One of my most formative experiences was an upper school trip to the battlefields of France and Belgium. Amidst all the stories of carnage and destruction, and the unfathomable numbers of casualties involved, what struck me above all else was the sheer proximity of the respective front lines. In some places a mere hundred yards might separate the two groups of young European men, conscripted to throw grenades and fire rifles at each other across the small parcel of scorched earth between them.
The present presidential election is a spectacle, in the truest sense of the word, like few before. Just as FDR’s weekly radio addresses and JFK’s success in the first televised presidential debate watermark the adoption and cooption of a particular communication medium for political ends, so the 2016 campaign may go down in history as marking a seismic shift in the landscape of political uses of media. The candidate leading the charge, this time round, is unquestionably Donald Trump, currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Yet it’s a little more difficult to identify precisely which medium or platform Trump has coopted. The most readily available answer seems to be ‘all of the above’ – although in different ways.
Reviews often destroy movies, and only rarely, as in the case of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, do they create them. In 2011, a New York Times review of Kim Barker’s wartime memoir The Taliban Shuffle described Barker as “a sort of Tina Fey character, who unexpectedly finds herself addicted to the adrenaline rush of war.” This caught the eye of Fey herself, who began pulling strings to bring Barker’s story to movie audiences as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
The title of Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, seems to reflect ambivalence on the part of its creator. It is after all no coincidence that Moore’s trio of breakout box office hits — Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Sicko — appeared during the administration of his antagonist-in-chief, George W. Bush. Though no one would pretend that mass shootings have subsided since the release of Bowling for Columbine, the election of President Obama saw the formal end of the Iraq War and the passing of health care reform — the subjects of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko, respectively. The working title of Moore’s latest project might as well have been, What To Tackle Next?
Last week I had the chance to watch one of the world’s great electoral-political spectacles – the New Hampshire primary – up close. It wasn’t by any means my first dalliance with American politics: I’ve had at least a loose involvement in the fascinating and frequently Freudian process by which Americans elect their leaders for several cycles now. But this time I saw the process through a slightly different lens.
It seems more than a little fitting that Jay Roach’s new biopic, Trumbo, is classified as a ‘Drama’ for the forthcoming Golden Globes in spite of its studio’s preference for it to be considered in the less competitive Comedy category. This is fitting not only since Trumbo is a movie that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, but also because it betrays the navel-gazing, self-referential tendencies of Hollywood that the movie initially seeks to satirize but ultimately falls victim to itself.
“From Firing Line to The O’Reilly Factor” – Heather Hendershot, CMS/W Colloquium Series, October 22, 2015
Lamenting the state of American political discourse is a popular refrain at present, and it’s not hard to see why. At a time when offensive statements from the likes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson serve not as campaign-ending gaffes but as anabolic steroids for the presidential horse-race; when blowhard cable news anchors generate much heat but little light on the issues de l’heure; and when social media has opened up a whole new realm for shocking anger and abuse, the desire to tune out of political speech altogether and only pay attention biennially and briefly has never been stronger. MIT Professor Heather Hendershot’s forthcoming book, Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line — which she introduced at an Oct. 22 colloquium — could not be more timely, with its simple central question: how, exactly, did it come to this? Continue reading
This blog post, in an abridged form, has been republished at the LSE’s Politics and Policy blog here.
#JezWeCan? It’s a laughable comparison, of course: the engrossing election of 2008 which brought the United States its first African-American president, at the expense of its first female one, propelled by the power of hope, change, and the unifying rhetoric of the most gifted politician the twenty first century has so far seen. Continue reading
In a talk I gave at the Data Power conference in Sheffield a couple of weeks ago, I posed the following thought experiment: what if Mark Zuckerberg woke up feeling like Rupert Murdoch? For decades it’s been accepted – if seldom celebrated – that Murdoch’s red-tops command serious influence over the British electorate. Not for nothing, then, is it said that ‘it was the Sun wot won it‘ for John Major’s Conservatives in 1992; similar arguments could be made for each general election since, not least the most recent one. Continue reading
The following is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave at the Data Power conference in Sheffield this week, presenting work by myself and Ralph Schroeder.
The question of what drives news coverage far pre-dates the Internet and the rise of social media, and over the decades – or indeed the centuries – of mass media, myriad explanations have been offered in answer. Continue reading