A Novel Look at Lobbyists

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Works of fiction have always dealt with political issues and institutions, "but the last decade has seen a much more concerted trend in this direction," argues Conor McGrath, an independent scholar and deputy editor of the Journal of Public Affairs, citing an upsurge in the number of novels, movies, TV shows and songs featuring lobbyists.

"We could intuitively expect that there is some connection between what the average citizen watches or reads in popular culture and what he or she thinks about politics," writes McGrath in an essay for the European Centre for Public Affairs publication 'The Future of Public Trust', edited by Tom Spencer and McGrath himself and introduced by EURACTIV. 

"While fiction aims to entertain, the creators of fictional work are doubtless not unaware that they also inform and educate," the scholar continues. "Public views about politics are formed – at least in part – through the ways in which politics is represented in fiction." 

Sounding a cautionary note, McGrath warns that "lobbyists are rarely treated in fiction with much subtlety, while gross characterisations of their personalities and misrepresentation of the role of lobbying are commonplace". "Lobbyists present too easy a target for writers wanting to include in their political fiction a cardboard-cutout despoiler of democracy," he laments. 

Tales of lobbyists in novels "tend merely to provide full accounts of the sexual and/or financial and/or political greed and lust of lobbyists," the scholar argues, asserting that "most novels which have lobbyists as characters show them as relentlessly corrupt, unethical and predatory". 

Moreover, "lobbyists will find it difficult to enhance their public standing or reputation – and the electorate will continue to hold gross biases about a key and legitimate element of the political process – until novelists and screenplay writers begin to present more realistic and rounded lobbyists in their literary works," McGrath warns. 

As for lobbyists themselves, they "should make more strenuous efforts to educate the public about the legitimate role of lobbying in a democracy and the positive effects of lobbyists in representing interests," he writes, starting by "proactively seeking out opportunities" to meet novelists. 

"Lobbying can be portrayed in a compelling yet true fashion – provided that lobbyists and novelists begin to talk to each other," McGrath concludes. 

NOTE: McGrath cites examples of films and novels which primarily feature lobbyists from the Anglo-Saxon world. Should you be aware of examples from other cultures, or should you wish to react to McGrath’s observations, feel free to share them with others on Blogactiv by clicking this button.

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