The inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president on Tuesday will herald an era of change in American politics, but it also seems sure to usher in a period of radically changed relations between Hollywood and the power structure in Washington.
Artists, actors and musicians were among the first to throw their enthusiastic support behind Obama, back when he was a dark horse candidate in a sea of more experienced competitors.
And the high-net-worth power brokers of the entertainment industry were the financial backbone of Obama’s campaign, even when its public face suggested that his aggressive advertising was funded by small individual donors. Everyone from David Geffen to Jim Gianopulos to Steve Bing to Jamie Lynton dug deep when the stakes rose higher and election day grew closer. The campaign returned to gulp from the Hollywood well again and again.
But with the president rising to take office, the love affair enters a new and more tenuous stage. It could be a marriage made at the ballot box. But will it show up in any change at the box office? So far, Obama has not even dipped a toe into the conversation about all that’s ailing the entertainment industry.
From the start of his presidency and during his eight years in office, George W. Bush consciously sought to distance himself from the entertainment industry. He had numerous reasons to do so. He sought a sharp break from the cozy relationship of his morally disgraced predecessor, Bill Clinton. Bush’s conservative politics found few friends on the left coast, aside from the occasional storyline of the torture-friendly series, “24.” And Bush’s fervent Christian faith seemed fundamentally at odds with the loose moral code in the land of Mammon.
But as Washington adjusts to a new orientation toward the world of popular culture and media, numerous questions suggest themselves: what favors will Obama owe to the power brokers of Hollywood? How much attention will he pay to the business of making culture? What initiatives will he bring to help the economic engine of popular culture rev up for the digital era?
And apart from invitations to the White House, what role might the artists and entertainers who aligned themselves so clearly with Obama the candidate play in a new administration?
All this remains to be seen. It is a new day, a new year, a new era — a clean slate. And from the distance of another ocean’s shores, a welcome one.