ponder the fate of Jon Snow, who had apparently met his demise in a cold betrayal. Even before it was back on US screens, Game of Thrones ’ return was a cultural and political event, with commentators discussing the show and using it as a way to understand America’s contemporary world politics. Most pertinently to the moment, The Daily Show ’s Trevor Noah asked who would win ‘the game of who wants to be president’?
One month previously, the US HouseofCards had ended its fourth season in dramatic fashion. Viewers, seemingly unanimously, concurred that the season
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.
political role played by fictional shows as the US transitioned into a new television age at the start of the twenty-first century. The examples drawn upon to begin to unpick the interweaving of America’s politics and television are Friends – as a seemingly apolitical show that preceded television’s second golden age – and HouseofCards – as an explicitly political show which helped to define the new era through its format, content, casting, release, and popularity. This introductory discussion of television and politics sets up Chapter 2 ’s more detailed overview
A series of first female presidents from Commander in Chief to House of Cards
Lady Macbeth in the Oval Office
Frank Underwood realises that his houseofcards is finally about to topple when two Democratic senators visit him in the Oval Office. Because the Judiciary Committee is about to send articles of impeachment to the House of Representatives, they have come to ask him to resign. Rather than complying with their suggestion, he insists that dirty hands were always part of Washington’s politics, even if history has a way of looking better than it was. Then, no longer addressing the two congressmen and, instead, looking squarely
Holmes and The West Wing . White goes on to explain that one key element in the story of history is the concept of plot or what he calls ‘emplotment’. This concept is considered in the next section , in conjunction with The Second Best Marigold Hotel and HouseofCards . Emplotment can only be successfully achieved by use of tropology and culture, elements of rhetorical style necessary for history. In the third section, Frozen and The Railway Man serve as examples.
Hayden White, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, enters
Serial Shakespeare explores the dissemination and reassemblage of Shakespeare’s plays in contemporary media culture, regarding the way this taps into but also transforms his preferred themes, concerns and constellations of characters. The appropriations discussed include isolated citations in Westworld and The Wire, a typology of the first female president modelled on figures of female sovereignty, as well as a discussion of what one might call a specifically Shakespearean dramaturgy in Deadwood and The Americans. By proposing a reciprocal exchange between the early modern plays and contemporary serial TV drama, the book focusses on the transhistoric and transmedial dialogue a revisitation of the Bard entails. The readings consider the Shakespeare text again, from a different perspective, but also address the fact that his text comes back to us again, from the past. The book claims that serial TV drama keeps appropriating Shakespeare to give voice to unfinished cultural business regarding the state of the American nation because both share the sense of writing in and for a period of interim. Given that the Bard continues to write and read America, what the book draws into focus is how both scriptwriters and cultural critics can, by repurposing him, come up with narratives that are appropriate to our times.
contrast screen portrayals of American politics 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 HouseofCards , 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
being discussed. It should also be kept in mind that almost any of the films and television selections could be used to exemplify other theories than those I have chosen.
The fact that movies and television are independent works of art with their own goals also serves my purpose, for they thereby suggest that the ideas contained in them are arrived at independently, demonstrating the general presence in the culture of these ideas. For example, the HouseofCards episode used to illustrate White’s notion of how fiction and fact join to make history could also
ways in which fictional television can make direct interventions into politics, impacting upon political possibility or impossibility in a variety of important and consequential ways. First, Chapter 5 explores discourses of realpolitik in HouseofCards and Game of Thrones , arguing that the shows reinforce dominant assumptions that power and strategy inevitably trump ethical considerations. Second, Chapter 6 analyses constructions of counterterrorism in Homeland, The West Wing , and 24 , exploring the ways in which dominant narratives have been contested
patriarchal power of the state, theirs is perceived as a countersovereignty, which, as was already discussed in Chapter 3 , can never fully shed the taint of the transgressive and the offensive. As legitimate as their demand may be, it rattles those who represent the established political order in Washington. In Chapter 3 , I discussed the most rogue of presidents: Claire Underwood. The ones I am turning to now can be seen in dialogue – both implicitly and explicitly – with her. Like HouseofCards , the shows that will now be discussed also serve as a commentary on the