“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Like kings and queens, Presidents have long fascinated writers and audiences alike. The Office holds power, but restrained power, meaning that the President is doomed to be perpetually frustrated by the gap between what he wants to accomplish and what he can accomplish. The Office brings with it celebrity but also criticism that is rarely heaped upon even the most downtrodden Hollywood star, putting to the test an individual’s self-confidence and ability to perform knowing that half of his audience is guaranteed to be angry with his choices. A President’s private life is exposed to the public, putting a strain on his relationships with his family. And…oh, yeah, there’s that thing where he’s got a metric boatload of responsibility for the fate of a world superpower.
With all the conflict situationally embedded within the Office, it’s no wonder that the President regularly appears as a character in stories. In some cases, an actor will personify a real President in cameo, lending a sense of reality to a fictional story. Other times, an actor will portray a real President in order to make a comedic point, as in the countless SNL skits mocking our esteemed leaders. Most interesting, however, is when a story features afictional President as a main character.
Making a fictional President allows us to test situations a real President might find himself in (admittedly, some of these are a little unlikely to occur) and see what he (or she…we can hope, right?) is made of. Presidents are, after all, just people, and people have limitations. Pushing a character to those limitations and allowing him to rise or fall is the meat of a good story. Pushing the stakes as high as possible — to, say, the fate of a nation — is the gravy.
Join me this week as I take a look at some fictional Presidents and what they say we, as a country, might want in our actual leaders. Who are some of your favorite fictional Presidents, and why?