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Paranoia and politics: Popular culture has heated up our imaginations, making us vulnerable to right-wing popu – Economic Times




Uday Deb

What has led to the rise of right-wing authoritarianism? One view is that globalisation and capitalism are responsible. Another view is that it is related to patriarchy fighting back against feminism. A third view is that liberalism is flawed and that authoritarianism has never been very far from liberalism.

All three may be correct. Right-wing authoritarianism may have different causes and trajectories. One driver of authoritarianism that has not received sufficient attention is popular culture – film, television and fiction. These media entertain, but they also reflect and shape social attitudes. Popular culture is affected by economics, gender relations, and prevailing political values and practices. But it also has a degree of autonomy from these basic structures.

What is striking is the paranoid turn in popular culture. It is not recent, but it has grown. The basic paranoid story line is well known. A hero, male or female, fights an authority figure or figures who are self-seeking, two-faced, violent, exploitative, even deranged. The authority figures are politicians, business tycoons, scientists and engineers, as well as religious leaders and activists. The hero uncovers or is embroiled in a conspiracy by authorities. He or she battles against a rotten “system” as much as a particular individual and in the end wins though at great personal cost.

A consistent theme in these media is that under the genial facade of normal and seemingly liberal social existence are dark forces that are working to control others and take away their freedom and dignity, or their lives. The broad message is that authority is corrupt and cannot be trusted. Political and other authorities in liberal societies are in these depictions shown to be illiberal, selfish and violent even if they pretend to be otherwise. The audience is left with a view that though the hero has triumphed, the dark forces will return and have not been entirely defeated.

Why does this paranoid theme flourish against liberalism above all? It does so because other kinds of political dispensations are assumed to be reactionary, controlling and violent. A film, television serial, or a novel that deals with the heroic resistance to a ruthless dictatorship is too predictable, or sentimental, and provides no “kick”. It is only in science fiction that heroic action against monstrous foes excites and entertains. On planet earth, it is liberal structures and practices that provide a more interesting backdrop to the story. Underneath the seemingly normal and open existence we take for granted in a liberal society, the narrative shows that there are terrible forces at play below the surface. It has shock value and challenges our complacency, and that makes for good viewing or reading.

In essence, films, television serials or pot-boiler novels with these kinds of storylines provide us with the comfort that there may be simple answers to complex social problems. Poverty, inequality, unemployment, everyday violence in the streets, social malaise, environmental damage and confounding antagonisms with other countries are traceable to corrupt, self-seeking politicians, business executives and entrepreneurs, scientists and other experts, religious figures and activists. Well-meaning liberals exist, but they are shown to be foolish, cowardly or stymied by legal niceties in dealing with the villains. It takes a hero who sees things clearly and sets aside the normal and the legal to put things right.

It is this that provides the political narrative that authoritarian leaders and movements use to unsettle democracy and come to power. Crusading leaders and movements are the heroes that see the corrupt and violent forces below the surface of a seemingly liberal existence. They must unmask and reveal what is going on and use extraordinary, even unconstitutional means to do battle and triumph on our behalf.

We live in a time of dark and dangerous conspiracy theories. As we ask why, we should consider that popular culture has played a role in encouraging our increasingly paranoid and heated imaginations.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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G7 to consider mechanism to counter Russian ‘propaganda’



By William James

LONDON (Reuters) -The Group of Seven richest countries will look at a proposal to build a rapid response mechanism to counter Russian “propaganda” and disinformation, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Reuters.

Speaking ahead of a G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in London, the first such in-person meeting for two years, Raab said the United Kingdom was “getting the G7 to come together with a rapid rebuttal mechanism” to counter Russian misinformation.

“So that when we see these lies and propaganda or fake news being put out there, we can – not just individually, but come together to provide a rebuttal and frankly to provide the truth, for the people of this country but also in Russia or China or around the world,” Raab said.

Russia and China are trying to sow mistrust across the West, whether by spreading disinformation in elections or by spreading lies about COVID-19 vaccines, according to British, U.S. and European security officials.

Russia denies it is meddling beyond its borders and says the West is gripped by anti-Russian hysteria.

“It’s time to think of why the countries which are sick to the core with propaganda, and which used it more than once to justify armed intervention and toppling of governments … accuse our country of their own sins,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on social media after Raab’s comments.

China says the West is a bully and that its leaders have a post-imperial mindset that makes them feel they can act like global policemen.

Britain has identified Russia as the biggest threat to its security though it views China as its greatest long-term challenge, militarily, economically and technologically.

Raab will meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday, kicking off a week of diplomacy aimed at reinvigorating the G7’s role and forming a wider bulwark against those it sees as undermining the rules-based international order.

“The scope for intense global cooperation, international cooperation with our American partners and indeed the wider G7, that we’re convening this week has never been greater,” Raab said.

He stressed that meeting in person – something only possible due to measures like daily testing of attendees – would make diplomacy much easier: “You can only do so much by Zoom.”

The G7 members are Britain, the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan and their combined gross domestic product is about $40 trillion – a little less than half of the global economy.


British and U.S. officials have expressed concern in recent months about growing strategic cooperation between Russia, the world’s largest country by territory, and China, the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

Asked about the concerns, Raab said: “What matters to us most is that we broaden the international caucus of like-minded countries that stand up for open societies, human rights and democracy, that stand for open trade.”

He said many of those allies wanted “to know how this pandemic started.” The coronavirus outbreak, which began in China in late 2019, has killed 3.2 million people and cost the world trillions of dollars in lost output.

Raab said some of the barriers between the G7 and other like-minded countries needed to be broken down, so that there could be a broader network of allies that stood up for open markets and democracy.

Britain has invited India, Australia and South Korea to attend this week’s meeting, running from Monday to Wednesday, and the full leaders’ summit in June.

Asked whether Britain could seek to join a separate grouping known as the Quad – the United States, Japan, Australia and India – Raab said there was no concrete proposal as yet, but Britain was looking at ways to engage more in the Indo-Pacific.

(Writing by William James and Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Vladimir SoldatkinEditing by Susan Fenton and Frances Kerry)

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New Zealand says differences with China becoming harder to reconcile



New Zealand

By Praveen Menon

WELLINGTON (Reuters) -Differences between New Zealand and its top trading partner China are becoming harder to reconcile as Beijing’s role in the world grows and changes, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

The comments come as New Zealand faces pressure from some elements among Western allies over its reluctance to use the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance to criticise Beijing.

In a speech at the China Business Summit in Auckland, Ardern said there are things on which China and New Zealand “do not, cannot, and will not agree”, but added these differences need not define their relationship.

“It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here that as China’s role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems – and the interests and values that shape those systems – are becoming harder to reconcile,” Ardern said.

“This is a challenge that we, and many other countries across the Indo Pacific region, but also in Europe and other regions, are also grappling with,” she added.

In comments that sparked some reaction among Western allies, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said last month she was uncomfortable expanding the role of Five Eyes, which includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States.

“This speech appears to be crafted to deflect surprisingly sharp and severe criticism from commentators after Mahuta’s remarks last month,” said Geoffrey Miller, international analyst at the political website Democracy Project.

However, the comments do not change New Zealand’s overall shift to a more China-friendly, or at least more neutral position, he said.

“Ardern and Mahuta are selling the new stance as New Zealand advancing an ‘independent foreign policy’ that is not loyal to any major bloc,” he added.


China, which takes almost one-third of New Zealand’s exports, has accused the Five Eyes of ganging up on it by issuing statements on Hong Kong and the treatment of ethnic Muslim Uyhgurs in Xinjiang.

New Zealand’s parliament on Tuesday is set to look at a motion put forward by a smaller party to declare the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide.

Ardern said New Zealand would continue to speak about these issues individually as well as through its partners, noting that managing the relationship with China is not always going to be easy.

China’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Wu Xi, who also spoke at the event warned that Hong Kong and Xinjiang related issues were China’s internal affairs.

“We hope that the New Zealand side could hold an objective and a just a position, abide by international law and not interfere in China’s internal affairs so as to maintain the sound development of our bilateral relations,” she said in her speech.

Beijing is engaged in a diplomatic row with Australia and has imposed trade restrictions after Canberra lobbied for an international inquiry into the source of the coronavirus. China denies the curbs are reprisals, saying reduced imports of Australian products are the result of buyers’ own decisions.

Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China had recently acted “more aggressively abroad” and was behaving “increasingly in adversarial ways.”

When asked if New Zealand would risk trade punishment with China, as did Australia, to uphold values, Ardern said: “It would be a concern to anyone in New Zealand if the consideration was ‘Do we speak on this or are we too worried of economic impacts?'”

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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Canada records C$282.56 billion budget deficit over first 11 months of 2020/21



OTTAWA, April 30 (Reuters) – Canada‘s budget deficit in the first 11 months of fiscal 2020/21 swelled to C$282.56 billion ($230.04 billion) from a deficit of C$6.98 billion in the year-ago period, as Ottawa spent heavily to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the finance ministry said on Friday.

“The unprecedented shift in the government’s financial results reflects the severe deterioration in the economic situation and temporary measures implemented,” it said in a statement.

Year-to-date revenues dropped 14.1% reflecting a broad-based decline in tax and other revenues, which include items like Crown corporation profits. Year-to-date program expenses, meanwhile, jumped 81.6% largely due to emergency transfers to individuals, businesses and the provinces.

On a monthly basis, Canada posted a deficit of C$14.37 billion in February 2021, compared to the C$3.58 billion surplus recorded in February 2020.

Monthly revenues were down 9.3% on a decline in tax and other revenues. Program expenses climbed 58.1%, again on COVID-19 response measures.



(Reporting by Julie Gordon, 613-235-6745,; Editing by David Ljunggren)

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