Iannucci’s Jesuit education has stuck with him: he always writes from a sturdy moral foundation. The same can hardly be said of his favorite subjects, the government and the press, whose yin-and-yang rapport causes them to either parasitically feed off one another or butt heads. No one comes off well in this over-amped version of civic power. Politicians attempt to control the media, which in turn suck up to them for “exclusives” and insider information. At the same time, the press sits in prim judgment of politicians, often narrowing its focus to trivial lifestyle or behavioral issues (see Bill Clinton).
But in the end, we really have no one to blame but ourselves. As Iannucci said on The South Bank Show in 2006: “We’re responsible because we buy the papers and we like a juicy scandal.” He admits the American press is less aggressively adversarial toward politicians and celebrities than its British counterpart. That may explain why even a kinder, gentler American spinoff of The Thick of It was rejected by ABC after the pilot was filmed.
Meanwhile, the most recent season of the show seems to defy whatever boundaries Iannucci had established earlier. Tucker punches the senior adviser to Nicola Murray, the new minister of social affairs and citizenship, in the nose during the heat of yet another brutal triage session. And Murray herself (played to frumpy perfection by Rebecca Front) breaks down in tears in front of Tucker when her daughter’s school headmaster is dragged into the political fray and forced to resign. Murray questions the point of all the ceaseless tactical maneuvering practiced by the government, its opposition, and the press.
“It’s a fucking war,” Tucker rationalizes. “Now you can’t change a thing unless you win the war.”
“Does it never occur to you that your poisonous male obsession with conflict is making people despise politics?” Murray replies.
While the poisonous male obsession with conflict takes center stage in In the Loop, the press plays a somewhat smaller role. Yet it’s by no means removed from the equation. In fact, Iannucci claims that his frustration with the tyranny of the infinite news cycle prior to the invasion of Iraq inspired the film. Like all news consumers, he had the sense of being bombarded with too much information and far less analysis. It was exactly this feast-and-famine scenario that transformed The Daily Show into one of the country’s most trusted news sources, even if Stewart’s analysis was packaged as entertainment.
In the Loop walks the audience through the preamble to a U.S.-manufactured war in the Middle East. Britain is drawn in when a mediocre minister deviates from the official line by first stammering that war is “unforeseeable” (thereby suggesting its possibility) and then suggesting his country might have to “climb the mountain of conflict” down the line. “You sound like a fucking Nazi Julie Andrews!” screams Tucker, frantically and unsuccessfully stuffing the genie back in the bottle.
Too broad? Too unlikely? Iannucci has found the truth to be no less unlikely, and almost immune to parody. Having filmed a sequence about a secret senate committee that everyone wants to join after its existence is leaked to the press, he discovered that such an incident had actually taken place.
“We make things up and put them in the program,” he explains. “Then politicians come up afterward and say, ‘How did you find that out? We thought we’d kept it quiet.’”
The terror of exposure that fuels day-to-day politics in Iannucci’s work is only becoming more pervasive. “You just have to turn over, and somebody’s blogging about it,” he says. “And what’s said on the blog, even though it’s only read by a hundred people, becomes massively important. It gives politicians even more outlets to be paranoid about. Seeing something written down somehow lends it an air of authority.”
On the other hand, blog posts appear downright epic next to the tsunami of one-liners that is Twitter, the most naturally comedic medium to come down the pike to date. When Tucker punches the adviser in The Thick of It, a civilian leaks word of the fight via Twitter. And Iannucci later used the same medium to thank appreciative fans of the episode.
No surprise, then, that social media will dominate at least two of Iannucci’s upcoming projects. These include an HBO script set in the world of Internet startup companies and a second film.