With the announcement this morning that NBC bought a drama pilot that “follows an idealistic secret service agent who finds himself at the epicenter of an international crisis on his first day on the job. He will need to cross moral and legal lines as he navigates the highest levels of power and corruption on his search for the truth,” it’s official: Secret Service agents are the latest pop culture trend. We’ve already got two movies about attacks on the White House thwarted by a current Secret Service agent, Channing Tatum in Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, and a former Secret Service agent, Gerard Butler in Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen. In Political Animals, Secretary of State Elaine Barrish confides her presidential ambitions to her main Secret Service agent before anyone else. Eliza Coupe even showed up as a hilariously rigid agent in Community.
There’s an obvious difference between comedic and soapy portrayals of Secret Service agents and serious ones. But I think the fact that we’ve reached three in the latter category is indicative. Whether or not the threats against Barack Obama made during his presidency have been more credible, or at least more backed by true intent than the threats faced by both Presidents Clinton and both Presidents Bush, there is, I think, of the presidency being under threat. If you believe it’s obvious, as I do, that President Obama is a U.S. citizen, there’s something upsetting about the continued fringe campaign to prove that he is some sort of impostor, whether smuggled in from Kenya or a secret Muslim. Presidents have always been the subject of nastiness, whether it’s Rush Limbaugh referring to Chelsea Clinton as the family dog or a filmmaker imagining the assassination of President Bush. But there definitely feels something particularly pointed about the refusal to deny President Obama the facts of his own life. The attacks on his presidency may not be physical, but they encourage a paranoid uneasiness about the presidency. I can see why we’d want to escape into fantasies about defending the institution, and the most visible, looming manifestation of it.