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Screen resistance

Are TV dramas a way to fight new political realities?

Screen resistance

Dear All,

The rising trend of nationalism and electoral success of authoritarian leadership all over the world has left many citizens who believe in progress and peace quite at a loss. How, they ask, can they fight back and try to stem this tide of fascism and hatred, even as they witness how the media and the electoral system are so easily manipulated by money and cunning? Well, it seems that one way that people are now fighting back is through depicting the politics of this era in the plots of TV dramas.

One very interesting example of this sort of political resistance can be seen in the latest season of the excellent US legal drama, The Good Fight in which one of the ongoing plotlines concerns the ‘resistance’ to the Trump administration. The first episode of the first season started out with the Trump inauguration being watched on TV by an exasperated and horrified Diane Lockhart (yes, the Diane from the brilliant legal drama The Good Wife), and that set the scene and explained the political climate for the series in which Diane Lockhart continued to embody the feeling of helplessness of democrats watching political developments in Trump’s America.

But the latest season of the show is even bolder — shockingly frank and very attacking. It also includes some brilliant innovations like the animated short clips that contain attacking lyrics and sharp humour even as they deal with serious issues or trends such as the one about non-disclosure agreements or NDAs.

The show mixes fictional characters with real life ones creating what critics have called a form of contemporary historical fiction or a sort of a ‘time capsule of Trump’s America’. It also explores topics like race and political morality through interesting plots and subplots, and it is very creative in the way it documents the strange sense of disbelief and despair felt by many in this strange new political reality. There are many jaw-dropping moments in this immensely watchable but short (10 episodes only) season but it’s all mixed with humour and intrigue. Some critics point out the ‘craziness’ of the show, but say it works well precisely because it documents the craziness of the political reality it is set in.

Electoral politics, media ethics (or lack thereof) power and authoritarianism are also central themes in the recent BBC 8-part series MotherFatherSon. This stars Richard Gere as a Murdoch-like media mogul deciding what politician and PM candidate to back in a British general election. It depicts a divided society in which a business leader with a ‘we want our country back’ rhetoric sweeps to power. This character, Angela Howard, is terrifyingly believable and has some of the best lines in the show. She is a successful businesswoman and an articulate demagogue who one character describes as “an authoritarian… who would run the country like it were one of her businesses”. The manipulative manner and the simplicity of Howard’s message suggest an Orwellian future for the country but she is a disturbing and memorable creation.

A similar sort of populist/facist leader, a controversial celebrity-turned-politician Vivienne Rook, also appears in the TV drama Years and Years and is played by Emma Thompson.

As our world, the so-called global village, breaks up into xenophobic and nationalistic units, TV dramas are documenting political and social trends in an interesting way but one wonders: is this a sort of resistance and a form of documentation or is it just another way of providing on screen entertainment? Is it resistance or is it escapism?


Best wishes,

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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