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World Politics on Screen

World Politics on Screen: Understanding International Relations through Popular Culture

Mark Sachleben
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    World Politics on Screen
    Book Description:

    Increasingly resistant to lessons on international politics, society often turns to television and film to engage the subject. Numerous movies made in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries reflect political themes that were of concern within the popular cultures of their times. For example, Norman Jewison's The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) portrays the culture of suspicion between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, while several of Alfred Hitchcock's movies as well as the John Wayne film Big Jim McLain (1952) and John Milius's Red Dawn (1984) helped to raise and sustain skepticism about the Soviet Union. World Politics on Screen: Understanding International Relations through Popular Culture uses films and television shows like these as well as contemporary including 24, The Simpsons, South Park, and The Daily Show to guide readers to a deeper understanding of enduring issues in international politics.

    In this unique and insightful volume, author Mark Sachleben demonstrates that popular culture reflects societal beliefs about the world, and that the messages captured on television and film transcend time and place. Using films such as Secret Ballot (2001), Under the Bombs (2007), and Wall•E (2008), he addresses topics such as international relations and diplomacy, the study of war, nuclear weapons, poverty, immigration and emigration, human rights, and genocide. An engaging read for students and for anyone with a general interest in politics and popular culture, World Politics on Screen succeeds in its argument by illuminating unexplored assumptions about international policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4313-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Performing Arts, Film Studies, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: International Politics in Film and Television
    (pp. 1-16)

    It has become a cliché to point out that we live in a world in which international events affect our lives. Yet when most people think of television and international politics, they naturally assume that the connection has something to do with the news. This book starts from the premise that television and film can actually give us a deeper understanding about world politics. It will not argue that film and television can replace reading and research—but, by understanding how important political topics are covered in popular culture, we will have a better appreciation of how societies understand issues,...

  4. Part 1. World Politics, Films, and Explanations

    • 1 The Modern World and Those Who Try to Explain It
      (pp. 19-28)

      Sometimes a movie about zombies is not really about zombies, and aliens from outer space are not aliens from outer space. For instance, a recent zombie film from Cuba is a commentary about life under the Communist regime.¹ Sometimes there is no overt political message, but there are hidden, sometimes unintentional, messages. Films and televisioncanbe about escapism and fantasy. But even those films with no overt political agenda or message contain the essential fundamentals of a culture and are a product of that culture. Contained in the film are subtle messages and cues about how the worldshould...

    • 2 A Primer on IR (International Relations) Perspectives
      (pp. 29-32)

      Scholars and students of world politics look for tools and devices to help make sense of the world. Political science, like most social sciences, is premised on the idea that there are discernible patterns in the world that we can categorize, explain and, in some cases, predict.¹ Thus, if we know and understand the patterns, it will help us comprehend world politics. International relations (IR) perspectives are meant to do just that: identify patterns to explain and sometimes predict the course of world politics.

      Despite the variation in understandings of world politics among different perspectives, there are some general points...

  5. Part 2. Conflict and Cooperation in World Politics

    • 3 War Is Sometimes Unavoidable
      (pp. 35-52)

      War has driven the development of the field of international relations more than any other concept. Originally the study of international relations was the study of why countries go to war; even today the basic premise of the field of international relations is to understand why states do what they do, including why they go to war. There is a plethora of works speculating about and analyzing why wars occur. One of the great theoretical divides among international relations scholars is whether wars are ultimately avoidable.

      Under the current configuration of international politics, known as the Westphalian System, because states...

    • 4 The Case against War
      (pp. 53-74)

      Anthony Swofford, a corporal in the U.S. Marines during the Persian Gulf War in 1990–1991, famously wrote that there is no such thing as an antiwar film. He argued, “Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man.”¹ Despite this admonishment, several filmmakers have attempted films that paint war as devastating, dehumanizing, wasteful, and absurd. This chapter is not limited to antiwar films alone; it examines the horrendous effects of war as well. In doing so, the chapter seeks to explain the reasons behind antiwar films and films that illustrate the effects of war.

      There are...

    • 5 A Primer on Nuclear Weapons
      (pp. 75-78)

      When the nuclear era began on 16 July 1945 with the denotation of the world’s first nuclear device in Alamogordo, New Mexico, it opened a door to new possibilities in terms of war and peace in world politics. The Second World War saw many countries desperate to acquire a “super” weapon to ensure their victory. A nuclear weapon was thought to guarantee substantial success in the war for whichever country developed it. And indeed, the United States used its new atomic weapon to help hasten the end of the Second World War in the Pacific—and to win it. The...

    • 6 The War to End Humanity? Nuclear War and Film
      (pp. 79-96)

      The prospect of nuclear war has led to some of the most famous political movies of all time. Several authors have analyzed films such asDr. Strangelove, Fail Safe,andThe Missiles of Octoberand offered interpretations of their meaning.¹ These films are probably the most frequently screened in political science courses. We will consider these films, in addition to several others from this genre, in this chapter. Another focus of this chapter is to trace the perceived “usefulness” of nuclear weapons over time as well. Thus the chapter will begin with an overview of nuclear weapons and why they...

    • 7 Intrigue, Espionage, and Nuclear Secrets: Berlin on Film
      (pp. 97-100)

      During the cold war’s nuclear standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States, the divided city of Berlin was the setting for many dramatic intrigues (both on film and off). The film portrayal of Berlin is instructive because the city has been at the center of many international events for well over a century. As the capital of Prussia, first, and then Germany, Berlin has been the epicenter of many political-historical events whose ramifications stretch far beyond central Europe. The rise of the Nazi Party in the 1930s and the start of the Second World War meant that many...

    • 8 Is International Cooperation Possible?
      (pp. 101-116)

      If we were to survey average people about international politics, no doubt they would believe that cooperation in world politics is almost nonexistent. Yet cooperation is an integral aspect of human life. For example, every time you go to a concert you are witnessing an act of cooperation among the musicians; most people think of marriage as an act of cooperation between two people. Every film, no matter how small and independent, is an act of cooperation among the director, producers, technicians, and performers. Because we see cooperation in everyday life, we should not be surprised to find evidence of...

  6. Part 3. Challenges in Modern World Politics

    • 9 Iranian Cinema
      (pp. 119-122)

      Iran has been viewed, from the perspective of most people in the West, as perhaps the least cooperative country in the world. The actions of the government appear erratic and nonsensical, especially to those not familiar with Iran’s recent history. Yet Iran’s history with major powers, its flirtations with democratic rule, and the role of political repression in various Iranian governments have played significant roles in creating modern Iranian politics.¹ Examining the national cinema of a single country can be helpful to understanding the politics and political culture of that country. That being said, it is simply fallacious that watching...

    • 10 Patterns of Consumption and Poverty
      (pp. 123-136)

      Economics is an important and vital part of world politics. As international trade has flourished, the citizens of many developed countries have enjoyed an ever-increasing standard of living. A great deal of this growth has depended on a consumer-driven economy in which the health of the economy is linked to consumer spending.¹ At the other end of the spectrum there are places on the planet in which people live in desperate poverty. Both ends of the spectrum of economic development have implications for world politics. This chapter explores some of those implications. Certainly, different theoretical perspectives view the implications differently....

    • 11 Human Migration: Immigration, Emigration, and Refugees
      (pp. 137-154)

      While media accounts might give a different impression, migration in world politics is not new, nor is it limited to a single set of destinations. In fact, migration has happened as long as humans have inhabited the Earth. With globalized travel, levels of immigration currently are at historically high levels, so much so that immigrants constitute a substantial portion of the world’s population.¹ Since it lends itself to dramatic and cinematic depiction, migration has been a topic that has been explored many times throughout the history of film.² In the classic days of Hollywood film there were several actors who...

    • 12 A Primer on Human Rights
      (pp. 155-158)

      Human rights might be one of the most provocative and interesting topics in world politics today. With the growth in the number of democratic regimes around the world, the topic of human rights has gained more salience. Because democratic governments posit that the fundamental basis of government is premised on respect of the rights of individuals, they argue that democracies promote human rights around the world. Despite this argument, there is not a clear definitive agreement about what does, and does not, constitute human rights. Nevertheless, debates about what constitutes human rights often punctuate several other debates in world politics....

    • 13 Human Rights and Modern World Politics
      (pp. 159-180)

      The topic of human rights is a relatively new consideration and cuts across some of the most basic assumptions of world politics. Because the principle of sovereignty is so closely associated with the rights and privileges of states, what occurs inside the borders of a state traditionally has not been a concern of those outside; however, with the incidence of mass atrocities, genocides, and political violence spilling over international borders, the post–World War II period has seen a focus on the achievement of international human rights as an important aspect of world politics. There are more films directly concerned...

  7. Conclusion: Messages and World Politics
    (pp. 181-186)

    Art and politics frequently intersect in many ways. This book has focused on the intersection of film and world politics. Films have the ability to shape the ways in which we view the world. In the previous chapter it was noted that an excellent film about Oskar Schindler,Schindler’s List(1993), created a cultural touchstone by which people could make common references. People who performed similar acts are now known as alternative Schindlers, or they are at least compared to him.¹ An episode of the television seriesSeinfeld,“The Raincoats” (1994), highlighted the importance of the film to both the...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 187-188)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 189-226)
  10. Index
    (pp. 227-236)