NOTES AND CORRESPONDING BOOK’S RECAP: LECTURE 3

12/08
King of comedy (movie in 1983 by Martin Scorsese).

Commedification of culture.

Potential effect upon people.

Comedy is part of the entertainment industry. Politics and the cultural industry.

Frankfurt school: Adorno – Horckhaimer – Marcuse ( first phase).

“The dialect of enlightenement” (1947)

Role of masses. Mass culture imposed by industry. Popular desires are shaped by cultural industry itself. Think of the rule of Rupert Murdoch’s cultural industry through the control over newspapers.

Industry integrates consumers because they are objects and not subjects and industry dictates what is good for them.

Cultural industry creates a mass culture. Culture is transformed into a commodity. Commodification of women’s bodies and of values, for example.

Commodity as complex text.

Popular Hollywood comedies, magazine, stars are the product of this culture. Commodification also of daily life.

Circulation of commodities: it happens thanks to people who worship them.

The way in which commodities inspire subcultural industries makes their circulation endless. They reproduce everywhere.

This culture is reflected in politics as well. Think of sound bites and changes in electoral campaigns (americanization of australian politics).

 

CHAPTER 3

IT’S JUST FOR FUN: POLITICS AND ENTERTAINMENT

 

The idea that politics is contained and constituted within non-political arenas like entertainment is, of course, a familiar one. In his study of the world of the US slave, Eugene Genovese (1976) tells how the oppressed workers used songs to articulate their interests and claims. This chapter draws out more fully the politics contained within various forms of  mass entertainment. This is an important increasingly task as the boundary between the two realms, between conventional politics and popular culture, becomes ever more porous. Increasingly politicians are drawing upon the language, icons and expertise of popular culture.

In the early 1990s, James Curran and Colin Sparks noted that ‘less than the 20% of news cover politics’. The rest was given to human interest stories and celebrity gossip, which suited more the interests of the audience. Thus, in order to be more visible, politics had to face this challenge and become an amusement as well.

In this chapter, the idea that politics is not confined to the explicitly political is developed by looking at how forms of entertainment construct an account of politics and power relations. The most obvious of political entertainment is satire, of course.

 

POLITICAL SATIRE: POLITICS AS DELUDED AND CORRUPT

Politicians are seen, at least within the serious press and much broadcast media, as legitimate and influential political actors whose views are to be canvassed and recorded. In the same time, they are the bull’s eye of media. Think of the sex scandals surrounding Silvio Berlusconi or the expenses scandal of bedevilled UK parliamentarians. Anyway, this deference is not accorded by the world of entertainment. Satire is the most obvious example of how political life becomes part of entertainment.

UK political satire can be explained referring to Private Eye magazine, whose aim is attacking anyone who is in power, not only eschewing party affiliation but also disdaining all commitments. The new shows continue to ridicule all politicians, indeed, and the business of politics generally. Satire, as Wagg argues, represents “fear of politics” and “taking things too seriously”. Because UK satire is marked by its disdain for politics, all politicians are seen as arrogant in their claim to know better, and hypocritical in their pretense to be better, than their fellow criticizens.

This is a necessary antidemocratic and reactionary perspective, and it takes sustenance from a moral perspective which treats all deviation from narrowly prescribed norms as ripe for mockery and condemnation. The ideology of satire moves between populism and elitism, but it is caught up in the apparent contradiction between the satirists’ target and their social origins.

 

One of the most obvious differences in the form taken by satire lies in the contrast between UK magazine and television satire and the satirical movies of Hollywood. The UK form of elite satire stands in stark contrast to the more populist form characteristic on the United States, as can be seen in such films as Being There or Head of State. Each of these films works by setting conventional political wisdom or practice against the ‘ordinary person’ or the ‘common sense’. The immorality of politics is established in its contrast with the regular decencies of daily life. US satire collocates its politics in populist democracy.

 

Satire divides society into two: greedy, corrupt individuals and honorable, ordinary people.

 

POLITICS AS CONSPIRACY

As Liesbet van Zoonen notes (2005) , while the satire tends to portray politics as the product of incompetence and inadequacy, conspiracy films dwell upon deliberate scheming and deception. What conspiracy films suggest is that behind the appearance of democracy lies a reality in which everything is the result of corrupt machinations of unaccountable and devious individuals or institutions. The conspirators can vary, they may be power-crazed megalomaniacs or CIA chiefs, mafia bosses or Soviet spies, evil corporations or rogue governments, but the story is roughly the same. The plot is driven by the rivalry between subterranean forces and the representatives of liberal democratic integrity.

 

As with satire, the conspiracy films does not exhaust the ways in which politics is portrayed outside the realms occupied by news and current affairs. It is just another genre, whose conventions give rise to a particular view of politics. The key lies in how certain political ideologies are given space within entertainment, as within other areas of mass media. What they have in common is mistrust of politics itself.

 

ENTERTAINMENT AS PROPAGANDA AND THE POLITICAL IDENTITY

Entertainment can represent more perspectives because it can serve social causes or deliver state propaganda. Through its powers as cultural censor or sponsor, the state can try to create art that promotes its own interests and thwarts its enemy’s ambitions.

The harnessing of popular culture to the political interests of performers and states is only one way in which it becomes a vehicle for propaganda. There is a tradition of thought initiated at the Frankfurt School, which claims that all popular culture are the product of propaganda for capitalism and for the attitudes of subservience and compliance required by it.

On the other side, soap operas, reality televisions and game shows, are typically assigned to the category of ‘escapism’. They are part of the social life and they depict popular values and perspectives. Thus they play an important role in shaping daily life and people’s suggestions. [Lippmann idea of journalism as everyday life diary]. One of the key feature of popular entertainment is the way it operates across the boundaries between the public and the private sphere. The domestic focus is, indeed, what engages the audience and organizes their responses.

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