This week the American people chose Barack Obama to be their 44th president, which pleases some, annoys others, and reminds us all that the role of president looms large in our lives — making it excellent fodder for Hollywood in all sorts of film genres, especially scifi. And so I wondered what lessons these science fictional heads of state could teach our real future president. Should he emulate their courses of action? Let’s go to the films.
Warning: This article contains spoilers. As if you haven’t seen these films already.
President: Thomas J. Whitmore of Independence Day (Bill Pullman)
Crisis: Alien invasion!
Evaluation: Mixed, but mostly positive. On one hand, if I were president and a huge, alien spacecraft parked itself right over the White House, I’d head straight to an undisclosed location rather than wait while they decide to either beam down or blow it up. Then again, Whitmore did attempt to see if we and the aliens could live together, so he’s open to diplomacy. But when push came to shove, he was also willing to nuke ’em, which I call presidential. And leading the final air attack against the aliens? Very Teddy Roosevelt.
Lessons for the president-elect: Speak softly and carry a big enemy-busting stick.
President: Tom Beck of Deep Impact (Morgan Freeman)
Crisis: A comet is coming to destroy us all!
Evaluation: Very positive. First, he manages to charm an investigative reporter into keeping a blockbuster secret through sheer force of being Morgan Freeman. Second, when he announces to the country that a massive comet is coming and might kill them all, he keeps everyone calm by exuding that Morgan Freeman charm. Third, when it’s clear that the comet will indeed kill them all, he gives a soothing valedictory speech that makes everyone feel okay about dying horribly, because he does it in those deep, reassuring Morgan Freeman tones. And then, when only about half of everybody dies, he tells everyone else, “Well, it’s time to get back to work,” and they get back to work — because he’s Morgan Freeman.
Lessons for the President-elect: Be Morgan Freeman.
President: James Dale of Mars Attacks! (Jack Nicholson)
Evaluation: Very bad. He keeps falling for the Martian, “Oh, we want to be friends, please pay no attention to this vaporizing death ray we’re using to vaporize you to death with” trick. Honestly, after the second time, you should really get the hint. Dale is ineffective in foreign relations, he gets assassinated in a really humiliating way, and he dresses badly (although that may just be the other role Jack Nicholson plays in the film — it gets confusing).
Lessons for the President-elect: Don’t give your enemy a second (or third, or fourth) chance.
President: The President (no name given) of Superman II (E.G. Marshall)
Crisis: Coup d’Etat from General Zod!
Evaluation: Not only does he lose control of the government, he totally kneels before Zod, and thus is full of epic fail. Oh, sure, he says he’s doing it to save lives, but look: Here in the US, we don’t change rulers through a system of kneeling. We have elections. Besides, any treaty with General Zod would have had to be ratified by Congress. Really, there’s so much procedurally wrong with this scene I hardly know where to begin.
Lessons for the President-elect: No kneeling before Zod! Seriously. Or anyone else; you’re an American, and we stopped kneeling in 1776. Also, respect the Constitutional balance of powers.
President: The President (no name given, but noted in various places as “President White”) of Escape From New York (Donald Pleasance)
Crisis: Visits New York City!
Evaluation: Terrible. First, he’s president of a country so messed up they have to chain off New York City as a prison, which suggests all sorts of infrastructure and land resource management incompetencies. Second, his security is so lax that terrorists infiltrate and destroy Air Force One, supposedly the most secure plane in the world. Third, when captured by New York City prisoners, he blubbers like a six-year-old girl, showing a real lack of character. Finally, he doesn’t show real appreciation for everything Snake Plisskin does to save his sorry tuchus, which is just plain rude.
Lessons for the President-elect: Pay attention to national infrastructure initiatives, don’t skimp on security, and if you do turn a major city into a prison, don’t ever, ever, fly over it.
Do you have any other lessons to add, from these science fictional presidents, or others? Put them in the comments.
Winner of the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale. He’s also the editor of METAtropolis, an audiobook anthology on Audible.com. His column appears every Thursday.Read More