Last week I gave a lecture as part of my final year undergraduate Fictionalised Politics course, which looks at how representative politics - let's just call it 'democracy' - is depicted in Britain and the United States.
The basic proposition is that fictional representations matter because they do more than (imperfectly) reflect how we imagine our our real democracy: they can also shape how we come to think about it. I develop some of the themes in the course in my book A State of Play, which focuses just on British political fiction.
In the lecture I talked about gender as the ‘social organization of sexual difference’, the meanings of
Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove recently grabbed the headlines by claiming Britons mistakenly think the 1914-18 conflict a ‘misbegotten shambles’ partly because that’s what Blackadder told them it was. To rather less fanfare, last autumn Defence minister Andrew Murrison and Jeremy Paxman said very much the same thing. And before Gove turned the issue into a party spat, Dan Jarvis, Labour’s shadow Justice minister, argued Blackadder promoted an erroneous ‘pointless futility’ narrative about the war.
Blackadder is not alone in constituting that which Gove described as the ‘fictional prism’ through
On Twitter recently, Ben Page of Ipsos MORI compared levels of public trust in judges, civil servants and politicians in 1983 and 2013, findings that form part of his organisation's ongoing survey of popular trust in various professions' ability to tell the truth.
As you can see below, he points out that judges are slightly more trusted today while politicians still lurk at a very low level indeed.
But something remarkable has happened to trust in civil servants: it has more than doubled.
During an email exchange with Richard Kelly, Head of Politics at Manchester Grammar School and author of a highly regarded study of how Conservative Party conferences actually work, recalled:
Back in 1979, when I was campaigning for the Tories, I remember talking to some party officials about their attempt to sell Margaret Thatcher to a society still unaccustomed to women at the top. They told me that, though Gordon Reece et al had helped, the biggest helping hand had come from the popular TV series The Good Life, and one of its central characters, Margo Leadbeater.
Penelope Keith's portrayal of this quintessential suburban Conservative, who managed to be
In 1930 George Arliss won an Academy Award for his starring role in the film ‘Disraeli’. The film’s interpretation of Disraeli offers an interesting insight into the way in which Prime Ministers were viewed in the early half of the 20th century.
As part of the Picturing Politics series hosted by the University of Nottingham's School of Politics and IR, I looked at what the film reveals about our changed attitudes towards political leaders.
The podcast can be heard here.
George Arliss is a long forgotten figure. But in the 1930s he meant a lot to British movie audiences, so much in fact one poll made him the most popular film star of 1934, knocking Clark Gable into second place. Arliss was, however, an unlikely star – in his sixties, he had a stoop and bad teeth – but his screen persona clearly resonated with cinema audiences.
Thanks to the 1929 Hollywood movie Disraeli, Arliss was a transatlantic star. It won him an Oscar
Beneath the calm surface of British politics, lurking in the imaginations of some of our leading writers, terrible things have happened. In this Radio 4 Archive Hour documentary produced by Jane Ashley I examine these dystopian visions which have gripped creative and public imaginations in novels and dramas since the end of the second world war.
British democracy has come under threat time and again in fictions from 1984 to V for Vendetta, by way of Dr Who, The Prisoner, A Very British Coup, Edge of Darkness and others.
Britons have been oppressed by authoritarian governments, suffered alien subjugation, been
How we imagine politics is sometimes as important as how it really is – if the latter can ever be determined, that is. Indeed according to Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities, one of the most basic political concepts, the nation state, had to be first imagined before it could exist in reality. It is also generally accepted that while fiction can rarely over-turn strongly held points of view, it canreinforce existing opinions and subtly reframe how people think about a subject. At the very least fictions give us an insight into how people feel about political issues.
We now live in an era in which many talk of the death of the nation state and its supersession by globalisation and supranational bodies, probably the most important of which is the European Union.