Prime-Time Saviors: The West Wing and the Cultivation of a Unilateral American Responsibility to Protect
54 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2020
Date Written: December 2, 2009
Television programs and films are powerful visual mediums that inject various interpretations about law into the public stream of consciousness and can help shape public perception on various issues. This Article argues that the popular television series The West Wing (“TWW”) cultivated the notion of a unilateral American legal obligation to intervene and protect vulnerable populations from genocide in the context of a fictional African state by mimicking some of the factual circumstances that transpired during the Rwandan genocide. In creating an idealized vision of an American response to such humanitarian crises, the show effectively attempted to re-imagine Rwanda as a beneficiary of United States military force. This Article argues that in advancing a radical vision of unilateral humanitarian military interventions, TWW questionably propagated metaphors and caricatures that persist in human rights discourse as criticized by Makau Mutua - namely that Western states must act as saviors rescuing vulnerable and victimized third world populations from malevolent third world dictatorships. Furthermore, such caricatures deny non-Western populations a certain subjectivity and foster the idea that Western states must always come to the rescue. In addition, these caricatures paint the international community and fellow Western states like France as unwilling or unable to respond to such crises. Lastly, this Article proposes alternative visions of how TWW might have presented responses to humanitarian crises by incorporating the international community and giving greater voice to local resistance.
Keywords: The West Wing, Humanitarian Intervention, Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention, Savage-Victim-Savior, Makau Mutua, Responsibility to Protect, R2P, United Nations, United Nations Charter
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