The Political Storyline: Three Types

Crime meets politics in The Closer.
The political storyline is one that is motivated by political needs rather than social or personal ones.

Characters are fighting a war. Character A wishes to win the war to expiate feelings of guilt (The Four Feathers); Character B wishes to win the war for the sake of his or her fellow soldiers (just about every war movie ever); Character C wishes to win the war to open up a trade route.

The last reason is political. When, in 37 Days, Edward Grey (Ian McDiarmid) argues that not coming to Belgium's aid will compromise Britain's international reputation, that is a political argument. When another member of the cabinet argues that the war will drag on, draining Britain's populace of working young men, that is also a political argument.

Political plots combined with Character A and Character B motivations are better than political plots without them, which brings me to the following three categories (as with my romance plot posts, I reserve the right to expand this in the future):

1. The Objective Plot: The characters enter a new/strange/changed political situation and determine to make the best of it and/or make it work to their advantage. They analyze problems from an outsider's perspective.
In Person of Interest, enemies become friends as the
political landscape changes.  Politics places necessity
above morality, which causes Finch internal conflict.

Elias (Person of Interest) falls into this category as do the characters of manga series Maiden Rose. Despite being a crime show (see below), The Closer falls more into this category than the third category; Brenda as an incoming outsider has more options than characters in Plotline #3.

The Objective Plot does carry with it a kind of fatalism; however, unlike the third plot in this list, it is an acknowledged fatalism. Both Elias and Dominic define the whole world in terms of their personal confrontation; what keeps them from the self-indulgence of Plot #3, is that both acknowledge this perception as a choice.

2. The Transcendent Plot: The characters rise above the political situation, leaving it behind.

Many religious narratives fall into this category, which is why--from a purely humanistic point of view--they last. The African-American folktale "The People Could Fly" is a great example.

Fantasy novels/movies with political plots often utilize the transcendent approach. Dune, which is categorized on Google as both sci-fi and fantasy, arguable utilizes all three approaches with an emphasis on this one.

Occasionally, sweetly, a political plot will resolve itself with unremarkable transcendence (though transcendence nonetheless)  Manga series Black Sun ends with the characters working for the same government but in jobs they actually like. The Bourne movies usually end with Bourne settling happily for a "little" life (if he could just be left alone).*

3. No Way Out: The characters are stuck in the political situation and see no way out. They scramble for existence within the only world they know and understand.

This plot pretty much describes every mob movie ever. It is also the underlying plot line of many, many crime shows (Law & Order, not Columbo). And the primary reason why I dislike both mob movies and plot lines involving government corruption. 

Good political Law & Order's episode: "The Troubles"
There is a great deal of truth to scrambling for existence in the only world one knows. People mired in their cultural, social, and political contexts (all of us) find it difficult to break free of those expectations and necessities. We do tend to stick to the troubles we know and to come up with solutions that resemble the lives and blueprints that surround us.

But it's terribly depressing. It is difficult to watch people being chewed up by a system. And it isn't as realistic as "it's realistic!" literary types would argue. People do get chewed up by systems, and they do run out of options, but they also spend a great deal of time doing other stuff, like buying groceries and watching football. Life is rarely as streamlined as narratives suggest.

*Action movies don't require a political agenda, only a political premise (Get Those Bad Guys!). The Bourne movies, however, establish a character within a political network--one domino falls, the next one follows. (In Die Hard, in comparison, the problems are always entirely personal.)
Transcendent end of Bourne Legacy


Joe said...

You forgot:

4. Bore you to death (which usually uses the plot: Yackity Yack, which are often lauded by intellectuals and arty types who never bothered watching/reading them.)

FreeLiverFree said...

Thriller writer Ross Thomas tended to uses a mixture of One and Two. Thomas was involved with politics in one way or form for most of his life a developed a great deal of cynicism about politicians (of both parties.) The thing about the books is the cynicism is handled in such a light way that for the most part it was not unbearable.