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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

A new way to think of Austin power

The things I would never know about my own country’s leader if I didn’t read the British press…

Actually, it’s more complicated than that. It is only because on one Sunday I happened to peruse the Irish edition of The Sunday Times, which is actually a London newspaper, that I happened to read an excerpt from a book by Frank Bruni, who based his tome on insights he gained while writing for The New York Times, which is, of course, an American newspaper. That combination alone caught my attention since The New York Times can fairly be said to have an editorial stance that is somewhat left of center. And The Sunday Times, despite the similar name, by virtue of essentially being owned by Rupert Murdoch can fairly be said to be somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun. With a setup like this, I definitely had to read The Sunday Times’s excerpt of Bruni’s book, which has the simple title of Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush.

The reason the excerpt wound up in The Sunday Times is clearly due to the fact that Bruni, while not doing an uncritical puff piece on the U.S. president, is fairly positive on the way Bush grew into his office on and after September 11. This is all well and good, but the burning question deep-thinking people really want answered is: What does Bush think about movies?

As I’ve noted in this space before, Bush’s predecessor was very much into movies and, as at least one intellectual observer noted, was very aware of his own cultural context. Now, that’s impressive. Personally, I don’t think I have ever been aware of my own cultural context, and in fact I’m not even sure what that means. And that undoubtedly explains why I am not currently, have not been in the past, nor will ever in be in the future the leader of the free world.

So, how does Bush measure up to the whole movie/cultural context thing? Actually, well before I read this excerpt, I had heard the reports that Bush was culturally isolated. Bruni confirms this, noting that “when a reporter mentioned the word vegan one day, Bush looked confused; he didn’t know what that was.” Moreover, according to Bruni, “When it came to movies and music, the man had apparently never picked up People magazine and never surfed the channels.” He goes on to assert that Bush had never heard of Sex and the City and “thought Friends was a movie.”

So, my friends, things are much worse than we thought. We actually have someone in the White House who not only doesn’t care if Rachel winds up with Ross or Joey but who doesn’t even know enough to ask the question. Moreover, he probably doesn’t even know who the sexiest man alive is and, worse, may not even know that someone actually designates someone to be the sexiest man alive. How can this man govern? Say what you want about Bill Clinton, you can be damn sure he has seen Sex and the City. Probably every single episode. And has probably slept with the entire cast, not only making him uniquely qualified for his (former) role as president of the United States but also qualifying him, if he so wished, to be the president of France as well.

Just when we think, however, that the Bush administration is hopelessly a cultural self-awareness black hole, we find that the president knows exactly how he fits into the popular culture. In another section of the excerpt, Bruni reveals that during his presidential campaign Bush revealed himself to be a fan of the Austin Powers movies! Writes Bruni of Bush’s behavior around the pack of journalists following him on the campaign trail, “He was constantly lifting his little finger to the corner of his mouth to mimic the Dr. Evil character in the Powers movies.” Adds the author, “[H]e laughed loudly when a supporter gave him a doctored photograph depicting him as his father’s Mini-Me.”

W as Mini-Me

I presume that the photo in question is the one above, which I have thanks to my very good friend Melanie, who has reliably made sure that I see every single joke and gag ever passed around anywhere at all on the Internet. Sometimes three or four times.

So, we find that our president is actually very aware of his cultural context. This is very reassuring, and not just because we now know that W. really knows after all how he fits into the popular culture. I’m sure that seeing the Austin Powers movies gave him insights into British culture, which helped him relate to Prime Minister Tony Blair during their various intense summit meetings. (Bush: “Hey, Tony baby, you Brits are shag-a-rific, but what a bummer about your teeth.” Blair: “Okay, we’ll send in troops to Afghanistan. Just stop talking to me!”)

And here I was all this time, thinking that the president’s intellectual formation had come about from viewing the TV series Dallas.

-S.L., 18 April 2002

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