John Galt and Lord Voldemort: How Fiction and Politics Collide | Sarah Stook
When it was announced that the government announced their new bonkers policy, a ‘dedicated national security communications unit’ or ‘fake news unit’ to the less optimistically inclined of us, there was an immediate rush of criticism. Those on the left argued that the government needed to be looking at its own side, whilst those on many sides questioned state intervention into news (something one usually sees in North Korea and other less than idealistic countries) and who would decide what was ‘fake news.’ All governments have universally derided policies once or twice and we are yet to see the effect of it. What it gave rise to, however, is an interesting fusion of entertainment and fact.
‘The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies…’ is a quote that will be recognisable to most people. George Orwell, the influential British writer is primarily known for two major works. One- Animal Farm, is an allegory for anti-Stalinism and communism and is popular with anti-Communist critics due to its strict criticism during a pro-Stalinist part of Britain, with the quote ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others,’ a popular one on certain Twitter posts and interviews. The next, 1984, criticises authoritarian government. It was almost inevitable that social media would pick upon the ‘Ministry of Truth’ element when decrying the fake news unit. In a way, this was almost a true comparison- this unit concerns itself with lies peddled by ‘state actors’ (Russia), with the worry they will do what they apparently did with Brexit and Trump. Fake news is the spreading of lies through media, especially mainstream and social, and the communications unit concerns itself with that. In terms of the book, it is the opposite as whilst the Ministry of Truth does- the Ministry peddles lie whilst the unit apparently stops it. As a comparison it is basic and unoriginal in content, but it tells the right story. In the 2017 Conservative manifesto, a controversial passage read ‘…and instead embrace the mainstream view that recognises the good that government can do.’ If that is not ‘Big Brother’ esque, I don’t know what is.
It seems that using fiction as an allegory for politics is an old thing, but is using fiction to create parallels with real life events as old as that?
Whether it’s immigration policy, taxes or defence, the world seems to find a way to compare it a book, film or television show that they like. The world of fiction is a wide, complex place and it is indicative of society when one’s first thought is such a comparison. Many roll their eyes at the populace doing this and whilst I am guilty of such an act, it is something that I understand. When one is interested or deeply involved in politics, they will use examples from political history or thought to explain things. To other people, that is not an option and we forget that people are not always as politically involved as we with, something that can often be taken for snobbery. Fiction is accessible to all of us, whether ‘high class’ or not- we’ve all most likely read a book, seen a film or watched a television programme with some regularity. Whether a piece of fiction is meant to be political or not, there is always something one can compare to something they see in the news. It’s a way of understanding the world and it is one that is hugely popular. Even for those who do not know 1984 and ‘Big Brother,’ it is still a popular reference that many people understand due to its undeniable impact in pop culture- such as those who haven’t seen Star Wars know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father and have heard ‘I’ll be back’ but have never seen The Terminator (guilty on the second count, sorry). A reference does not have to be universal to everyone, but a reference is universal to the person.
As said earlier, fiction is a wide thing but there are always certain pieces of culture that are so often used. These pieces of culture seem overtly political in message, whether purposeful or not and are widespread in the general public that they are easy to display.
- 1984- See above
- Atlas Shrugged- ‘Who is John Galt?’- a question repeated in philosophical writer Ayn Rand’s magnus opus Atlas Shrugged, leading to a lengthy (I mean, many pages of an) answer. The novel, a rebellion against collectivism and excessive bureaucracy, Galt is a symbol of capitalist and individualism, two things Rand was a huge supporter of. In politics, we see many who are supporters of Rand. The Ayn Rand Institute dedicates itself to supporting her legacy and spreading it to a new generation, and the amount of politicians who have cited her as inspirations is long and unsurprising- the John Galt sign is popular at Tea Party protests for example. Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House is a huge Ayn Rand fan and credits her, amongst other reasons, for inspiring him to go to elected office. One of the biggest fans is Ron Paul, who had ‘Who is Ron Paul?’ as a campaign theme. The references to Atlas Shrugged are unique in that they are more suited to the political sphere in the establishment sense than in the grassroots one, something not found with the others listed.
- Game of Thrones- One of the key parts of Game of Thrones, and what makes it one of the best shows around, is the complete moral greyness of pretty much all of the characters. Whilst there are a few characters with pure intentions, they are mainly grey at best and outright evil at worst. Yet, when it comes to using them as points of order, it seems that many people forget that they are not perfect people. Daenerys Targaryen, the main female character is touted as a defender of the innocent, who wants to free people from tyranny, but she has become increasingly unpredictable and selfish, whose claim to the Iron Throne is simply ‘it’s my birthright,’ with a lack of credibility and the necessary skills to back it up. Jon Snow, the brooding anti-hero makes imperfect decisions, but does not pretend to be perfect. This is also the case with Tyrion Lannister, the embittered Casanova hated by his family and society for his dwarfism as his deep intellect is ignored. Some characters do have zero redeeming traits (Joffrey Baratheon and Euron Greyjoy), but even ‘bad’ ones like Cersei Lannister have sympathy in them. The moral relativism of the show is often forgotten in the comparison, especially regarding ‘heroes’ such as Daenerys, but this moral grey area often shows in politics. Nobody nice in politics go very far- Michael Gove lost his bumbling person when he double-crossed Boris Johnson, even nice guys like Justin Trudeau and Jimmy Carter got to where they were by making hard decision.
- Star Wars- If one scans the crowd at the Women’s Marches, a popular symbol came up: Princess, later General Leia Organa. Carrie Fisher, the wonderfully outspoken feminist and mental health activist actress who played Leia sadly passed away in December 2016. Her character, along with Ellen Ripley of Alien fame, is seen as one of the foremost feminist heroes of modern culture, the predecessors to Sarah Connor, Buffy Summers and Clarice Sterling. For fellow Star Wars nerds, Leia is an inspiration as a strong woman who is unafraid to be bossy (she’s a Senator, princess and General), does not need saving and has a strong moral compass. For the liberal and anti-Trump woman, there are so many parallels between her and their situation. At many protests, a sign was held up showing the iconic photo of Leia holding up her gun with the caption ‘A woman’s place is in the Resistance’- a play on both Leia’s role against the Empire and in the ‘resistance against Trump.’ The entirety of Star Wars creates apparent parallels with the political situation, and has done ever since it first premiered in the 70’s. Take your pick of fascist and not so fascist regimes to represent the Empire or the First Order and your evil leader to represent Darth Vader (not so much love for Emperor Palpatine), with Trump and his apparent fascist version of the USA. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, whilst rounding up the original trio, do not enjoy the same level of analysis as Leia- simply because to many, Leia was a revolutionary and the two men were dime-a-dozen, if beloved, heroes. To the women on these marches, they are the Leias. Yet, to me at least, the comparisons end there. Trump is accused of misogyny, something we don’t see from Vader particularly. Vader wants an undemocratic totalitarian state, to control millions and eradicating the Jedis. As far as I’m aware, Trump isn’t going to go all totalitarian dictatorship on us (though people think the GOP want to disenfranchise the poor and ethnic minorities with voter ID laws), he isn’t all about imperialism (he seems pretty isolationist sometimes) and I can say that I am pretty sure he isn’t about to eradicate the Democrats. For those who like to compare, it seems that the Trump administration and the Empire are similar in that they want to take over their respective lands in a cruel way, leaving that cruelty as part of their laws.
- Harry Potter- If you think the Star Wars parallels were bad, just look at the Harry Potter ones. Whilst Star Wars is more popular and has lasted for longer, Harry Potter probably beats it, even by a fraction. Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters follow Darth Vader in their portrayal as evil fascists who promote totalitarianism and absolute power. Yet, Voldemort draws way more comparisons simply due to his operation and Rowling’s deep political views. Many who follow Ms. Rowling on Twitter (I gave that one up a while ago) or in general knows of her deep political beliefs- she’s Labour to the core (she states her politics came from living as a single mother on welfare whilst suffering depression), anti-Brexit and anti-Scottish independence. She’s a close friend of Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah and also happens to be a vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn. Rowling herself has compared Voldemort to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin and admitted parallels with Nazism in her works (whether that is intentional or not is unknown). The politics of Harry Potter is so great that is almost completely understandable how ingrained it is in political discussion. As part of his movement, Voldemort and the Death Eaters promote blood purity and support the oppression of non-human creatures and those with Muggle origins. No wonder Rowling has compared Voldemort to Hitler, considering the latter’s also terrible, and real life, racial and ethnic prejudices. The element of classism is also crucial here, and in the Harry Potter books, it is intrinsic with the racial issues. Harry, whilst technically half-blood, comes from one of the most blueblood wizarding families and inherited a large amount of wealth from his deceased family. Ron comes from a pure blood family but his father’s low position and the apparent ‘blood traitor’ status make them lower down in the pecking order, ditto with Muggle-born Hermione who comes from a (presumably) comfortable family.
Hermione Granger, like Princess Leia, has become part of the feminist movement’s critique. Like Leia, Hermione is strong, no damsel in distress and is unafraid of being bossy, essentially one of the boys- parallels have been drawn with her as Leia, Harry as Luke and Ron as Han. A popular sign at the Women’s March said that ‘without Hermione, Harry would have died in Book One’ (can’t even deny the accuracy). Dumbledore is another important part, as the only gay character in the series (though Rowling didn’t out him until after he finished, presumably worried about turning off the anti-magic conservatives that didn’t read them anyway). Many protestors argued about taking Dumbledore’s rights, whether that was from protesting for gay marriage or for laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, such as the Matthew Shepard Act. Alluding back to the Nazism allegory, Dumbledore’s Army are an essential part of political parallels due to the versatility of the parallel. Though there are several dictators throughout history, Voldemort is usually only compared to Hitler. Dumbledore’s Army, as a resistance group, is more versatile. It could be the French or Belgian resistance, the White Rose group or any other protest/resistance group, much like the symbol of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars.
Music is an often forgotten part of politics, but seems to more part of protests than an actual political narrative. A popular one was a play on the Mary Poppins song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, which was substituted for he’s a ‘super callous fragile racist sexist Nazi POTUS,’ or something along those lines. Leaving Trump for a second (sorry guys), a popular one in abortion, sexual assault and birth control protests is ‘keep your filthy paws off my silky draws,’ a nod to the wonderfully fun Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee, a Grease song where sexually liberated Rizzo mocks innocent, naive Sandy. In 1992, Bill Clinton used Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop for his campaign, using the imagery of a new dawn to represent his actual and political youth, and even managed to get the band to reform at his inauguration. In the 2016 campaign, the DNC released a cover version of Rachel Platten’s Fight Song featuring average voters along with stars such as Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Banks (who was the main collaborator on the video) and Sia (please, for your ears’ sake, don’t watch it because it is godless). Also at the DNC, they had a collection of Broadway stars sing the Burt Bacharach song What the World Needs Now (sense a theme here?).
Will it ever stop? I don’t know (who says I can’t insert a musical reference in here). Seriously, though, fiction and politics have become fusioned that they seem to have come to be in the same. The modern comedy does not shy from referencing politics (usually Trump in a derogatory fashion), such as the first episode of the Will and Grace reboot being a 30 minute Republican bashing session. It is not always a criticism, as this article seems to be, because politics is linked into our life whether it’s a political programme or not. It does not matter whether it is, whether it is meant to be political or not because it can all work its way back to politics. Godwin’s law states that a debate will somehow circle to Adolf Hitler, so Sarah’s law states that anything can circle back to politics if it goes on long enough.