For better or worse, politicians and entertainers have dominated public life in America for much of the twentieth century. Members of both professions, striving to create a vibrant connection with the public, have found their worlds increasingly entangled. Hope for America: Performers, Politics, and Pop Culture explores some of these entanglements, focusing on the careers of Bob Hope and other entertainers who chose to involve themselves in the political climate of their times. By virtue of their artistic talents and celebrity status, in front of the cameras and behind the scenes, with charisma and chutzpah, entertainers have served party, cause, and country—not to mention their own ambitions—as they sought to make a difference in the political life of the nation.
Hope for America explores the time-honored tradition of American comedians commenting on the political scene in satires gentle and vicious that have entertained and rattled the political establishment. The exhibition surveys the involvement of entertainers in a wide range of causes and campaigns that on occasion have led to clashes and controversies. Popular performers such as Bob Hope have taken the lead in raising money to support the war effort, risked their lives entertaining troops at the front lines, and represented the U.S. abroad in cultural diplomacy initiatives. During the stridently divisive 1960s, entertainers on opposite ends of the political spectrum stepped beyond the traditional performing stage to enter more directly into the political fray, often at the risk of alienating their fans. The exhibition concludes in contemporary times by examining the blurring of lines between the two worlds of entertainment and politics. Entertainers have run for high public office, barriers between the once separate domains of news and entertainment programs have fallen, and the electoral process increasingly has become infused with entertainment values. Throughout the exhibition, stations displaying films, television shows, and sound recordings bring the themes of the exhibition to life.
Bob Hope, who entertainment historian and critic Leonard Maltin declared “may be the most popular entertainer in the history of Western civilization,” was arguably the nation’s best-loved topical humorist during the twentieth century. Hope for America draws from the personal papers, joke files, films, radio and television broadcasts, and other materials donated to the Library of Congress by Bob Hope and his family. To put the history of the involvement of entertainers in politics into perspective, the exhibition also profiles the politically oriented activities of other prominent figures represented in the Library’s vast collections.
The exhibition invites visitors to examine artifacts that represent an array of viewpoints and draw their own conclusions regarding the interplay of politics and entertainment in American public life and its consequences for the nation’s political culture.
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