Infotainment

Some scholars regularly express concern that we are ‘amusing ourselves to death’, being ‘dumbed down’ and entertained rather than informed. The spectre of ‘infotainment’ is ritually invoked in this context, and the associated argument that economic forces have an interest in cultivating public ignorance and apathy. Such claims are critically addressed in Media and Politics in a Globalizing World by considering some of the entertainment fare in circulation. It questions the default position that information - the more exhaustive and in-depth the better - is always preferable to stories about politics that engage, and that encourage people to think and to question rather than just to get informed.

celebrities and politics • music and politics • docu-drama and reality tv • comedy and satire • drama and political fiction • SF  

To think about: Does infotainment necessarily result in a thinning of political discourse? How is dumbing down to be distinguished from pedagogics and political socialisation? What are the relative merits of informing as opposed to engaging audiences?  

Key concepts: infotainment/dumbing down; narrative; ideology (as in ‘taken for granted understandings of the way the world works)

Further reading: infotainment - politics and popular culture; reality TV; political satire; political drama; music; celebrities, media spectacle, charitainment; science fiction/fantasy and politics

Picture: The popular television series Game of Thrones, based on the books by George R. R. Martin, has provided viewers the world over with narrative frames and characters through which to understand political conflict and international relations. Photo copyright: Fernando Cortes / Shutterstock.

Primary Sources

The Daily Show can, unfortunately, no longer be accessed on the programme’s website from outside the US, but a lot of its material is to be found on Youtube. The same applies to Les Guignoals. All the episodes of The XYZ Show, and information about the independent broadcasting company behind the Kenyan satire, are available online at https://buni.tv/xyzshow.

The views, words and actions of prominent poets and writers who use their position as cultural workers to engage in politics can be accessed through PEN International: http://www.pen-international.org.

Research Topics

Look at your local television listings, or browse through the films and television shows on offer on Netflix, HBO, TiVo or similar. Do any of the texts tell you stories of politics or global problems? In some cases it is pretty obvious - House of Cards speaks directly to the topic of political elites, and Homeland and Game of Thrones say a lot about mediated conflict. In some cases it is less obvious, but believe it or not, some great work has been done on zombie films (how humanity deals with disaster). Disney has told generations of children stories about how the world works as well, and some old films (like The Hunchback of Notre Dame) can be worth revisiting in time when societies argue loudly with themselves about how to deal with migrants. The Hunger Games is not only a point of entry to media representation of protest, but to mediatization itself. Ask questions such as that posed by John Street: ‘what does this or that film or television program communicate about contemporary politics? How is politics portrayed; what sort of values are associated with it?’ Or follow the course charted by van Zoonen & Wring, who point out that we need to know more about the ‘particular perceptions, motives and reflections of political fiction screen writers and producers’ as well as how audiences intepret politics as a result of the stories they consume through political fiction.

For the political scientist a bit wary of venturing over to the dark side, terra firma is provided by speeches by politicians and newspaper editorials that can be analysed to suss out popular cultural references and access the ‘regimes of representation’ these might reveal.