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George W. Bush and pop culture's perception

More than all his predecessors, Bush may see his legacy shaped by the barrage of new media.

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But that cowboy persona was turned against him by dozens of YouTube impersonators – most notably Will Ferrell – who lambasted Bush as a country yokel who “misunderestimated” the importance of elocution.

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“[Bush’s] entire presidency was about the projection of an image, so the fact that there have been so many pop-culture representations of him is a logical extension of that,” says Bernie Heidkamp, a contributor to PopPolitics, an online magazine about the convergence of politics and pop culture.

If Bush was clearly not destined to inherit Ronald Reagan’s mantle as “the great communicator,” the events of Sept. 11 gave him the opportunity to present himself as the great uniter. When the president stood on top of the rubble of the Twin Towers with a bullhorn, his poll ratings rocketed. For a while it seemed that entertainment narratives, such as Showtime’s 2003 movie “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis,” would fundamentally redefine Bush as a hero.

But no amount of carefully choreographed images – such as Bush’s “Top Gun”-like landing on an aircraft carrier for the now-infamous “mission accomplished” speech – could withstand the growing unease among entertainers about the Iraq war and the USA Patriot Act.

Soon, largely Left Coast artists started squaring off against Middle Americans. And, sometimes, things got ugly. Bush’s character was assassinated in the movie “Death of a President” and he was the subject of further abuse in “South Park” and “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.”

Bush found plenty of defenders in the blogosphere, plenty of whom have hung on. But even some supporters eventually became disillusioned at the administration’s handling of the war and hurricane Katrina. Worse, questions began to mount as to whether the administration had deceived the public about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. The moment Bush lost the pop-culture war might be when “24,” a show that seemed to be a cheerleader for the war on terror, depicted its fictitious American president as a duplicitous villain.

Still, Bush supporters believe that the pop-culture “record” will be trumped by a long-term vindication of Bush’s war on terror. “Ronald Reagan was thought to be a fool or a cowboy, but the press started to realize that he actually helped to end the cold war,” says Ronald Kessler, author of “A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush.” “To some extent, it’s the same with Bush.”