We asked Tom Watson MP to discuss the political motivations of cinema despots
The deputy leader of the Labour Party assesses eight screen tyrants
We asked Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour party, to assist us in scrutinising the manifestos of eight screen tyrants
Coriolanus Snow (The Hunger Games)
Snow is the dictatorial President of Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation that hosts the Hunger Games – a competition in which 12 children fight to the death.
Tom Watson: “It was Machiavelli who said, “It is much safer to be feared than to be loved”, but it could have been Suzanne Collin’s terrifying President Snow. Snow is an autocrat who is a firm believer in government overreach, using state violence and constant surveillance to keep tight control of the participants in the Games, and beyond them, the 12 districts. Is he the ultimate conservative? He certainly acts swiftly to quash any sign of progressive thinking.”
The Weyland-Yutani Corporation (Alien franchise)
The shady British-Japanese corporation sells technology, invests in space colonisation, and develops biological weapons.
Tom Watson: “The company’s ruthlessness (the key words here are “crew expendable”), not to mention its planned diversification into deadly alien-based bioweapons, are pretty obviously the product of unchecked mega-capitalism. Abuses like those aboard the Nostromo – and decades later on LV426 – are simply what happens when you’ve got unfettered intergalactic markets operating without any kind of competition law, a situation compounded by Weyland Yutani’s obviously inadequate systems of corporate governance and ethics.”
The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Wearing a Glasgow smile, cracked makeup and a purple jacket, The Joker thrives on chaos and regularly blows things up on a whim.
Tom Watson: “The Joker is an anarchist and despot who wants to destroy the system by introducing chaos to the established order by employing violent – and often downright sadistic – methods. But like all anarchists he needs the establishment, in the form of the Gotham Police Department and Batman, to validate his worldview. Every anarchist needs a system to smash.”
Lord Business (The Lego Movie)
Lord Business is controlling, suspicious of creativity, and intent on enforcing order by gluing the world together.
Tom Watson: “Ultra-conservative dictator who moonlights as a CEO and wants to maintain order above all else, to the point where hierarchy and tradition become ends in themselves. He has a robot militia to help him, which is not quite as crazy as it sounds given the rapid pace of technological change these days. He’s less of a ruthless dictator than he is a control freak who wants everyone to stay in their place – with glue if necessary.”
Saruman (Lord of the Rings)
Once the Chief of the White Council, Saruman crossed over to the Dark Side and mobilised an army for Sauron in a bid to enjoy the power of the One Ring.
Tom Watson: “It is said that power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. Saruman, the evil patriarch who turns from good to evil as he is seduced by evil forces and the trappings of power, is a case in point. In this sense he could be any common or garden dictator, though of course he’s the only one who created an army of orcs.”
Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
A tiger who cannot bear the humiliation of having failed to kill Mowgli when he was an infant, Shere Khan goes on a crusade for his blood.
Tom Watson: “Anti-human sentiment oozes from Shere Khan. He doesn’t like Mowgli because he is a refugee. There are echoes of Paul Nuttall’s UKIP here. Except that Shere Khan probably doesn’t need to embellish his CV.”
M Bison (Street Fighter)
A former military general who wants a race of supersoldiers to help him take over the world.
Tom Watson: “Arms dealing, drugs trafficking and even human experimentation – there is nothing that evil overlord M Bison won’t do to further his goal of ruling the entire world with an iron fist. Like Haiti’s Papa Doc Duvalier, he is a psychopathic leader with a messiah complex, and a believer in the occult (the Haitian dictator frequently employed voodoo imagery during his reign of terror).”
Damon Killian (The Running Man)
Killian is the manipulative showrunner for a gladiatorial TV show in which a lone participant is pursued to the death by ‘stalkers’ looking to win prizes.
Tom Watson: “Damon Killian is a media mogul and agent of a rogue state. He peddles fake news to discredit the runners whom he portrays as enemies of a dystopian state that has collapsed into chaos. We could never have predicted the film’s star Arnold Schwarzenegger would one day run the state of California, of course. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.”