Cinema and political series, influential fiction?

Movies and series are a reflection of our democracy and its challenges. Fiction sometimes surpasses reality in depicting power. With the French presidential election approaching, the power of entertainment cannot be ignored, it is ubiquitous. But does it have such a strong effect on voters?

If the “system” and its behind the scenes are a fascinating backdrop today, the question arises of their representation of politics and power, the influence of fiction on voter behavior, and their use in the political scene.

Power through movies and TV shows

Initially, movies and TV series were far from being considered legitimate objects of study. Under the influence of the US, these fictions will be at the center of sociological research, first in the 1980s and 1990s, and then in the early 2000s, because the way formats are consumed and produced has evolved.

The plots will also change and fiction will be inspired by contemporary society. If cinema entered this area very early, with Dictator (1940) and The president (1961), on the part of serials, the representation of power has been significant since the 1990s. As Arthur Delaporte, researcher at the European Center for Sociology and Political Science explains: We started with episodes that presented power in a humorous way. In the UK we think about Yes Prime Minister but the first turning point To the White House between idealism and realism of the presidential office. »

To the White House represents a turning point in the world of political serials.©DR

It’s hard to talk about power without thinking about the new generation of fiction created by House of cards. Nevertheless, the specialist notes an interesting argument in the evolution of politics through entertainment. “Today, politics will not be a fictional object, but a vehicle for telling a different story. We see it from House of cards. Here the object is not political representation. This is an argument for being part of the drama and the character’s storytelling. »

But that doesn’t mean that films or TV shows about power are only meant to be used as a dramatic backdrop. We see it from black baron : After the first season, the series hosted by Kad Merad became politicized, showing more political strategies.

British series Yes Prime Minister aired in the 1980s.© BBC

Nor should one reduce the idea of ​​power to the state system and voting rates. Politics can take on different guises, and fiction evolves along with reality. It may be the power of the media, pressure from lobbyists or criticism of the economic system. Succession, Industry, V for Vendettaand even money robbery all modern examples.

Henzo Lefebvre, director of the Political Film Festival, and Vincent de Bernardi, co-organizer of the Porto-Vecchio Political Film Festival, agree. For them, in the world of entertainment there are creations that are not related to the work of political power: “We have a political kitchen, like black baron as well as House of cards. Then there are films or TV series dealing with political phenomena. We’re thinking about a feature film unhappy Laj Lee. This is a political topic that is not about politics. »

succession goes behind the scenes of media power.© HBO

At the same time, for Arthur Delaporte, there is no connection between the representation of power in fiction, no matter how cynical and ruthless it may be, and the electoral behavior of the viewer. “I don’t think it’s possible to draw a line between fiction that portrays politics in a negative light and voters who get a bad idea about politics. Because the voter already has a bad idea about politics, and we can bet that he is an intelligent viewer, that he knows that he is dealing with a series or a film. »

The audience is not as impressionable as

This does not mean that movies and series do not influence the electoral behavior of viewers. Through fiction they receive the keys to analysis. This requires an understanding of institutional arrangements and their complexity.

Movies and series can also contribute to the phenomenon of identification. Arthur Delaporte saw this by comparing the series black baron and the behavior of leftist activists. “The series will develop a certain number of identification vectors for the socialists. It is also a means of training the logic of political parties, especially since today we have a weakening of organizations. »

V for vendetta became a symbol of the anti-system.©Warner Bros.

This identification phenomenon also includes the normalization of behavior, according to Laura Coromines, a journalist who has explored the connection between work sitcoms and critiques of capitalism. For her, the world of entertainment is more meant to reflect our mentality, especially in the absence of any real government influence in France on content (soft power).

At best, democratic reflection can help us, but there is no desire to influence the political views of the electorate, bring spectators to the elections, or mobilize more young people who are no longer interested in power.

Row influence games films behind the scenes lobby in the political sphere.© What’s Up Films.

Henzo Lefebvre notes that today it is difficult to attract young viewers and new voters to the topic of power: “The interest of young people in the corridors of power is weak. We see that there are still strong abstentions because they do not believe in the ability of politicians to change their lives. » But summing the drop in voter turnout with the ability of fiction to influence viewers or not is a shortcut for Vincent de Bernardi, who rightly notes: “that the determinants are more complex and multifaceted than in elections”.

George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ryan Gosling Marches of Power.© Smokehouse

For Arthur Delaporte, the viewer must also be politicized for fiction to have more impact: to be interested in political fiction, one must be interested in politics. In addition, series and films dedicated to the concepts of power are aimed at a mature and interested audience. Although creations such as Years and years deal with current themes that militant youth have seized on, it remains to be seen if the showrunners were originally targeting that audience. One might also wonder about the power of TV shows for teens.

Emma Thompson plays Vivien Rook, a populist candidate for Years and years.©FR_tmdb

Aren’t the stereotypes of yesteryear and today’s increasingly broader inclusion ultimately having a greater impact on the behavior of young voters than so-called political creations? We are currently at an impasse when it comes to the sociology of entertainment, especially with respect to platforms, as streaming giants like Netflix do not report their numbers accurately.

Added to this is the impact of social media on Generation Z. According to a study conducted by YPulse, memes and viral videos are considered more interesting events than the release of a movie in 18-35 years. In particular, 55% of Gen Z respondents admit to being interested in these online publications, as do 48% of millennials.

French series Office of Legends.©TOP THE OLIGARCHS PRODUCTIONS / CANAL+

Young people, it seems, no longer recognize themselves in the classic format of movies and TV shows. However, productions evolve over time, taking into account the concerns of the townspeople. We mustn’t forget the impact strength of Netflix and its competitors with younger subscribers. But for Arthur Delaporte, this is not enough. ” Although Office of Legends allowed to realize the geopolitical crisis, or, more recently, Don’t look up ecological crisis, the target audience is from 25 to 35 years. I don’t know if this affects young people who are not interested in politics. »

The use of entertainment in the spheres of power

If politicians seemed out of touch with reality, in recent years the strategy has changed. Now they want to show that they are close to their electorate. What is the revelation of Édouard Philippe, who does not hesitate to talk about his appetite for the series, or the habits of Pressed Vallo Belcasem, directly inspired byTo the White House.

This recovery is clearly calculated: it allows you to humanize the candidates. Through the base of common links, they will be able to save the most. For Laura Coromines, this phenomenon is especially significant because: in an increasingly polarized society, TV series and movies will unite “.

Meryl Streep played an ecoskeptic caricature of Trump. Don’t look up.© Netflix

While this may not have a significant effect on voting results, the use of entertainment by the authorities is also a way of delegating explanations. This is the case of the environmentalist party and its leader, Yannick Jadot, who uses Don’t look up as a parable to the ecological crisis. Arthur Delaport takes this example: “This fiction can give codes. Politicians draw inspiration from entertainment when they lack influence or ideas. »

However, the use of series and cinema in political discourse will depend on the success of the adaptation, as Henzo Lefebvre points out: “Politicians tend to take as an example popular creations that have been viewed by the largest number of people. This success will also speak for itself as politicians and local elected officials confirm the fiction’s purpose in terms of what power it represents. »

Frank Underwood campaigning on the series House of cards.©tmdb

According to Arthur Delaporte, this success can be a double-edged sword, because politicians are a special audience, and the close connection between fact and fiction can create a sense of responsibility. A point of view not shared by Vincent de Bernardi, for which “although the talent of the screenwriters makes it difficult to capture reality, there is often an exaggeration in the depiction of power”. For Laura Coromines, there is also a risk of glamorization.

The president Henri Verney.© Cite-Films/Terra Film/GE.SI

While there is an intersection between the entertainment universe and the representation of power, it is difficult to establish a real correlation with voter behavior. Unless movies and TV series are minor means of education and communication for both voters and politicians, their power does not appear to be wholly decisive. They reflect modern society, give an idea of ​​its problems, without having a real impact on it.

This may evolve in different ways as the seventh art and series take up more and more space. They create a common base of popular, accessible links used in social debate to “talk about people”, as summarized by Arthur Delaporte. This is perhaps the real connection between politics and fiction: mutually influencing each other to better tell about modern democracy.

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