Explaining International Politics Through Pop-Culture Narratives
Pop culture has become one of the most crucial narratives through which we can understand the ever-changing landscape of world politics. From the use of pop songs in political campaigns to how popular films and TV shows shape our understanding of global events, pop culture is an integral part of modern-day political discourse.
This article explores how some movies and TV shows of today exhibit the common dimensions of real-world politics.
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games can be a useful metaphor for understanding the competition between countries for resources and power. Just like the different districts in the movie compete in the Hunger Games to survive, countries around the world compete for access to resources such as crude oil, minerals, food grains, and other such commodities.
In the current geopolitical landscape, we can see competition between countries for resources and power in a myriad of ways. For instance, China has been pursuing a strategy of resource diplomacy, where it seeks to secure access to key resources such as oil and minerals in countries around the world. This strategy has led China to invest heavily in countries in Africa and Latin America, to gain access to their natural resources.
The competition between nations for control over strategic waterways like the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz is another such example. These waterways are crucial for global trade, and countries like China and Iran have been using their control over these chokepoints to advance their strategic national interests and for power projection purposes.
Finally, we can also see competition for resources and power in the realm of cybersecurity and technology. Several nations including Israel, China, and Russia have been accused of engaging in cyberattacks and theft of intellectual property to gain a strategic advantage over other countries. At the same time, several nations have also been working on developing new technologies like 5G networks and artificial intelligence to maintain their technological edge and advance their interests in the global economy.
Star Wars can help illustrate the ongoing struggle between different ideological and political systems, and how these struggles shape international relations. Just like the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire compete for control over the galaxy, countries around the world compete for control over resources, markets, and ideas.
We often see a struggle between different ideological and political systems, as countries compete for influence and control over key regions and issues. For example, there is an ongoing competition between the United States and China over the future of the global economy, with each side promoting its vision for how the world should be organized. The United States has been advocating for a liberal economic order based on free trade and market competition, while China has been promoting a more state-centered model that emphasizes state-led development and industrial policy.
Moreover, we can also see the battle between different political systems in the realm of global governance. Nations such as Russia and China have been challenging the international order that emerged after World War II and is advocating for a more multipolar and state-centric system of global governance. This has led to tension and disagreement over issues like human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, as different nations promote different visions for how the world should be organized.
Besides, there is also an ongoing struggle between different ideological and political systems in the realm of security and conflict. Countries like the United States and its allies have been promoting a seemingly democratic model of governance, while countries like Russia and China have been promoting authoritarianism and state power. This has led to tensions and conflict in regions such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the South China Sea, as different nations compete for power and control over these key regions and their consequent issues.
The Avengers is one of the best examples that elucidate the challenges of collective action and alliance politics in international relations and the importance of cooperation in mitigating global challenges. Just as the Avengers work together to confront threats to the planet, nations around the globe need to work together to confront global challenges such as climate change, pandemics, and terrorism, among others.
For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the pivotal role of international cooperation in addressing public health challenges. Nations worldwide were compelled to work together to share information, coordinate their response, and develop treatments. However, these collectivist actions have been impeded by rising socio-political tensions and the challenges of coordinating responses across different geographies.
Likewise, the threat of climate change requires collective action and cooperation among countries around the world. The Paris Agreement on climate change, which was signed by nearly every nation, is an example of international cooperation in addressing a global challenge. However, the effectiveness of the agreement has been challenged by the role of the Global South, and disagreements over how to address the issue of climate change.
At last, the threat of terrorism requires collective action and cooperation from all. The rise of new-age global terrorist networks such as ISIS and other lone-wolf terrorist outfits, calls for increased cooperation among nations in the areas of intelligence sharing, law enforcement, and military operations. However, this cooperation has faced several obstacles over the years due to rising political tensions and disagreements over issues such as proportional response, human rights, humanitarian laws, and the overarching use of retaliatory military force.
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is a TV series founded on the pillars of the struggle for power and influence. It is quite similar to what different actors in international relations undertake. It is also successful in expressing how these struggles can lead to conflict and instability. Just like the different houses in the show compete for control over the Iron Throne, nations around the world compete for power and dominance over various strategic locales around the world.
Sights of a power struggle are commonplace in today’s world as nations across the globe compete for control over key regions and strategic issues. For example, in the Middle East, there is an ongoing competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional influence and power. This competition has fueled conflicts in regions such as Libya, Yemen, and Syria and has led to an escalation of tensions and instability in the entire region.
In parallel, in the Asia-Pacific region, there is an ongoing competition between the United States and China for influence and control over key issues such as trade, security, and regional order. This competition has led to tensions over issues like the South China Sea dispute and has the potential to escalate into a full-blown conflict if not curtailed completely.
Eventually, the struggle for power and influence plays out in the realm of global governance. Countries like the United States and China have been competing for influence and control over international institutions such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, and have been pushing their visions for how these institutions should operate. This has led to tensions and disagreements over issues such as human rights, international trade, and development, and has raised questions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of international institutions. The recent emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as an answer to the West’s NATO is another such example.
Black Mirror helps identify how technology is transforming international relations and the challenges posed by the rapid pace of technological change. Just like the episodes of Black Mirror depict the dark side of technological progress, the rapid pace of technological change in the current geopolitical landscape poses new risks and challenges for several nations around the world.
In today’s world, technology is a decisive transformative factor in the conduct of international relations. For example, the rise of cyber warfare and cyber attacks has led to obstacles for nations in terms of protecting their critical infrastructure and maintaining a robust national security strategy. Countries like the United States, Russia, and China have been accused of engaging in cyber attacks and cyber espionage. Moreover, the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, blockchain, and quantum computing is likely to pose newer unforeseen challenges in the years ahead.
Similarly, the rise of technologies such as social media communications and other instant messaging platforms has transformed how information is disseminated and consumed daily. This creates newer threats for nations in managing disinformation campaigns and propaganda. The role of social media in influencing elections and shaping public opinion has been a major issue in recent years. One instance of this is the alleged corruption in the 2016 US elections by leveraging data analytics via Cambridge Analytica. Additionally, the use of new technologies such as deep fakes and AI-generated content is likely to create far greater risks soon.
This impact of technology on the global economy, and how new technologies are transforming the nature of work and employment, will continue to aggravate the socioeconomic foundations of society. The rise of automation and AI is likely to have significant impacts on employment and economic inequality. It is likely to create new obstacles, especially for smaller nations in terms of managing the social and economic impacts of technological change.
These are instances of how by using pop culture narratives as a metaphor to understand international politics, we can gain a wider understanding of the complexities of the world around us.
[Photo by Marvel Studios, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
The author is a postgraduate student at the Department of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He has worked under the UN Online Volunteering banner for research-related projects in organizations like the CAMAAY, GLOWA, UNICEF Nigeria, IDMC, UNITAR etc.