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
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
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
, that the narrative element of their respective disciplines requires the art of literary interpretation and that it is in this overlapping of disciplines that theory serves an important role, a notion that is now widely accepted but in the 1970s was considered controversial. White’s conception of the intermingling of fact and fiction is aptly illustrated by the opening episode of HouseofCards , where we see a modern version of Macbeth , a completely fictionalised tale of Washington ambition that we nonetheless believe to be possible, even probable, and thus
the person on whom the Prime Minister relied most heavily for support in political battles. But no more: the arrival of the ‘celebrity Prime Minister’, by which Oborne seemed to mean Tony Blair and by implication Thatcher, has seen the emphasis shift to the chief spin doctor. He illustrates this by reference to the eclipse of the fictional Francis Urquhart – the epicene Chief Whip villain of Dobbs’ HouseofCards – by the fictional Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed hero-villain of Armando Ianucci’s The Thick of It and the film In the Loop :
All the same
advantage of to create France, and the fact that he has to build a houseofcards in one game points to the fragility of his domestic situation. The
ﬁgure of the clown mirrors Jean’s position, emphasising disguise and illusion and the masking of his identity (‘Ce que j’étais vraiment, ce que je suis,
je ne l’ai partagé avec personne’ (p. ) (The truth of who I was, who I am,
Lambrichs: trauma, dream and narrative
I have never shared with anybody)). Although it is necessary for him to
create a new, successful persona, he longs to take oﬀ the mask to reveal and