TV shows vs. Trump: How popular culture is battling ongoing social and political injustice

Many have compared the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States to a dystopian scenario coming to life. In fact, after Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway first used the term ‘alternative facts’ the sales of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, which features similar alternatives to truth as a mechanism for manipulating the masses, skyrocketed and shot the book to 6th place on Amazon’s best-selling list.

In this time of traveling bans, deliberate misinformation, walls and meaningless slogans, however, we see a new kind of resistance forming and slowly making its way to people through their screens. Professionals from the film and TV industry have openly criticised Trump’s political views ever since he ran for office, but now they’re incorporating this criticism in their work and through this, into popular culture.

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Image source: Universal
The formula “Make America great again” has become well known to producers and scriptwriters and was even referenced in the slogan of the dystopian action horror film ‘The Purge: Election Year’ – “Keep America Great” (which Trump wanted to trademark for his 2020 election campaign, yes seriously)

TV shows, as the most flexible scripted medium, have been the first ones to adapt to the current political situation and reflect it. These are some of the storytelling metaphors the television show industry is using to portray the Trump administration’s policies and views:

Hyperbole

  • In these scenarios reality is greatly exaggerated, usually dystopian, but remnant of current events in the details of the storyline.

Watch: Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – a 2017 TV show adapted from Margaret Atwood’s book (the sales of which also shot through the sky the day after Trump was elected). It’s set in a future, where the government can freely exert power over women’s bodies and this is considered normal. The eerie references to problems such as rape culture, slut shaming, locker room talk and abortion laws are unmistakable, especially in a country run by republicans, who want to regulate women’s rights over their own bodies.

Parody

  • Laughter is said to be the best medicine, especially in the face of a potential authoritarian dictatorship. Political comedy has thrived on Trump’s statements, interviews and tweets, all the while using humour to inform viewers (and presidents) on serious topics.

Watch: HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ season 4. Despite being one of the many shows to offer social and political critique, ‘Last Week Tonight’ has differentiated itself from the bunch in its latest season. In the episode ‘Trump vs. Truth’ John Oliver not only talks about the president’s habit of publicly sharing unverified and untruthful information, but also offers a potential solution to the problem. The show sponsored and ran a series of ads featuring a cowboy who shares important facts that the president should know (such as what the nuclear triad is) during the morning cable news, which Trump regularly watches.

Contrast

  • Instead of fuelling the hate fire that Trump is spreading by criticising him, some have found that the best way to put it out is to uphold and promote its opposite – acceptance, and are trying to portray this on the small screen.

Watch: Starz’s ‘American Gods’ – a fantasy TV series based on the 2001 Neil Gaiman book. The story revolves around the battle between old and new gods, but its underlying message is in the diversity it portrays. It’s essentially a celebration of different cultures coming together and the power that their combined diversity brings and it’s set in a country, where politics are actively trying to undermine this exact diversity by instilling a fear of otherness in people and setting up immigration bans.

Whether TV shows will have any influence over the general opinions of Trump’s politics, only time will tell. However, I believe it’s good that they’re becoming a platform, which addresses social and political injustices and spreads awareness through popular culture.

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comment section!


Cover image personally edited using pictures by tiburi, PublicDomainPictures and OpenClipart-Vector on Pixabay, all credited under CC0 Public Domain.

Team Doodles

A quick entry this week – just a record of some of the team doodles that were captured during seminars.

Seminar Round-up #1: What is culture, anyway?

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With four seminar groups running each week you’d expect the nature of the discussion to vary between each group. For this reason I will aim (if I have time) to write a short seminar round-up each week in the form of a 500(ish)-word blog post; not least to enter into the blog-writing spirit that forms part of this module.

 

Video Games and Star-Signs

My first task for everyone in the groups was to meet and greet their neighbour in class and find out some key, important data to report back to the group. This data consisted of: name; star-sign; favourite video game. Unfortunately I failed to record this data systematically, meaning that I’m currently unable to provide reliable statistics on the astrological range of participants. I can state that there did not seem to be a single Aquarian amongst those in attendance; there were also a disproportionate number of SIMS fans, many of whom seemed to be Geminis. It would be unscientific to draw conclusions at this early stage in the research.

Show and Tell / The Museum of Curious Objects

Since part of this module’s remit is to prepare you for life outside university, when you’ll be applying for jobs, internships or further study, it’s good practice to learn to speak in front of an audience or panel. It’ll help build your confidence! And it’s all about good storytelling.

So… to this end,  you are asked to bring an object to class one week, and tell us about it. Just two or three minutes. It could be a meaningful object from your childhood, or a random object with a story attached to it, or anything else that prompts you to tell a tale.  At the end of the module, all these storified objects will be curated into an exhibition –format yet to be decided.

Several of you have already bravely volunteered (with a little encouragement) to show and tell next week (w/c 6/2/17)…!

These are:

Tuesday, 12.10: Alyssa and Vicky

Tuesday, 3.10: Jasper and Dimana

Wednesday, 9am: Sean

Wednesday, 10am: Temi and Alice

Clearly, this promises to be VERY exciting.

By the way – if you have a strong resistance to showing and telling in class, or will feel overly self-conscious/anxious about it, you might prefer to do something different, or present as part of a pair – let me know if this is the case.

Discussion: What IS culture anyway?

This week’s key questions were: what are the pros and cons of thinking about culture and creativity as ‘industries’? And beyond that, what IS culture, anyway? We thought about ‘culture’ as lying somewhere between ‘the aesthetic’ and ‘the anthropological’ – but found that these categories weren’t necessarily distinct.

Some of the ideas discussed included culture as national identity; ‘high’ and ‘low’ aesthetic culture; hip hop (rapping, mixing, breakdancing and graffiti) as original remix culture; what does it mean to be ‘cultured’ and have ‘cultural capital’ – both personally and collectively (nationally).

One group disputed whether or not ballet and going-to-the-pub-on-Christmas-Eve constituted British culture… the debate continues.

Oh, and we also thought about ballet. Clips are below.

Until next time…!