Chaos is a ladder.
Lord Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger)
In mid-April 2016, HBO was hyping the new sixth season of GameofThrones , due to start in one week. Such was the success of the show that commentators were noting how all others trailed far behind HBO’s standard-bearer. 1 Posters and trailers, alongside programmes recapping the ten most shocking moments to date, helped to ignite the passions of avid viewers eagerly awaiting the show’s return and, potentially, several of its key cast members. Viewers were teased and enticed to
American television was about to be revolutionised by the advent of video on demand in 2007, when Netflix, having delivered over one billion DVDs, introduced streaming. This book explores the role that fictional television has played in the world politics of the US in the twenty-first century. It focuses on the second golden age of television, which has coincided with the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald J. Trump. The book is structured in three parts. Part I considers what is at stake in rethinking the act of watching television as a political and academic enterprise. Part II considers fictional television shows dealing explicitly with the subject matter of formal politics. It explores discourses of realpolitik in House of Cards and Game of Thrones, arguing that the shows reinforce dominant assumptions that power and strategy inevitably trump ethical considerations. It also analyses constructions of counterterrorism in Homeland, The West Wing, and 24, exploring the ways in which dominant narratives have been contested and reinforced since the onset of the War on Terror. Part III considers television shows dealing only implicitly with political themes, exploring three shows that make profound interventions into the political underpinnings of American life: The Wire, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. Finally, the book explores the legacies of The Sopranos and Mad Men, as well as the theme of resistance in The Handmaid's Tale.
regulative ideal, is a weak excuse for its downplaying or exclusion. 3 In the current era, it is plainly ludicrous to deny the centrality of the screen, located as it is at the heart of American political life, for presidents and the people.
Today, television is powerful in many senses, even – and especially – when the subject matter is fictional. Consider the affecting experience of watching key moments in your favourite show: in GameofThrones , the fate of Ned Stark’s neck, perhaps, or Prince Oberyn’s face. Fictional television is remarkable for its narrative
, metaphors and analogy can often play a deeper role. 22 They can be powerful rhetorical tools, which are hard to resist. Consider, for example, the allure of the phrase ‘winter is coming’, popularised by GameofThrones and repeated by political elites and the public alike. Beautiful, predictable, and true, the mantra is almost irresistibly ominous.
Coupled to rhetoric, oratorical performance adds significant force to rhetoric’s appeal. Oratory involves consideration of the delivery of speech and language, including volume, tone, or intonation. The medium of
normative parameters of political life, shaping what can, could, must, and might happen in our lives and in our world. This is just as true for us – as ordinary citizens who enjoy watching television – as it is for our political leaders. Reflect for a moment on how many hours you have spent watching C-SPAN or the BBC Parliament channel. How many hours have you invested in GameofThrones or House of Cards or your favourite television show? The exploration and interrogation of popular culture and fictional television are imperative for political and social science. And
feature of debates about the future of the Irish language after independence was that these, by necessity, took place in English. The free Irish
people mostly chose to read novels and newspapers in English. Writers
as different as Canon Sheehan, Frank O’Connor, James Joyce, John
McGahern and Maeve Binchy all wrote about what it was to be Irish
in English. People went to the cinema where English became, once the
talkies arrived, the language of romance and adventure. Their greatgrandchildren most probably know more about Lord of the Rings or
GameofThrones than the Táin
ofThrones and House of Cards , noting that he wished he could whip votes in Congress in the manner of Frank Underwood. In conversation with the Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Obama joked, ‘I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient … This guy’s getting a lot of stuff done.’ 32
As president, and even before occupying the Oval Office, Obama was often linked with a range of television shows, as a star, critic, inspiration, and fan. In all of these roles, he showed an explicit awareness of the power of this particular popular culture medium. In 2015, he featured as
GameofThrones . And, of course, one of the critiques of terming any era as ‘golden’ is that the moniker is so frequently and inconsistently invoked, in lieu of agreed criteria, and is inspired in part by the heuristic biases of privileging the recent. Nonetheless, for Robert Thompson, the aesthetic flowering of the 1980s was unexpected, as sows’ ears turned to silk purses. 35 He notes that the 1950s were really a golden age for mass-distributed theatre, whereas the era of quality television in the 1980s and early 1990s employed the crucial serial form for scripted