The story of Game of Thrones is, in a certain sense, an ancient one. A story in which historically material conditions have created environments wherein rival armed groups, who had historically been forced to cooperate would fight each other for dominance in the absence of a clear political consensus fostered by the former ruler. The quest to procedurally mitigate the violence of transition of power is the central aim of most political theories, for whom the cost and devastation of civil war was far too great a price, and the leaders it produced far too cruel and monstrous, though they tended to pale in comparison to the pointless villainy of their progeny.
In England, the solution to reining in the tempestuous mismanagement of the state by the genocidal egomaniacal nobles was the Magna Carta (1215/AKA robin hood times). It was an agreement between the king and the nobility of England signed after a century of tumult and chaos largely produced by the office of the king stretching back to the Anarchy (1135-53) and narrowly avoided after the death of Richard I. The so called ‘Great Charter’ migrated power of taxation from the king to the collective body of nobles and landowners, the newly created parliament. The goal of creating a secondary locus for power of the political body was to mitigate disruption to the functioning of the state should the body or mind of the holy vessel of state power become corrupted. The Magna Carta did this by giving the nobles a hold on the purse strings of the Kingdom allowing them to mitigate the harm the throne could do and create a mechanism to recognize and facilitate the transition of power that was run by the individuals who would be the chief belligerents in any war of succession.
Unsurprisingly this ignited a…. civil war The First Baron’s War (1215-17). However, as time went on, England became one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Europe. This was, fairly or not, attributed to English parliamentarianism as contrasted with the absolutism of the continent. It began to inform the development of a political theory of liberalism and it espouses that the collectivisation of authority amongst leaders of a society is the best way to govern and manage a nation. This is what the word liberal means. Liberalism is not a media buzzword, it is a well-established philosophy to which almost all politicians in the western world subscribe. Bush and Obama were both Liberals in this sense. They were both operating on the assumption that the wealthy leadership of a society would react to a need for change, but would not change matters so drastically as to endanger the hierarchy and structure of that society. Power would be transitioned through traditions written down into laws, that applied to the people who made them/ including laws to govern who was king. While the institution of the parliament did not stop civil wars, especially when France or other nations states backed armed groups to start one, the parliament did still form the intellectual foundations for western political economy today: the sacred notion that organization of the enfranchised citizens was the best way to create a government. This was a significant contribution to the constitution of the United States and the central objection of colonists to England.
Over two centuries later the United States still pays lip service to the transmission of democratic liberalism as its goal in “interventionist” actions. In practice, the US has propagated civil wars and worked tirelessly to damage the capacity to facilitate transfer of power and to organize as countries. The US would rather see large swaths of the earth ruled by coalitions of tribes, militias, and other armed interest groups. Game of Thrones can be read as endorsing a central myth of Western imperialism that all this blood shed can pave the way to a better future. We need the narrative of Game of Thrones to help us rationalize the growing disconnect between what Western foreign policies claim they do and the millions of lives they destroy.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets may look like a futuristic sci-fi story but, like all science fiction, it is as much about the world of the author as it is the world of the characters. Based on 1960s comic books of Pierre Christin, Valerian tells not only of our time but also of post-war France and Belgiums’s fading colonial power, where migrants from colonies were often abused and marginalized. The comic book Valérian and Laureline, on which the recent movie is based, clearly shows reflections of the society in which Christin lived.
On a chilly October day in downtown Paris, the French National Police shot and killed an ‘unknown’ (100-300) number of French protesters, largely of North African heritage, who were opposed to the ongoing Algerian War. To cover up the crime, a bulldozer was brought in and the murdered citizens were unceremoniously dumped in the Seine. The attack was ordered by police chief and former Vichy (French Nazi) regime officer Maurice Papon, who also oversaw the 1962 Massacre of French communists in the Charonne metro station as well as contributing the general ethos of thuggish racist machismo in Parisian police culture. He started his illustrious law career torturing French resistance members and hunting Jewish French citizens who had evaded deportation to concentration camps. In his 1998 war crimes trial, Papon was found to be associated with some 1,600 cases of people he helped to turn over to the Nazis. The return to wartime brutality and overt racism of the Paris Massacre remains a dark and contested chapter in short history of the 6th Republic, where France’s ongoing imperialist interventions in its former North African colonies continue to this day; this old narrative of empire rebranded under the “war on terror” inc. brand.
But what does this ugly incident have to do with 2017 summer box office bomb Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Dir. Luc Besson. In fact, the Paris Massacre is paid a small homage at the end of the movie, where the Pearls of planet Mül are being killed and their slain bodies are falling into a shimmering, water-like, energy barrier. This is a nod to the colonial legacy that the comic Valerian and Laureline struggles with to this day. This drives at the liminality of this movie’s politicization. The Pearl Massacre is used in this scene not so much to make a statement on the genocidal bent of imperialism and a death before dishonor mentality, but as emotional leverage for the motivation of the central characters. It is strangely dialectical in how it holds “war is wrong”, but only the “brave soldiers of humanity (France/America/NATO) can end the killing”. The contradiction of the doctrine of peace through western imperialism is the central conceptual tension in this film and in our own ideology today. We admonish war deaths and genocide, blind to our own complicit role. Luc Besson doesn’t transcend this blind spot, but is ham-fisted enough to make it a clear example of this moronic and naïve belief that is driving the Western World deeper into a terror of its own making.
Our first episode! We’re talking about Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the big-budget flop from the summer of 2017. Thanks for listening and check out our companion blog post.
We are a weekly podcast about ideology in Sci Fi and Fantasy. We believe that media shapes our perceptions about our situation historically, socially, and politically. We are going to dig into different franchises and talk about what are the values and ideals that franchise conveys. We love almost everything we talk about, we are not judging things as good or bad, but we are out to describe the implications of the ideas embedded in that narrative. Keep posted, and we hope you enjoy our little podcast. Thanks!