 for March 30, 2002: 1. Ain't It Funny, Jennifer Lopez Featuring Ja Rule; 2. In The End, Linkin Park; 3. How You Remind Me, Nickelback; 4. Always On Time, Ja Rule Featuring Ashanti; 5. What's Luv?, Fat Joe Featuring Ashanti


Movies (so far): Daredevil, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Bringing Down the House

Billboard Hot 100 for April 5, 2003: 1. In Da Club, 50 Cent; 2. Ignition, R. Kelly; 3. Miss You, Aaliyah; 4. Picture, Kid Rock Featuring Sheryl Crow Or Allison Moorer; 5. All I Have, Jennifer Lopez Featuring LL Cool J

What's Related

Does art imitate life, or does politics imitate pop culture? | 9 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
What maks me nervous
Authored by: Anonymous onThursday, May 15 2003
I note with some trepidation that the prequel to \"Dumb & Dumber\" comes out just before the next presidential election. But at least it\'s not the prequel to \"Armegeddon\".
Mendacity Index
Authored by: Anonymous onWednesday, August 27 2003
Does art imitate life, or does politics imitate pop culture?
Authored by: dbsmall onWednesday, September 08 2004
How the electoral votes are currently going. Holy cow! California's "Weakly Kerry"?
Does art imitate life, or does politics imitate pop culture?
Authored by: dbsmall onFriday, October 29 2004
Wow, I don't even recognize the names of any of the top 20 songs at Billboard. Perhaps more importantly, I don't know who they forecast as the winner, although "Drop it like it's Hot" and "Just Lose It" seem to predict a "dumping" of President Bush.

Week Last
week Weeks
on chart
"Title," Artist
Imprint | Catalog No. | Promotion Label

1 1 9 My Boo, Usher And Alicia Keys
LaFace | 65246* | Zomba 1
2 2 20 Goodies, Ciara Featuring Petey Pablo
Sho'nuff-MusicLine/LaFace | 57550* | Zomba 1
3 3 7 Lose My Breath, Destiny's Child
Columbia | ALBUM CUT 3
4 7 6
Drop It Like It's Hot, Snoop Dogg Featuring Pharrell
Doggystyle | 003574* | Geffen 4
5 8 4 Over And Over, Nelly Featuring Tim McGraw
Curb/Derrty-Fo' Reel | ALBUM CUT | UMRG 5
6 5 16 She Will Be Loved, Maroon5
Octone/J | ALBUM & EP CUT | RMG 5
7 4 20 Lean Back, Terror Squad
SRC/Universal | 002704* | UMRG 1
8 6 5 Just Lose It, Eminem
Shady/Aftermath | 003684* | Interscope 6
9 10 11 Breakaway, Kelly Clarkson
Walt Disney | SOUNDTRACK CUT | Hollywood 9
10 14 8 Let's Go, Trick Daddy Featuring Lil Jon & Twista
Slip-N-Slide | 93348* | Atlantic 10
11 9 22 Locked Up, Akon Featuring Styles P.
SRC/Universal | 002245* | UMRG 8
12 11 15 My Happy Ending, Avril Lavigne
13 16 11 Oye Mi Canto, N.O.R.E. Featuring Daddy Yankee, Nina Sky, Gem Star & Big Mato
Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam | 0001* | IDJMG 13
14 13 21 Diary, Alicia Keys Featuring Tony! Toni! Tone!
15 12 16 My Place, Nelly Featuring Jaheim
Derrty/Fo' Reel | 003154* | UMRG 4
16 21 6 Go D.J., Lil Wayne
Cash Money | 003432* | UMRG 16
17 15 15 On The Way Down, Ryan Cabrera
E.V.L.A. | 88372 | Atlantic 15
18 24 8 Breathe, Fabolous
Desert Storm | 67616* | Atlantic 18
19 23 10 Charlene, Anthony Hamilton
So So Def | ALBUM CUT | Zomba 19
20 17 16 One Thing, Finger Eleven
Wind-up | ALBUM CUT
Does art imitate life, or does politics imitate pop culture?
Authored by: norcalfella onTuesday, November 15 2005
I think it is time for an update to this because it seems wildly popular. I see no problem with modifying the original piece to add 2004 and 2005.

that's my take

Does art imitate life, or does politics imitate pop culture?
Authored by: dbsmall onWednesday, March 29 2006