Pop Culture and Political Representation


Pop culture is often represented by the common critic as devoid of genuine philosophical or political commitment. It’s commercial aspect is often emphasized; material which is accessible to the greatest number and not requiring deep reflection. On the contrary, I think that by stereotyping its characters, it often reflects political representations or thoughts. What amazes me is the great variety and divergence of the messages conveyed.

I want to highlight in this short article two different political conceptions present in the pop culture through two genres: that of the novels of Ian Fleming (the famous James Bond) and the comics of Marvel and DC.

In Fleming’s novels, justice is brought by the main hero who is a faithful servant of the state and the queen. He has the license to kill and almost always follows the political orders. Security and the promotion of justice is seen as a license of the state and the struggle against private aggressors, usually rich characters, seeking power and money. The film Quantum of Solace is a good illustration of this : an unscrupulous and murderous entrepreneur (Greene) tries to capture water supplies of an entire region to sell them at a high price. James Bond reaches the end of the film by killing Greene and by returning the water to the State of Bolivia.

In the comics, justice is given by heroes or superheroes who come to supplant an ineffective or sometimes corrupt police in order to fight criminals. The enemies are sometimes from the popular layers of superior social strata. They sometimes come from the political power itself. State failures and corruption are highlighted and it’s the individual initiatives of the heroes that come to save justice and peace. Superheroes are sometimes wealthy entrepreneurs like the famous Batman or Ironman.

In the Fleming novels, the state is seen as an effective savior and it provides the best technology to the service of justice. On the other hand, comics show the boundaries of the state and set justice as the natural spring of men of peace. Very often, superheroes are in conflict with the police who see them as unacceptable competitors and troublemakers. The comics show the efficiency of individual companies to respond to the shortcomings of a deficient state.

Wealth is almost permanently linked to crime in James Bond and poverty as a pledge of fidelity and morality. While in comics it is the actions of individuals that determine their morality and the rich can be virtuous or criminal.

Obviously, this article is largely a caricature of these protagonists and nuances must be brought in if one was to do a deeper analysis. I do not think there is any real political will behind this popular culture, however I think these genres, albeit possibly unintentionally, represent political conceptions. I find that these different novels and comics raise important questions about justice, crime and often the link they have with political power or material wealth. My astonishment was to discover through the strange and fantastic American comics, a social design sometimes more realistic than the heroic character of James Bond.


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