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'Lincoln' and 'Zero Dark Thirty' up for Oscars: Does Hollywood set US agenda? (+video)

Hollywood has long looked to political crises for dramatic inspiration. What is different, these Academy Award nominees show, is how much people in government are paying attention.

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With 12 Oscar nominations to its name, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” has thrown sharp focus on the ways that the entertainment industry is fast becoming our unofficial fifth branch of government.

(Whether the news media, the Fourth Estate, is actually a fourth branch of government we can discuss another time!)

With President Obama ordering up a private screening of a new NBC sitcom, “1600 Penn,” about life in the White House, members of Congress calling for hearings on whether another Best Picture contender, “Zero Dark Thirty,” reveals classified data, and people hanging out at office water coolers chatting casually about the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation and whether or not Lincoln really needed to push for the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, Hollywood is helping set the political agenda for the nation in an ever bigger way, say media and political observers.

Of course Hollywood movies and TV shows have been looking to government crises and historical events for dramatic inspiration for years, from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) and “Advise and Consent” (1962) and up through "Primary Colors" (1998) and "The West Wing" (1999 to 2006).

What is different now is how much people in government are paying attention to these portrayals. As mass media and pop culture have become the go-to spots for a media-savvy generation, Washington is taking pop culture ever more seriously.

“To get hard things done, the president has to lead,” noted Sen. Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri, after a screening of "Lincoln" in the thick of fiscal cliff negotiations.

“Virtually every member of the Senate, I think, has seen this new movie on Lincoln, and the lesson of that movie is that to get hard things done the president has to decide he wants something done,” he adds.

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