President Obama, in his continuing quest to be both perfect parent and semi-hipster in his pop culture consumption habits, told People Magazine that his favorite television shows are Modern Family, Homeland, and Boardwalk Empire. Two of those three are about government (or the people who live in opposition to it), but all of these shows offer lessons for the man who holds the World’s Hardest job.
1. Drama never gets you anywhere (Modern Family): No Drama Obama’s alternately been praised for rising above Washington nonsense and pilloried for supposedly failing to fire up his base. But if there’s one thing ABC’s hit comedy preaches, it’s that getting all fired up generally isn’t worth it. Whether you’re freaking out on a bird in your living room, your overly-sexy, age-inappropriate step-mother, or letting Eric Cantor bait you, keeping your focus on your desired outcome rather than a perceived slight is the quickest route to getting what you want while expending minimal energy.
2. Listen to Women (Homeland): Earlier this fall, Obama took heat when Ron Suskind’s most recent book on the administration suggested that the Commander in Chief and his closest male advisers blew off the counsel of high-ranking female staffers. Now, I assume no one quite as mentally unhealthy as Carrie Mathison is working in the Obama White House. But the show’s a reminder that if we can overlook Rahm Emanuel’s temper tantrums, we should try to look past charges that women are “emotional,” too. Insights come from all sorts of places.
3. Sad but true: minority constituencies will be pretty patient (Boardwalk Empire): Boardwalk Empire started its second season with Nucky Thompson playing Atlantic City’s white and black communities off against each other. He supports Chalky White’s strike, but only when the black community tells Chalky they’re done being patient with him — and when stirring up the city coincides with Nucky’s own interests. And the season ended (in part) with Jimmy Darmody delivering more compensation money — and three Klansmen — to Chalky for judgment and distribution to the victims’ families. But he could have bought himself a meeting with Nucky with less. Leadership like that is what gets us the administration’s decision Plan B.
4. Diversity is strength (Modern Family): The show’s having a bit of a shaky season. But it’s at its best when devoted to storylines that show us people who thought they were different bridged by common interest, whether Cam and Jay bond over football or Gloria peps Claire up to run for local office. The message isn’t just that our differences are bridgeable — it’s that we’re stronger when we can make common cause on those shared interests and convictions.
5. National security and foreign affairs involve huge shifts — but individual actions matter too (Homeland): Just because the home-grown terrorists who periodically make headlines generally don’t seem to be all they’ve cracked up to be doesn’t mean that individuals can’t change the course of foreign policy and international affairs. Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia helped set off the Arab Spring. On the season finale of Homeland, Tom Walker and Nicholas Brody may make terrible history, as did the September 11 hijackers. We can try to make ourselves safer and our institutions stronger. But we probably can’t reduce the complex motivations that lead people to protest or to terror to predictable algorithms.