Film class — week 8

16 October 2006, 0127 EDT

Last Monday and Tuesday my university had a brief fall break, so I asked students to view on-line the video of Stephen Colbert’s monologue from the 2006 annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. It is just over 20 minutes long and is widely available on the internet.

I figured they could do that on their own time since we had only 1 hour for class discussion this week.

Reading for Thursday: “Transcript of Stephen Colbert’s monologue at the White House Correspondents Dinner,” April 29, 2006.

Additionally, I asked students to do a little research about the historical role of the “court jester,” particularly in the Medieval court.

Earlier this term, the class viewed a number of violent war films with plotlines that featured tragic choices and outcomes. Classmembers also read a book review of recent realist books by John Mearsheimer and Richard Ned Lebow who argue separately, and with quite different logics, that realists have a tragic vision of international politics. Dramatic tragedy, by the way, is virtually always set in the Great Hall or on the battlefield — and concludes unhappily after the protagonist makes a fateful choice.

Obviously, a look at the syllabus reveals that the semester is about to take a “comedic turn.” I should probably note that my scholarship is likewise taking this turn.

Why explore a serious –often deadly serious — topic like global politics through the lens of comedy?

In the coming weeks, the class will view a number of classic black comedies that take on military dictators, war, nuclear deterrence, and global corporations (including media). These films employ satire, parody, irony and sometimes farce to criticize the use or threatened use of violence — and other common elements of global politics.

As I’ve written before, my scholarship often embraces critical theory, and comedy affords the opportunity to critique global politics.

A critical international theory is explicitly committed to the agency of human action, emancipation from constraints on human freedom generated by practices of economic and political exclusion, and the questioning of imposed boundaries of political community.

Critical theorists are primarily interested in human security, as opposed, say, to state security, and employ immanent critique in order to identify potential points of political transformation. Like court jesters, critical theorists identify and explore the implications of hypocrisy — typically as employed by the powerful.

In terms of human agency and security, the film class will view several features that address nonviolent means of solving conflicts, human rights, and gender equity. Technically, these films are comedies in the classic sense of dramatic narrative because they focus on common concerns of ordinary people. Also, these films have happy endings.

I realize this is a brief overview, but we’ve gone as far as I want to go in this short blog post — and as far as the class went on Thursday. I’ll have more to say as I discuss the films in the next 7 weeks. Oh, and I will have much more to say when I ultimately finish my ISA paper.

Eventually, Nayef Samhat and I intend to turn this into our second coauthored book. The Comedy of Global Politics will hopefully make the case for a “comedic turn” and help make critical theory accessible to a wide range of IR students and scholars.

If anyone reading this is an IR acquisitions editor and is potentially interested in this project, please feel free to drop me a line.

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