Popular Culture as Political Communication, Vol. 7 - 2000, No. 2
Popular culture is becoming ever more important to political communication and political understanding. In this article popular culture is defined as schematic in its syntagmatic and paradigmatic structures, individualised and gendered. These three features are shown to underlie and guide the performance of popular culture as political communication, especially when popular culture appears as political fiction in movies and television series; when popular culture is used as a political stage for political actors who take on standard personas; and when popular culture functions as a political practice in itself, for instance, in talk shows and popular music. These three ways in which popular culture functions as a form of political communication are elaborated in the various contributions in this special issue to which this article provides the introduction.
The 1990s saw a surprisingly large number of American film treatments of national politics in general and the presidency in particular. It is instructive to compare the way politics is constructed in such films with the legacy of such film representations since the 1930s. This legacy has been influenced by short-term trends, but two powerful motifs have been the Cold War, and the belief in democratic reform and renewal. The nineties saw greater cynicism about politics in America, and filmmakers have done more to accentuate than to redress this trend. In particular films such as Bob Roberts, Wag the Dog and Bulworth suggest the power of a military industrial complex beyond the reach of efforts at political reform. Mainstream film contrasts a politics of self-interest and incumbency against one of conviction and service, but also finds it difficult to provide realistic scenarios of renewal. This trend is related to American cultural fragmentation and the erosion of myths associated with what Lind calls .Euro-America.
Popular political wisdom is often represented as a form of anti-politics, or Politikverdrossenheit, and therefore as detrimental to the health of the democratic political body. Recently, this negative interpretation of popular political wisdom has been revived in reaction to the growth of rightwing parties in Europe, who seem to be able to mobilise an uncanny, prejudiced and even racist public opinion. In this article, this negative interpretation is criticised as too onesided. It overlooks the democratic implications of populism and the populist, redemptive aspects of democratic politics. In a mythical sense, the populist tradition starts with the originary redemptive politician Moses, and goes on until the present time. Its historical roots can be retraced to a republican conception of politics. The tradition of civic self-government, the concomitant notion of the dangers of political corruption, and the way to overcome this predicament as it was developed in the citystates of the Italian Renaissance, form the conceptual and practical framework in which the politics of populism could have developed at the end of the nineteenth century. Moreover, this framework structures up until today the strategy and rhetoric of politicians who try to pursue the anti-political politics of populism.
Personal qualities of politicians play an ever more important role in present-day politics. This trend is usually defined as personalisation,. which we take in this study to consist of a complex interplay between personal characteristics of politicians and their mediation through various institutional practices, such as campaign strategies and media coverage, from which voters will build their perceptions of politicians. In this study the personal performance of Dutch and German politicians in talk shows was analysed, distinguishing four kinds of discourse that politicians could use: political discourse, personalised political discourse, personal discourse, and objectified discourse. It appeared that the genre conventions of talk shows favour personal discourse and personalised political discourse; nevertheless, politicians still are able to use political discourse. This depends, however, on the communicative capacities of politicians who must be able to switch from the personal discourse favoured in talk shows, through personalised political discourse to the political discourse more common to the political domain. The main difference found in the study was not between The Netherlands and Germany, but between the different kinds of talk shows.
The article discusses questions concerning the cultural public sphere in relation to empirical material from a media ethnography of young men¹s use of extremely violent action and horror films on video, and how the young men's cultural practices, including media reception and film swapping, relates to their cultural production in the form of fanzines and amateur video films. The aim is to analyse this practice of film swapping, fanzine writing and amateur video making, in terms of cultural publicness, in order to shed light on those micro processes of communication that result in the formation of public spheres of various kinds. In the first part of the article some theoretical implications of the concepts cultural and political public spheres are discussed. Then follows a discussion on the internal communicative patterns within this alternative cultural public sphere, organised informally around fanzines and amateur video festivals. The dynamic relation between this alternative public sphere and other public formations, alternative as well as dominating or bourgeois, is then dealt with, and the different approaches among the various individuals is discussed. This is then followed by a discussion on the alternative cultural public.s relation to the market and state systems. Lastly, some general conclusions are drawn, covering the need to analytically separate cultural and political public spheres in order not to forget the task of the cultural public in mediating between market system and lifeworld, and thus not to dismiss the political implications of the cultural.
Politicians and parties are making increase use of popular culture. They make use of its practitioners, its generic conventions, its image and much else. This association with popular culture has provoked much derision, and the suggestion that democracy is being damaged in the process. This article contributes to this debate by illustrating the way in which politics and popular culture have become linked, and by exploring the reasons for this linkage. It then goes on to examine this relationship through two case studies, both drawn from the British Labour Party, which allows to examine in more detail how politics communicates through popular culture. Rather than seeing politics. use of popular culture as either a welcome populism or a dumbing down, the article argues that we need to look more closely and critically at the texts themselves, judging them aesthetically as well as culturally.