Television and Geopolitics: A Conversation on the Nordics

Listen to a podcast on interplay between popular culture and the ’real’ world.

The interplay between popular culture and the ’real’ world is interesting. While it is clear that many creators of television, comic books and songs etc take inspiration from live events, the influence of popular culture on events themselves is perhaps less obvious. Frequently quoted examples are The Games of Thrones influencing the increase in tourism to Iceland from around 2010, or how Nordic TV shows have helped to promote the region’s progressivism and subsequently its ’soft power’.

But, can cultural products really have an effect on geopolitics? And can geopolitical actors learn from cultural products?

Robert Saunders thinks so. He is Professor in the Department of History, Politics and Geography the State University of New York and author of Geopolitics, Northern Europe, and Nordic Noir: What Television Series Tell Us About World Politics, and provides many interesting examples in this podcast. Robert is interviewed by editor of Nicola Witcombe and they also talk about how TV:

  • provides access to different perspectives and lifestyles from all over the world;
  • can be a tool in explaining geopolitical tendencies or historical events;
  • is experimental ground for imagining how to deal with the uncertainty of future events, including relationships between countries and regions – and pandemics!

And, of course, all of this cannot be covered properly without talking about Nordic branding, why Nordic TV has been so successful recently, as well as lots of examples of geopolitical currents in TV and film drama.

Spoiler alert!: If you listen to this podcast, you will find out the end to Series 3 of the Norwegian series Occupied!


Works mentioned in this podcast

Denmark's flag, red with a whites stripes formed like a sideways cross


  • Borgen (2010-2013) produced by Danmarks Radio (DR) (first shown in Denmark in 2010 and on BBC Four in 2012).
  • The Bridge (Bron/Broen) (2011-2018) produced jointly by Sveriges Television (SVT) and DR.
  • The Killing (Forbrydelsen) (2007-2012) produced by Danmarks Radio (DR) in co-production with ZDF Enterprises (first shown in Denmark in 2007).
  • Follow the Money (Bedrag) (2016-2019) produced by DR.
Red with a sideways dark blue cross and a white outline


  • Occupied (2015-2019) produced by TV2.
  • Nobel (2016) produced by Monster Scripted (first shown on NRK in 2016).
Blue with a yellow sideways cross  


  • Wallander (2005-2013) produced by Svensk Filmindustri, Yellow Bird and ARD Degeto.

Films: Borat (2006); 300 (2007); The Interview (2014)

TV-series: Broadchurch (2013-2017); Counterpart (2017-2019); Game of Thrones (2011-2019); Hinterland (Y Gwyll) (2013-2016); House of Cards (2013-2018); The Border (Wataha) (2014-2020);  FX’s The Bridge (2013-2014); The Simpsons (1989- ); The Tunnel (2011-2018); Star Trek (1966- ).

Scholars: See further reading below.

Further reading: