In The Guardian (UK), Mark Lawson writes that he used to think that television was bad for historical literacy.
Recently, though, while watching an episode of Glee, I wondered if this theory was entirely right and asked a passing 11-year-old to list all the US presidents he knew, apart from Obama. The impressive, if eclectic, selection was: William McKinley, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and a couple of Bushes.
The reason for this fluency in former occupants of the White House is a peculiarity of US popular culture aimed at the young, which provides an accidental national curriculum in past US commanders-in-chief.
McKinley, an indifferent incumbent at the turn of the 20th century who failed to be made famous even by assassination, is now immortalised for school-age viewers as the dedicatee of the Ohio high school in which Glee is set. The cryogenically preserved head of Richard M Nixon runs the world in Futurama, while Lincoln, Clinton and Bush I and II have featured in frequent storylines on The Simpsons.