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.
It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.
Richard Hofstadter 1
This book focuses on American television and Americanpolitics. That is for good reason. The US is not only the world’s sole superpower; moreover it is history’s greatest hegemon: a modern Leviathan. Never before has one country amassed such an overwhelming preponderance of power. Contra Senator Arthur Vandenberg, Americanpolitics certainly does not stop at the water’s edge; America’s military reach is truly global, with its national interest
catastrophe and the election of America’s first black president. Despite significant policy achievements, Barack Obama cut a divisive figure in Americanpolitical, media, and public debate. Disquiet surrounding his presidency, in part, created the context in which his successor’s candidacy was possible. In a few short months, the political rise of the reality TV star Donald Trump went from far-fetched speculation to omnipresent feature in the nation’s media. His inauguration posed a self-acknowledged and potentially fundamental challenge to America’s political norms and
, however, that if Donald Trump had not been elected this book’s arguments would not have been very different. Empirically, the screening of 9/11 and the War on Terror, followed by Barack Obama’s popular-culture mastery and, arguably, popular-culture presidency, have been remarkable. They are also, of course, the continuation of processes established in the second half of the twentieth century. Yet fictional television’s second golden age at the start of the twenty-first century has taken the relationship of Americanpolitics and the small screen to unprecedented heights
contrast screen portrayals of Americanpolitics and politicians, especially the American president, which often tend to the extremes of human nature. On the one hand, films such as Clear and Present Danger and Absolute Power , as well as television’s House of Cards , reflect a ‘Watergate sensibility’ of the president as corrupt crook, motivated by personal gain and desire. 4 On the other hand, films such as Independence Day and Air Force One , like television’s The West Wing , present a much more hopeful and/or heroic vision of the president. 5 The contrast
recent popular-culture penchant relates to IR and US world politics. Next, the chapter analyses the discursive intervention of The Walking Dead , connecting the show’s storylines with contemporary developments in Americanpolitics as well as more timeless issues of political theory. To do so, the chapter considers, third, the role of violence in understandings of humanity and human-ness and, fourth, what it is that is at stake in struggles to contest these definitions.
The rise of the zombies
The Walking Dead is the latest and most prolonged televisual engagement
. It is hard to overstate the significance of this symbolic fact as a landmark in Americanpolitical history and indicator of social progress.
As Obama began to conduct his final international tours, it was clear that many allies would miss him. In Canada, the parliament rose as one to applaud the outgoing president, chanting in unison, ‘four more years’. Many of Obama’s principal foreign-policy achievements came late in his term, as a president attuned to the longue durée and sensitive to the patience necessary for gradual and grinding change to be achieved
America around the narrative framing of e pluribus unum . Her project, ‘I am an American’, highlights those who fall through the gaps of the Americanpolitical, economic, and social system, despite the dominance of narratives suggesting an equality of opportunity as part of the American Dream.
Like identity, facts cannot ‘speak for themselves’ and must be framed in order to make sense and to mean particular things. Drawing on Cultural and Media Studies, Michael Barnett has developed the notion of framing for researching world politics. Here, again, we see a shared
president to use America’s military might because, ultimately, ‘It’s what our fathers taught us’? 6 These shows make powerful, resonant, and consequential discursive interventions into policy debates, as is demonstrated by the fact it was to these shows that these three giants of Americanpolitics turned in explaining their lives and the challenges facing the US and its government. This chapter traces the interventions and impact of Homeland, 24 , and The West Wing on America’s world politics, with a particular focus on how Americans think and feel about counter
the If… Cartoons’, Political Geography , 15:6–7 (1996), 571–592.
36 Dittmer, ‘Captain America’s Empire’; Saunders, ‘Small Screen IR’.
37 Saunders, ‘Small Screen IR’.
38 Scott, AmericanPolitics in Hollywood ; Frame, The American President in Film and Television . Chapters 1 and 2 drew on a number of these scholars in order to contextualise and theorise television’s second golden age, including Coyne, Hollywood Goes to Washington ; Kellner, Cinema Wars ; and Westwell, Parallel Lines . For an excellent recent edited collection bringing together