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.
attention as the big screen. This era was dominated at its outset by America’s small-screen viewing of 9/11. Television is the medium through which the vast majority of US citizens experienced and came to understand the events of 11 September 2001. In the following two decades, fictionaltelevision series would provide very many of them with the continued opportunity to negotiate the meanings of this attack, this moment, and its foundational role in initiating the new era characterised by an enduring war against terrorism. Throughout this period, fictionaltelevision has
institutions. Controversies surrounding migration, gender equality, and race relations have been thrust front and centre. Yet Trump’s election and tenure are only two of the most testing elements of a post-9/11 era that has consistently proved controversial, and which has continually played out on American television screens.
This book, therefore, explores the role that fictionaltelevision 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
House. From this unexpected turn of events, two important lessons have emerged. First, we must continue to explore the relationship of politics to popular culture generally and fictionaltelevision specifically. If Trump has made one thing abundantly obvious it is that television and politics are now so fully enmeshed that it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins. Second, that exploration is now particularly pressing in an era where ‘resist’ has become a rallying cry. Fictionaltelevision is an important site of dissent.
It is important to reiterate
television and world politics in their interlocking: namely, the role that popular culture plays in enabling, shaping, and delimiting political possibility. In this instance, the chapter reminds readers that fictionaltelevision can close down as well as open up space for thinking and acting otherwise in world politics; fictionaltelevision can amplify as well as contest dominant discourses. Second and third, the chapter explores House of Cards and Game of Thrones in turn, asking how it is that each of the shows constructs a particular world politics and to what effect
fictionaltelevision can and frequently does play in American politics. More specifically, I argue that television’s second golden age has embraced a longer history of positive issue framing that has been of sustained importance in imagining and reimagining the US president. To do so, I assess a range of related television shows that increase the political possibility of future outcomes that were previously difficult to imagine. In turn, the chapter considers how portrayals of the US president in fictionaltelevision shows have helped to pave the way for the election of
popular culture and fictionaltelevision. Missing from this list is gender; a vital issue for popular culture and world politics, not least given Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign and revelations about her opponent grabbing women ‘by the pussy’. This, alongside the varied impacts of economic and healthcare reform, as well as the policies of the War on Terror, have ensured that gender remains a key issue in American politics and one at the heart of the Trump presidency.
Trump’s foreign policy has been characterised in a multitude of ways: America First
). Quality television shows such as these – concerning both formal politics and the political nature of everyday life – have helped to make this an exceptional era of American television.
Television and politics (from Friends to House of Cards )
In its second golden age, fictionaltelevision helps to shape values, identities, and worldviews. It also has significant impact upon our policy preferences, and even on the likelihood of us believing in conspiracies. 48 Television can even be a matter of life and death for some people, helping to determine whether you
‘grey zone’ between being on the right side of the law and doing what is necessary. In its third section, therefore, this chapter considers the implications of fictionaltelevision’s portrayal of torture during the era of the War on Terror. It argues that such portrayals matter – they influence us, just as they influence the decisions of a Supreme Court Justice – and, frequently, they have been problematic.
Finally, in its fourth section, the chapter turns to consider a related and similarly contentious issue: the need for pre-emptive military action to counter
Pop culture is a reflection of social change, not a cause of social change.
John Podhoretz 1
Popular culture matters: your fashion sense, music preferences, book choices, love or disdain for video games, whether you sport a tattoo or not, your posture, your accent, your pet, and your drink are all politically consequential. 2 So too is television. It always has been. But today we live in a golden age of fictionaltelevision series, which play a significant role in helping to make meaning out of our world, both for us and in dialogue