During his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Wesley Clark let it be known that his all-time favorite album is Journey's Greatest Hits. Comically banal as that may be, his choice isn't exactly surprising: Mainstream politicians generally avoid embracing anything too polarizing, particularly in the realm of art and entertainment. This was made most glaringly apparent during a notorious '80s fracas in which Reagan cabinet member James Watt temporarily banned those crazed nogoodniks in The Beach Boys from performing in Washington, D.C., arguing that they would attract "the wrong element." (Who, aging Baby Boomers?)
The generally dull nature of performers safe enough to enter the president's guarded orbit is just one of the reasons Celebrity-In-Chief, Alan Schroeder's superficial account of the intersection of presidential politics and show business, is such a bore. As Schroeder acknowledges, show-business celebrities and presidents gravitate toward each other for obvious reasons: Stars lend presidents a bit of their glamour, while presidents confer a touch of historic gravity onto celebrities often dismissed as lightweights.
Alas, interactions between celebrities and presidents are often limited to photo opportunities, pleasantries, and awkward small talk, which doesn't make for terribly compelling reading. When celebrity/president face-offs result in anything weird, surreal, or unpredictable, the results tend to become part of the nation's folklore. Celebrity-In-Chief duly notes such notorious moments as Marilyn Monroe's lascivious birthday tribute to John F. Kennedy, the legendary Richard Nixon/Elvis Presley summit, Nancy Reagan's appearance on Diff'rent Strokes, and the famous photo of Reagan posing alongside a Michael Jackson dressed in full Sgt. Crazy's Lonely Hearts Club Band regalia, but the book fails to add new information about any of these well-documented affairs. Combining a shaky grasp on pop cultureSchroeder irritatingly insists on referring to rappers as "rap singers"with the toothless bipartisanship of a Jay Leno monologue, Celebrity-In-Chief amounts to an endless catalog of dull anecdotes. It's so resolutely undemanding that reading it requires only slightly more effort than ignoring it.