Politics as farce: how do we change that?

Submitted by martin on 22 April, 2009 - 11:09 Author: Max Munday

Review of "In the Loop".

The plot of In The Loop rushes along like an unstoppable current, with the frantic bumbling and dodgy-dealing characters bobbing on it towards a seemingly inevitable decision to go to war in the Middle East.

The characters, who are either high ranking US state department officials or their British counterparts, are either immoral and get the things they want, or immoral, consistently embarrassed and hapless, and don’t get the things they want. The glimpses of opposition to the War (clearly Iraq) from the key characters are immediately undermined by their own careerism.

I would criticise the film. Not on the grounds that politicians should to be given a break, or that we should see the good in humanity. I laughed like a cackling fool at the sexually explicit insults dished out from the demagogic Alistair Campbell figure, Malcolm Tucker, which reduced the Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster, to a quivering wreck. I certainly didn’t leave the cinema feeling deflated and disillusioned by the current idiots inhabiting the British and American political class.

I judge In The Loop on its fast pace, great dialogue and its use of rude jokes. These are used to great effect but the viewer is left with the question, “...and what?” The idea that politicians and their lackeys are dishonest is nothing new, so what role does a satire like this have?

Satirists are not political leaders. They are privileged by being able to criticise without offering an alternative. However, people already understand the farce of the “Dodgy Dossier”, the vacuous careerism of New Labour MPs, and the US-UK alliance that resulted in war in 2003.

The writer and director Armando Ianucci wouldn’t be so funny if he explained that Iraq is not an isolated surreal dance of crazies and immoral militarists, but has come from a systemic need for economic and political expansion that, whilst certainly having a place for these types of people, is founded on a less clownish historical current.

The danger of this type of satire is not that it sends people up and rightly highlights hypocrisy and abuses of power. It is that ordinary people may well feel further disempowered — caught between the politicians’ “spin” and the comedians’ “anti-spin”. Being disempowered means looking for a saviour in either the existing political class or the media.

The characters of this film are caught between the powerful international players and the mundane drudge of representing their constituents who, for Minister Simon Foster, include a raging jobsworth from Northampton played by Steve Coogan.

Political representation is a central issue for working people. Its inspiration cannot come from degenerative cynicism, but from the action in our communities and workplaces across Britain. The translation of this current into formal politics has yet to be properly addressed.

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