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

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“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.

America is a nation of over-sized narratives, says Oliver McGee, Howard University professor, former Clinton adviser and author of “Jumping The Aisle: How I Became a Black Republican in the Age of Obama.” Hollywood or the entertainment industry as a whole, he says, “is the force that is telling the American stories to the world.”

And now, more than ever, that industry is telling the American story to Americans themselves.

“How great is it that people are actually learning about the difference between an executive order and a law?” says Bill Rosenberg, political science professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who teaches courses in politics, entertainment and political propaganda.

He notes that the story at the core of the Spielberg film is quite esoteric from the standpoint of a civics lesson. Yet it forms the heart of the drama for a film that has made some $144 million at the box office and is leading the Oscars race.

Audience members, by the way, may not immediately leave the theater understanding why Lincoln needed both to pass the 13th Amendment as well as sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Professor Rosenberg points out that the order would expire with the end of Lincoln’s term in office. Unless the subsequent president picked it up, he points out, “it would die.” Hence the need for an amendment.

That lesson has direct relevance to urgent issues in today’s political dramas. For instance, Rosenberg points out that Mr. Obama is considering issuing an executive order with respect to what needs to be done about gun violence in the wake of so many mass shootings nationwide.

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