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Movies and Video Games are, and should always be, political 

Photo By: Consequence of Sound

10-8-2019

Francesco Corso, News Editor

In recent years, there has been much talk about the place of politics in entertainment media, most commonly with film and video games. The line goes something like “movies shouldn’t be political” or “stop bringing politics into video games.” This line of thought is very misguided and very counterproductive to the advancement of both mediums as a form of art.

To deconstruct this argument, let’s first start by defining a very basic premise. What is political? The short answer, as clichè as it is, is everything. If you are a human, who lives on Earth, then it’s safe to assume you live in a country, and that country has a government, which makes laws, laws that ultimately you have to follow, at the risk of being fined or thrown in jail. 

A fantastic example of this is related to something most adults in America do: driving. When you drive, you have to obey the speed limit (although 89 percent of Americans admit to have driven above the posted speed limit, with 40 percent admitting to doing at least 20 over). Who set that speed limit? The government. Who employs the cops that give you a ticket for speeding? Also the government. What pays that cop’s paycheck? Your tax dollars, set by a government, that we ultimately elected, either by voting in elections or staying home.

Returning to the topic at hand, politics is a key component of art, especially narrative art, of which virtually all movies and the vast majority of modern video games are a part of. We use storytelling as a means of communicating ideas, some of which can be characterized as critical of the way in which we structure society. 

Imagine if we tried to depoliticize other older artforms throughout history. Pretty much all the great dystopian novels of the 20th century, like George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” would not exist. Furthermore, some of Broadway’s greatest hits would never exist either. Shows like “Les Misérables” and “Hamilton” are deeply political, and cannot be separated from the politics that shapes their stories.

Now, these works are all historical in regards to their politics, but of the four listed there, three (or source material in the case of “Les Misérables”) of them were actually written in times when those politics were current.

Why should it be different with movies and video games? To be political is to be truly artistic. Creators should be allowed to create whatever they want and not be forced to not explore certain topics due to them being “too political.”

This goes double for video games, which have had to justify their existence by showing they had value, to a world that saw no worth in them. That of course being necessary, to show that games didn’t just use violence without reason. Games have adopted the techniques used by other mediums as well as their own unique traits (namely, interactivity) as a means to explore complex themes, many of which can be described as political.

Of course, this criticism that “games shouldn’t be political” or “it’s just a movie” isn’t just leveled at the media as a whole, but more commonly at critics and journalists. This has been seen recently with the release of “Joker” in this past weekend. “Joker” that has been largely been commentated on because of its political themes, and the fear that it promotes violence by depicting one of the most objectively evil characters in all of fiction in a sympathetic light. While some, like the films own director, have claimed that the film “is not political,” it’s really hard to say that with a film that features mass public protests, funding cuts to social programs and having one of the central characters of the movie be a literal candidate for office, isn’t political.

This is more ridiculous with other major releases such as the video game “Persona 5,” a game set in modern day Japan where a group of teenagers take on the powerful elite in society, including a corporate president, a public defense lawyer and yet another political candidate. The back of the box even reads, “a group of high school students are out to reform Tokyo society.” Furthermore the game’s last act, takes direct aim that the general apathy of society, and the desire to be told what to do and think. Just like with “Joker,” this is another example of a piece of media so obviously political, the argument against the idea is nearly impossible to form.

This is all nothing more than an effort to strip the media of its meaning in order to dismiss any discourse surrounding the film, which is deeply misguided and destructive. These are difficult conversations to have, but they are necessary in order to build a better society. Rebecca Solnit, a journalist, essayist, environmentalist, historian, and art critic, once said that “politics is pervasive. Everything is political and the choice to be “apolitical” is usually just an endorsement of the status quo and the unexamined life.”