Pop Fiction: an Article on Politics and Dramas

Obama serieOn February the 13th, a tweet from Barack Obama’s account went viral. Was this tweet a matter of utmost importance regarding new reforms or foreign policy? No, it said: “Tomorrow: @HouseOfCards. No spoilers please.” Even though this tweet was not send personally by Barack Obama (whose tweets are signed “B.O”), it is common knowledge that the President is a fan of the Netflix drama. And yet, isn’t it a bit odd that the President of the United States professes his excitement over a TV-series that depicts a cynical and disillusioned Washington political scenery? In fact, it is not. The subjects of the series are of little matter when the main goal of such a communication is to reinforce the feeling that the President lives in the same reality as everybody else and can be addicted to TV-shows just as you and I. Over the years, Obama’s communication has cheerfully depicted the aspect of the popular culture that he loves, which has been a very efficient boost for his popularity.

Since the last decade, we have witnessed a growing infatuation for the small screen from all fronts: TV-shows’ production budget and airtime have increased as well as viewers’ interest for such programs. Famous movie actors and directors are now involved in TV-shows, just as TV actors appear on the big screen. And more importantly, the quality of some shows matches the greatest cinema productions. TV-series, especially dramas, are now more than ever a trending topic for any public figure to talk about or at least to know about. Matt Romney and Barack Obama were frequently asked about their favorite TV-shows during the presidential campaign. Nowadays, the affection between political and fictional scenes seems stronger than ever. The fiction world is obsessed with the political scenery (The West Wing, State Of Play,  Scandal, Homeland, House of cards) just as much as the political world seems inclined to talk about fiction dramas. In such a context, we can easily picture how inconvenient it would be for a public figure to be unable to list a favorite TV-shows list.

Why are TV-shows so popular? What do they have to offer that other cultural productions cannot? First, the particularly convenient disposition, regarding the consumption of the programs (one episode per week, 20 to 50 minutes an episode), allows TV-shows to be followed by many, thus creating a fad. Second, that fad becomes a trend which lasts longer than the one of any film when you take into account the length of the season format (from 3 to 6 month). Basically, if you want to capitalize on the popularity of a trend, it is all for the best if it lasts for a while. Moreover, the length of a season allows the writers to develop complex story lines and characters that appeal to the viewer as the story unfolds (if you take a 50 minutes show with 10 episodes you get more than 8 hours of fiction). But above all, the recurrent diffusion of the program creates a climate of excitement and expectations after every episode. This encourages people to talk about a show and prescribe it to the ones that haven’t seen it yet.

One of the most popular TV-shows at the moment is Game of Thrones. The drama is the topic of conversation on the working place, on the web and in the newspapers. It have been praised and even quoted by political figures. As a matter of fact, it is perfectly natural for this TV-show to be so much commented upon, since it has often been considered as capturing the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the time) of our confused and disconcerted society. What is really important though is to pay attention to the great change that is to come in the political dialogue. As the Western world globally suffers from a defiance and lack of trust in its politicians, we can perceive that political leaders try to appeal to the voters on a foot of equality and share the same entertainments and references. This new communication strategy can be extremely effective. For example, Julie Gillard, former Australian prime minister, has won the public affection by speaking Dothraki (a fictional idiom from Game Of Thrones) on Twitter.

In a social context where the line between individualism and community tends to disappear, and where the fragmentation of clusters, tribes and subcultures is more complex than ever, we can assume that the political discourse adapts to the specificity and plurality of the myriad micro-cultures of their environment. The crescent involvement of politicians in the TV-show culture proves that this is definitely the most unifying cultural productions of the moment.

Le 13 février dernier, un tweet de Barack Obama a fait le tour de la toile : « Demain @HouseOfCards. Pas de spoiler. Merci. » Les séries télévisées sont devenues un véritable phénomène de société ces dernières années. L’engouement grandissant pour ces univers de fiction nous renseigne sur la place accordée aux séries dans la culture populaire et nous éclaire sur le rôle fédérateur qu’elles peuvent avoir pour les communautés de fans. Notamment quand les politiciens font tout pour s’immiscer dans ces micro-communautés.

By Paul-Henri LEBLANC

 Photo credits : https://twitter.com

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