Should we blame pop culture for giving voters a warped sense of how politics works in the real world? As Alex Mell-Taylor writes, TV shows like The West Wing and House of Cards, and movies like Swing Vote and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde, have a bad habit of depicting politics as a reductive binary of two extremes: optimism vs. nihilism.

Fictional characters either leverage the system” for good or they exploit it in their own self-interest. Nuance rarely makes a cameo in these narrative arcs, so long as the show’s political hero can solve world peace by the end of a 42-minute episode.

“Process-oriented texts such as The West Wing and Swing Vote are frustrating because they gloss over the messy realities of politics,” Mell-Taylor writes. “Voting is not itself a divine good that will automatically lead to an ideal society.”

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