Through this article I intend to translate Dominique Moïsi’s few interviews, a specialist in international relations, a political scientist and a geopolitician, an ex-professor at Europe’s College in Varsovie, at Harvard’s college, a professor at King’s College and faculty of political science, author of “Geopolitical interest of the Series” or “The Triumph of Fear” Stock 2016. Dominique Moïsi provides a reflection on how some TV series depict and illuminate contemporary violence and emotions of the world.
(Geopolitic is a promising topic, witch attests to the current vitality of the serial format).
A)- Series and men:
(Play on words: series=souris=mouse ref Steinbeck)
Since the early 21st century, television series have been emerging as the equivalent of the serial novels in the 19th century in Europe. You can’t understand the evolution of French society without having read Flaubert or “the Human Comedy” by Balzac or “the Rougon-Macquart” by Zola and the evolution of England society without Dickens.
Nowadays, you can’t understand world development without having seen a number of large TV series among other products.
An understanding of the TV series’ world is an understanding of the world itself.
Series produce a worldwide tidal wave, like a production of blockbusters, due to new media.
They are a domestic art as they cling onto our intimacy. They are great at increasing people’s daily lives relevances, at growing with our life-course. A long live, with characters’ stories, make them close to people. Series create a special connection with time so that nearly spectator would become actor.
They finally leave our rooms and acquire a political social relevance. Series strike world affairs.
We all watch the same series, but do we all see the same thing?
B)- Series’ stakes through geopolitic world:
1) One of the goal of series is to involve a sense of responsibility, to give a picture of what we live all together, a picture that would reflect the “new world’s emotions”. The keys of understanding is that they point where it hurts.
They are two opposed opinions the realistic school: courses of cynicism and the school of ethics: moral courses.
2) Cultures of humiliation or of hope shape the world through EMOTION, especially FEAR. PICTURES are one of the vectors and SERIES a means for this purpose.
The occidental world is governed by fear: “the Triumph of Fear”. D Moïsi draws up a catalog, an archeology of world’s fears, through several series, that have become global cultural phenomena.
- "Game of Thrones": the fear of chaos and the return to barbarism - "Winter is coming"- (cynism, perversity).
In Game of Thrones, the various communities could find their identical equivalents with Middle East people.
The humanist Angela Merkel, she is similar to Jon Snow who wants to open his doors to refugees. If you do good, you risk to pay it a devastatingly high price. (Morals defeat, failure).
- "Downton Abbey": the fear of the slow but ineluctable end of an old social order, for an other one (nostalgia).
It was during the after WWII’s recomposition that “gentry” fell off. Carson the butler stood up for the class order maintain.
The quandary was to adjust oneself or to disappear.
- "Homeland": the fear of terrorism, the fear of identity loss, the geopolitic bipolarity (paranoia, breakdown) of the multipolar world and the psychiatric bipolarity of the heroine spy, of double agents. It's the spirit drift under anxiety, fear, insecurity.
With enunciation of collateral damages, human sacrifices, drone uses, moralism and ethical questions appear beyond realism.
There is less manicheism in people descriptions that creates empathy. Who is who? become a question about identity.
There is James Bond in Homeland matter of money. There is Tchekhov in Hatufim (original Israeli series) matter of culture.
Homeland changes with the seasons by reproducing the inflections of the American administration.
- "House of cards": the fear of the democracy's crisis or its end «Democracy is seriously overrated» said Underwood, the loss of the American dream.
It’s the political institution drift through the Machiavellian perversity of its leaders.
But the treatment of the international stakes, the geopolitic lines of House of Cards are unrealistic, unlike family disputes at the top or the stakes of internal struggle power.
- "Occupied": environmental awareness, the weakness of Europe and the United States OTAN, the fear of the Russian threat.
The fear of democracy’s crisis with naive, unprepared politicians. The Norwegian prime minister’s political incompetence significantly could differ from Birgitte Nyborg(inspired by European politician Margrethe Vestager) in the Danish series: “Borgen”.
- "Engrenages": the fear of a new civil implosion (division of France society).
- "Deutschland 83": the fear of nuclear war: Cold war pershing's crisis before the fall of Berlin wall(realistic geopolitic topics).
C)- There is an interaction between the worlds of fiction and of reality: these two worlds complement and met each other:
The series can give a real or manipulated worldview:
- In the past’s movies, a good-against-bad-bipolar-world was described.
In the series it is an apolar, multipolar world. After the Cold War, in series many people have been described and you don’t know who does what but who is who. They are not only good but bad heroes. There is no manicheism in this vision of a world where nobody is totally good and where everybody is more or less bad with very few exceptions.
In a world made of chaos and incomprehension the next question could be: Who is who and finally who wins?
- After 1990, there has been more finance. Actors, screenwriters, directors have become better, to reach an unprecedented level of excellence. One just needs to look at the increasing script of documentaries and reports of current events.
The whole thing has long been won by the advertising rules: short editing, panting music, scheduled twists …
The scriptwriters and directors of these series do not merely analyze the reality of the world coldly, they feel it and imagine it through the force of their own intuition or the lucidity of their imagination. In fact, are scenarists becoming the best analysts of societies and our contemporary world and their bad habits? Or the most reliable ones of futurologists?
- After September 11th 2001, international relations with there most tragic ways came to us.
So the time of the real world and the time of the series met around this tipping point.
In the aftermath of September 11th, a new world appears, reflected in a new way of telling stories on television.
The day after september 11th 2001, geopolitic has infiltred not only reality but our imaginations too.
TV dramas are a projection of our fantasies and our fears, a theatricalization in which reality cohabits with imagination.
- 1) The series stick to present news, to current events. DM talks about what exists to build a fiction. In good fiction, we have no other choice than to access to reality.
- 2) Except that sometimes fiction precedes reality. It could influence reality and would inspire it:
It is a black vision of the entertainment company, resulting in only one winner: death. Fiction, at its worst, can be a source of inspiration (crime by disrupted people, staging performances, torture by terrorists. As for the terrorists of Daech, by the abject staging of their massacres, it seems that they invite our horrified eyes to the next episode. (Cf: Bloody decapitations in GOT).
- And if fiction was only the antechambe if not the prefiguration of reality?The republic seems to be paralyzed by an uncontrollable system of self-destruction.
- 3) Except that sometimes reality becomes theatrical, fictional.
One can wonder: don’t the real heroes of the political world behave like heroes in series? So who is who?
Do series dictate their law or do reality becomes more like series than the series themselves?
- 4) Would fiction have gone beyond reality?
– DM denounces the perverse view of series, real actual world/ Geopolitics of pictures, the passage from the sacralization of pictures to desecration through pictures.
In “House of cards” he describes an universal criticism of democracy, so caustic of its faults or of its decline. A criticism that is a drift of politics with the rejection of the elites. There is a notion of an absolute cynicism of political society: fully corrupted, all rotten, a total loss of confidence in all institutions. This cynicism is discouraging people from going to vote, from takin politicians for serious people.
This erosion of the confidence in the pillars of society leads to a growing uncertainty towards the future to a culture of fatal fear about politics and the rise of populism .
- DM asks whether it is the state of mind of society at any time, or whether it contributes to encourage this state of mind.Is this lucidity necessary to call for a restoration of the foundations of democracy, or is it suicidal by the despair it produces? This is the essence of the question asked by Dominique Moïsi.
- -On the other hand series would be able to transform defeats, failures into victories (Afghanistan, Iraq are powerful subjects as in “Homeland”). America knows how to use its weaknesses to sell itself to the world. This is a “soft power” a seduction.
Series as a means of propaganda. The goal would be to sully the viewer.
- -At some point you come to believe that what you see in fiction is reality. But people see the real world today.
- 5) Fiction could be a means to explain the real world:
- Benyamin Netanyahou delivered a speech in the Congress of the United States on the 3rd march 2015 in which he said: “The organization of the Islamic State and the Tehran regime are engaged in a mortal game of thrones”. He made an explicit reference to the GOT series to convince his audience.
- Formerly the soap opera of the newspapers, today the episodes of the series. So series become as politic as cultural references’s unless explication’s source for over-more spectators.
What do they perceive from our societies?6) Series become a field of emotional politic debates:
- The Russian ambassador to Oslo protested “against Occupied” cf further.
- A polemic was engendered by the graffiti which decorated the studio for “Homeland”‘s sitting in Berlin.
The geopolitic reality comes into series when series ought to be inspired by it.
Where does fiction begin and end, where does reality begin and end?7) Fiction could be a refuge from reality.
- In nowadays’ world, for Lord Julian Fellowes frightened people take refuge in past social order’s nostalgia through such history fictions as Dowton Abbey.
- Futur is scaring, so people refuge in Middle Age(GOT) but past history is overrated, idealized.
D)-“Violence of the series / violence of the world” is a contemporary subject:
Now through the darkness of our screens one can read a shape of general invasion of terror and fascination for violence and cynicism.
1) In “Game of Throne”, one finds a mix of fascination and fear for our international system, full of chaos nowadays.
– Civil war leads to CHAOS: “Chaos is not an abyss, Chaos is a ladder” said Lord Baelish.
According to DM from chaos emerges the need of order. Revolutionary times allow audacious, unscrupulous personalities to move up faster. Those often take men only for chess pieces, pawns.
– Thinking of what POWER is: “Power is a means, it is totally cynical, power is partly an end to serve a loyalty, that is not house but a kingdom”. “Power is a curious thing.
Who lives, who dies? Power resides where men believe it resides. It is a trick, a shadow on the wall”- said Lord Varys.
Does GOT question about powers’ limits or does it show a real striking brutal view of power?
– George RR Martin was inspired by the War of the Roses, Ancient times, the Bible, Vikings but also by a more contemporary history in order to create an extremely coherent analysis. The dragon with its fire is the napalm in the Vietnam war or our modern drones.
– Dominique Moïsi sees Kantian’s moral imperative, Machiavelli: “The end justifies any means” in treaty: “The Prince”, Thomas Hobbes quoting Plaute: “Man is a wolf to man” solving the problem in “Leviathan”.
- The success of this serie could reveal something like spectators' fascination with sex or violence and horror.
No taboo, no rules of conduct or moral, it’s chaos and nonsense that mirrors what ones could witness nowadays.
– But like in our current modern world, in Middle Age men were secure nowhere. Every where was chaos’world. Journeys were unsettled. In the past one could be raped by slaves tradesmen or assailed hurt by savages. Now aleatory an random attack could appear. Whenever one lives men are been equal in front of death .
2) In “Downton Abbey”, it is a world that flows, in the true sense of the word, since the serie opens on the shipwreck of the Titanic. – Philosophically, intellectually it is Tocqueville with the transition from an English aristocratic order to an Amrican democratic system. His ideas are explained in the book “The democracy in America”. – What Tocqueville describes is the fact that we are all going to become American. In the series, Lady Crawley is thus a rich American heiress. Her three daughters, each representing a way of emancipation: emancipation of the body through Mary, of the spirit through Edith as journalist and political emancipation through the suffragette Sybil. – Economy flexibility and social stiffness could be compared nowadays with those in DA’s past.
3) In “House of cards”, the kindom of moral violence is here. Brutal and unexpected death is always hanging around. But the purpose remains the conquest and the exercise of power, through a painting of a black negative cynical reality that revolts and repels.
– The main hero of the series Frank Underwood wants to appease a personal revenge. The series seem to warn us that we should be wary when private passions, personal ambitions prevail over any sense of common purpose shown by the leaders.
This character is of an integral blackness. DM speaks about the most accomplished embodiment of the malignant narcissist. When he rised to power, he was going on his way to become the master of clocks: the one who may decide who lives, who dies.
He’s going to recruit a kind of counter-elites. That means feeble, limited, moldable or exploited people but ambitious, unscrupulous and finally with personal vulnerability.
– Regarding the loss of the American dream, it involves everyone, it would include a negative representation of the melting pot where integration would lead to more and more detestable, corrupt people: the “vetocraty” of Francis Fukuyama a philopher at Yale University.
– Why, though, would they want to describe evil with pleasure? Is it a puritanical reaction some despair in the face of democracy’s crisis or the wish to shock to offend and so draw viewer’s attention? Would there be gutter series, as there is a gutter press?
4)"Occupied" reflects some of the European geopolitic's stakes:
- It's about the growing anxiety in Scandinavia against Moscow. The Russian ambassador to Oslo protested against this series but it validates Putin's strategy: Russia is frightening again. It has become again inescapable even in the imagination of the screenwriters. While in reality Russia is always weaker in economic terms, Putin tells us: "I still exist".
- "Occupied" also draws a destructive portrait of the European Union. There is a striking moment when Hippolyte Girardot, who plays the part of a European commissioner, explains that his supervisory authority is not Brussels but the "Chancellor". That means European Union is weak and its heart is in Berlin!
- "Occupied" questions about collaboration or resistance under occupation
Dominique Moïsi wants to remain positive.
He feels lightness, fascination in front of his own mute astonishment, the addictive side of the series: “Binge watching”.
Beyonds study he shows a pedagogical will to give hope and a notion of respect for others. Beyond chaos there can be such order.
He would like to find when, in history, civilizations met one another as equal.
Indices des outils utilisés:
DM: Dominique Moïsi.
GOT: Game of Thrones.
Quelques phrases emblématiques de certaines séries sont entre guillemets.
Remarques en aparté: Radaghast remercie Google Traduction, Reverso, Linguee et surtout deux charmants professeurs d’anglais H.C et A.M.
Michele Marsh · August 31, 2022 at 1:18 pm
I have not seen Occupied although I will try to search it out now.
GOT, House of Cards and to an extent Downton Abbey to me reflect a struggle for power political, social and economic between the haves and the have nots. This is a great analysis and translation by you because these are timely series that reflect the world order right now
radaghast · September 9, 2022 at 7:55 pm
Cette analyse faite par Dominique Moisi en 2016 reste toujours pertinente. il pourrait trouver plein d’autres sujets à commenter, à la lumière de l’actualité récente.
radaghast · September 12, 2022 at 11:44 pm
Found this: https://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/when-fiction-and-reality-meet-lessons-for-the-eu-from-the-danish-tv-show-borgen