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World Politics on Screen

Understanding International Relations through Popular Culture

Mark Sachleben

Publication Year: 2014

Increasingly resistant to lessons on international politics, society often turns to television and film to engage the subject. Numerous movies made in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries reflect political themes that were of concern within the popular cultures of their times. For example, Norman Jewison's The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) portrays the culture of suspicion between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, while several of Alfred Hitchcock's movies as well as the John Wayne film Big Jim McLain (1952) and John Milius's Red Dawn (1984) helped to raise and sustain skepticism about the Soviet Union. World Politics on Screen: Understanding International Relations through Popular Culture uses films and television shows like these as well as contemporary including 24, The Simpsons, South Park, and The Daily Show to guide readers to a deeper understanding of enduring issues in international politics.

In this unique and insightful volume, author Mark Sachleben demonstrates that popular culture reflects societal beliefs about the world, and that the messages captured on television and film transcend time and place. Using films such as Secret Ballot (2001), Under the Bombs (2007), and Wall•E (2008), he addresses topics such as international relations and diplomacy, the study of war, nuclear weapons, poverty, immigration and emigration, human rights, and genocide. An engaging read for students and for anyone with a general interest in politics and popular culture, World Politics on Screen succeeds in its argument by illuminating unexplored assumptions about international policy.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Introduction: International Politics in Film and Television

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pp. 1-16

It has become a cliché to point out that we live in a world in which international events affect our lives. Yet when most people think of television and international politics, they naturally assume that the connection has something to do with the news. This book starts from the premise that television and film can actually give us a deeper understanding about world politics. It...

Part 1. World Politics, Films, and E xplanations

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1. The Modern World and Those Who Try to E xplain It

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pp. 19-28

Sometimes a movie about zombies is not really about zombies, and aliens from outer space are not aliens from outer space. For instance, a recent zombie film from Cuba is a commentary about life under the Communist regime.1 Sometimes there is no overt political message, but there are hidden, sometimes unintentional, messages. Films and television can be about...

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2. A Primer on IR (International Relations) Perspectives

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pp. 29-32

Scholars and students of world politics look for tools and devices to help make sense of the world. Political science, like most social sciences, is premised on the idea that there are discernible patterns in the world that we can categorize, explain and, in some cases, predict.1 Thus, if we know and understand the patterns, it will help us comprehend world politics. International...

Part 2. Conflict and Cooperation in World Politics

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3. War Is Some times Unavoidable

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pp. 35-52

War has driven the development of the field of international relations more than any other concept. Originally the study of international relations was the study of why countries go to war; even today the basic premise of the field of international relations is to understand why states do what they do, including why they go to war. There is a plethora of...

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4. The Case against War

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pp. 53-74

Anthony Swofford, a corporal in the U.S. Marines during the Persian Gulf War in 1990–1991, famously wrote that there is no such thing as an antiwar film. He argued, “Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man.”1 Despite this admonishment, several filmmakers have attempted films that paint war as devastating, dehumanizing, wasteful, and...

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5. A Primer on Nucle ar We apons

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pp. 75-78

When the nuclear era began on 16 July 1945 with the denotation of the world’s first nuclear device in Alamogordo, New Mexico, it opened a door to new possibilities in terms of war and peace in world politics. The Second World War saw many countries desperate to acquire a “super” weapon to ensure their victory. A nuclear weapon was thought to guarantee substantial...

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6. The War to End Humanity? Nuclear War and Film

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pp. 79-96

The prospect of nuclear war has led to some of the most famous political movies of all time. Several authors have analyzed films such as Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, and The Missiles of October and offered interpretations of their meaning.1 These films are probably the most frequently screened in political science courses. We will consider these films, in addition to several...

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7. Intrigue, Espionage, and Nuclear Secrets: Berlin on Film

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pp. 97-100

During the cold war’s nuclear standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States, the divided city of Berlin was the setting for many dramatic intrigues (both on film and off). The film portrayal of Berlin is instructive because the city has been at the center of many international events for well over a century. As the capital of Prussia, first, and then Germany, Berlin...

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8. Is International Cooperation Possible?

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pp. 101-116

If we were to survey average people about international politics, no doubt they would believe that cooperation in world politics is almost nonexistent. Yet cooperation is an integral aspect of human life. For example, every time you go to a concert you are witnessing an act of cooperation among the musicians; most people think of marriage as an act of cooperation...

Part 3. Challenges in Modern World Politics

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9. Iranian Cinema

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pp. 119-122

Iran has been viewed, from the perspective of most people in the West, as perhaps the least cooperative country in the world. The actions of the government appear erratic and nonsensical, especially to those not familiar with Iran’s recent history. Yet Iran’s history with major powers, its flirtations with democratic rule, and the role of political repression in various Iranian...

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10. Patterns of Consumption and Poverty

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pp. 123-136

Economics is an important and vital part of world politics. As international trade has flourished, the citizens of many developed countries have enjoyed an ever-increasing standard of living. A great deal of this growth has depended on a consumer-driven economy in which the health of the economy is linked to consumer spending.1 At the other end of the spectrum...

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11. Human Migration: Immigration, Emigration, and Refugees

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pp. 137-154

While media accounts might give a different impression, migration in world politics is not new, nor is it limited to a single set of destinations. In fact, migration has happened as long as humans have inhabited the Earth. With globalized travel, levels of immigration currently are at historically high levels, so much so that immigrants constitute a substantial portion of the...

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12. A Primer on Human Rights

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pp. 155-158

Human rights might be one of the most provocative and interesting topics in world politics today. With the growth in the number of democratic regimes around the world, the topic of human rights has gained more salience. Because democratic governments posit that the fundamental basis of government is premised on respect of the rights of individuals, they argue that...

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13. Human Rights and Modern World Politics

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pp. 159-180

The topic of human rights is a relatively new consideration and cuts across some of the most basic assumptions of world politics. Because the principle of sovereignty is so closely associated with the rights and privileges of states, what occurs inside the borders of a state traditionally has not been a concern of those outside; however, with the incidence of mass atrocities, genocides, and...

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Conclusion: Messages and World Politics

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pp. 181-186

Art and politics frequently intersect in many ways. This book has focused on the intersection of film and world politics. Films have the ability to shape the ways in which we view the world. In the previous chapter it was noted that an excellent film about Oskar Schindler, Schindler’s List (1993), created a cultural touchstone by which people could make common references. People...

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pp. 187-188

It is a time-honored tradition for the author of a book to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to several people. This author is no different. It is gratifying to know that I have had the support of so many people in producing this labor of love. I appreciate all who have offered suggestions, let me discuss ideas, and helped me along the way. It is impossible to mention everyone individually, for...


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pp. 189-226


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pp. 227-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780813143132
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813143118

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2014