Does the election have you down? Is it possibly literally giving you trauma? The good news is, it’ll all be over soon. The even better news is that we have some recommendations for politically themed media you can take in without having to ever worry that it’s taking place place in our world today. A little escapism never hurt anybody. Particularly when it involves giant robots.
A World of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
Who needs emails and sexual assault when you can have incest and dragons? I am, of course, talking about the reign of the Targaryens as described in A World of Ice and Fire, the history of Westeros and the lands of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. In this giant book filled with gorgeous illustrations, you can forget all about our political reality show and immerse yourself in a fantasy world where wars are waged on dragons, not on Twitter.
The Targaryens have their own drama, of course. The book details how it was decided that the Iron Throne could not pass to women, the sibling rivalries that erupted into bloody battles, and the slow descent into insanity that led to the end of the Targaryens’ rule. Readers also get to peek into the history of the land and the rich cultures of Essos. Ultimately, the book is proof that politics are more palatable in fantasy form. —Hannah Ritchie Stinger
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED
In my previous life, I was a political science major, and even though my dream of becoming a CIA agent ultimately went unfulfilled, I still consume a lot of political media, so this is a tough one. Do I choose The Good Wife? The War Room? Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? But ultimately I landed on something a little less traditional… Mobile Suit Gundam SEED.
I’m a sucker for a good military drama, and Gundam SEED checks that box, but it also deals with subject matter that’s a little more hairy. There are two powers engaging in a very bitter war (along with an ostensibly neutral power), and there are good and bad people on both sides, so you see the internal power struggles along with the big battles between the two entities. Its deft handling on the topic of Mutually Assured Destruction also packs a punch for me every time I rewatch. Plus, if you’re not as into political stories, there are also giant robot space battles in pretty much every episode. —Erin E. Rand
The West Wing Weekly
I don’t think it’s any surprise (considering it’s featured in my profile) that The West Wing is possibly my favorite television show of all time. I really just wanted to write 12 pages about how great Allison Janney is and how much I love Josh and Donna, but I have a slightly more relevant outlet now. The West Wing Weekly is a delightful podcast hosted by Joshua Malina (who was on the show for several seasons) and Hrishikesh Hirway (who is mostly just wonderful). They watch one episode a week and then talk about it. But unlike a lot of other fan podcasts, this one has the weight behind to actually get to talk to the creators. To date, they’ve talk to the producer, the writer, and many of the main actors.
This delights me to no end. In addition to an analysis of each episode, you will get more background information about the show than you ever thought you would learn in a million years. Not only about the acting and shooting of the show, but about the policies in it. The whole thing is addictive and easy to listen to and offers up the perfect excuse to watch the show all over again. One of the best things about the show and podcast is that they offer up a real respect and feel-good approach to politics that will give you hope that a President Bartlet could exist one day. So if you ever sigh and wax nostalgic about that one show that was on TV a decade ago, you can now go experience it again in real time. —Gabs Roman
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Politics can really cover a wide spectrum of options. You’ve got governmental politics like the in-depth historical coverage found in 1776. You’ve got ideological politics like in Orwell’s brilliantly insightful 1984. And you’ve got witty and cutting social politics from Austen’s novels. Politics are all about deconstructing the organized structures we’ve manifested for ourselves. Good political novels should be ones that spark debate and reveal the complicated dynamics of society, which is why I’m recommending Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke.
The book questions our current method of corporal punishment, preferring to mark criminals by dying their skin a certain color to match their crime. It’s essentially Hester Prynne taken to the extreme. Instead of corralling the criminals behind bars, they let them loose to try to make their way with everyone knowing that they’ve committed a crime. This book is best read among friends or a book club because the storyline will reveal several different hot-topic discussion points that hopefully won’t cause someone to throw the bottle of wine across the room. (You might want to pour yourself a glass first though… just in case.) Brandishing a nice mix of ideological and social politics, this book is a quick read that’ll help get the juices flowing. —Jessica Thelander
The Iliad and The Odyssey
When people think of political things, they probably don’t automatically think of the Iliad and the Odyssey. But that’s of course where my mind goes. (I know, shocking.) Just hearing these names conjures up scenes of battles waged on a blood-slicked battlefield and a decade-long boat trip around the most dangerous parts of the Mediterranean, but there are political elements at the heart of these narratives, too.
The Iliad, of course, is about a war that goes on for ten years, prompted because Paris, the prince of Troy, thought he could steal a person from her own home just because a goddess promised her to him. There’s all that iconic imagery of carnage and godly intervention, muddy, footstep trodden battle grounds, meetings of strategy and plotting, from the perspective of both the Greeks and the Trojans, and also lots of Achilles whining in the corner. The Odyssey has political elements too, including journeying to distant lands and diplomatically (or not so diplomatically) interacting with those who live there, charging into battles both at home and afar, and strategizing to take down enemies, both human and mythical. All the captivating adventure and nail-biting fright of other stories of political intrigue, but with the added benefit of monsters, gods, and sorcery. Sign me up. —Olivia Woods
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
I like to keep politics at arm’s length because I keep telling myself that I don’t enjoy them. So I’m sitting here trying to think of what fictional universe that I voluntarily engage with is heavily political. I don’t know about heavily, but maybe all of them? Game of Thrones definitely counts. I have a stack of Tom Clancy novels a couple shelves over. The Harry Potter universe treats it like the filthy business that it is, but they’re important. How about the Star Wars expanded universe where, even if the books are no longer canon, the goal is to form a functional government capable of serving a whole galaxy? Well played, politics, well played.
The part of my collection that I’d like to highlight is Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. It’s the tale of muckraking journalist Spider Jerusalem, a tattooed, hard drinking, probably insane misanthrope with filthy habits. Politics forced him out of The City and into the countryside because he lost his mind. He returns to a quasi-dystopian society where technology is ever more intrusive, underrepresented minorities are protesting years of mistreatment, and the establishment has no answers. Armed with nothing but his wits and an illegal bowel disruptor, he engages in some good old fashioned muckraking and uses the power of the press to bring down a corrupt politician referred to as The Beast. —Ben Roman
This American Life—“Seriously”
Let’s play a quick game of “Find the Common Link,” shall we? (What, you didn’t play this game as a child? Okay, me neither, but just roll with it.)
This American Life. Sara Bareilles. Hamilton. President Obama.
Anything? Well, if you’re either a podcast junkie, an aspiring singer/songwriter, obsessed with Broadway’s latest craze, and/or wondering how many people share your love obsession with POTUS (answer: all of us), then you know: this hodge-podge makes a seriously magical combo. Not following? Okay.
Last week This American Life delved into the election, trying to figure out how the divide got so big and telling stories about how people try to bridge the gap. The final segment opened with host Ira Glass talking about President Obama’s recent comments about facts and how we “live in a moment where opinions masquerade as facts and the wildest conspiracy theories are taken as gospel.” Now, I know we’re probably all sick of the blatant lies and vitriol being thrown around on all sides these days. So this is why I love what happened next so much: the producers began wondering what all was going on in the president’s mind these days. All the things he was not saying. And so they asked singer/songwriter, and recent Tony nominee for Waitress, Sara Bareilles to write a song from Obama’s (imagined) point of view. Then they got Hamilton star Leslie Odom, Jr. to sing it. And oh my gosh, I have literally listened to this at least 50 times in the last 10 days, and I still get goosebumps Every. Single. Time. Have a listen. And remember that we are stronger than this. We are better than hate. And we have a greater capacity to love than we ever thought possible. Seriously. —Eden Badgett