The box office failure of Primary Colors and Bulworth, directed by Mike Nichols and Warren Beatty respectively, has prompted Hollywood executives to view the future of the genre as “dicey,” or so says entertainment writer Bernard Weinraub in the June 18 New York Times. Mr. Weinraub seemed slightly shocked at this turn of events, since the aforementioned cinematic gems were “critically acclaimed” and had “generated an extraordinary number of magazine covers, television interviews and newspaper stories.”

Bernard Weinraub had lifted himself gingerly up on his rhetorical tiptoes to avoid saying this: the combined best efforts of the left-leaning world of pop-culture criticism and the left-leaning political media establishment could not generate commercial success (i.e., public validation) for the left-leaning Mike Nichols and the left-leaning Warren Beatty.

Their powerlessness to control public opinion often makes left-leaners both seethe and engage in compulsive fits of rationalization. Hence Mr. Weinraub’s summation as to why neither Primary Colors nor Bulworth “stirred enthusiasm” among moviegoers: “[Hollywood executives] blame the public’s dislike of politics and politicians for the [films’] lackluster box-office performance.”

Don’t you just love it? Hollywood makes millions by appealing to the public’s basest appetites, then acts insulted when its pretensions to “art” are ignored. In a way, though, it makes sense. The collective sensibility that turns out cynical crud like Godzilla and Natural Born Killers would automatically expect an audience to be not only grateful for but enlightened by a non-entity like Bulworth, a movie that achieves a certain level of “taste” merely by being nothing worse than a leaden conceit. After all, it’s not pornographic or anything.

There are two points to be made about Hollywood’s reaction. First, never blame the customer for disliking your product. Doing so creates a consumer who is not only dissatisfied but alienated. This is simply rudimentary marketing, of course, and you would think the financial wizards of the entertainment business would understand it, even if they don’t accept it. Does General Mills get ticked off when consumers reject its latest cereal?

The second point is more complicated and, in this instance, more relevant. According to Mr. Weinraub, Hollywood producers have concluded that “the air waves are so glutted with politicians and scandal that making a movie about a President or Senator in trouble seems redundant. Worse, it seems unentertaining.” I think that these executives are seeing it backward. Political movies aren’t redundant because we are glutted with politics; they are redundant because politics is glutted with entertainment. Movie politicians like John Travolta aren’t uninteresting because real politicians are boring; they are uninteresting because real politicians are now bigger celebrities than John Travolta. To recognize and understand this unique turn of events, the Hollywood establishment need merely cast its gaze upon its most adoring groupie: President Clinton.

Bill Clinton’s greatest and most insidious effect on American culture has been to transform the presidency—and much of American politics—into a vehicle of celebrity, “celebrity” being defined in the 90’s as being famous for being famous. The first presidential product of modern popular culture, Bill Clinton—baby boomer, Elvis impersonator—didn’t just become President in 1992. He also became, in his own mind, a star. And in the same fashion as, say. Madonna, he behaves like a star: consumed by his own awareness that he is being observed. Thus he performs, behaves, and strikes poses—does everything, that is, but he. If Clinton’s conduct in office reveals anything, it is his assumption that attitude is action. And of course, attitude-as-action—posing—is the foundation of popular culture, the base on which contemporary celebrity rests.

So the real question for Hollywood is this: Why pay to watch Warren Beatty, a preening actor, impersonate a politician, when we are forced every day to watch Bill Clinton, a politician, preen like a movie actor? The habits and values of celebrity culture now permeate the presidency; indeed, they now define the presidency. Who needs the fantasy of movie politics when real politics has traded the precepts of leadership for the precepts of fame? Mike Nichols and Warren Beatty, and the industry that financed their self-infatuated little movies, can simply count themselves as victims of their own success.

Bill Clinton has changed, at least for the time he is in office, the standards by which we judge a President. The biggest risk for most politicians is losing the public’s trust. We abandon elected officials when they misjudge their obligations or fail at their responsibilities. For Bill Clinton, it’s different. His risk is losing the public’s attention; he never really had its trust. As our first celebrity President, he faces a situation more similar to Michael Jackson’s than to any politician’s: When will he become too tedious, too weird, too predictable, too boring to care about? Wren that moment arrives (if that moment arrives). Bill Clinton will then embody a second milestone in American life: our first celebrity President will have evolved into our first has-been President. Has-been. It’s a term that probably originated in Hollywood.