Economist 12/16/15

  1. In America this week, after a couple who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, California, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of America’s borders to Muslims.In France, the counterpart to Mr Trump is the far-right National Front (FN). In the first round of regional elections on December 6th, after the IS terrorist assault on Paris last month, the FN narrowly gained the largest share of the national vote.Mr Trump and Ms Le Pen are not alone. Support for the populist right in America and parts of Europe is unparalleled since the second world war.In Europe populists are in power in Poland and Hungary, and in the governing coalition in Switzerland and Finland (and that is not counting the left-wing sort like Syriza in Greece). They top the polls in France and the Netherlands, and their support is at record levels in Sweden.
  2. Populists differ, but the bedrock for them all is economic and cultural insecurity.Nobody should underestimate how hard it is to take the populists on. Some mainstream politicians dismiss their arguments by labelling them fascist or extremist.The choice ultimately falls to voters, most of whom do not subscribe to right-wing populism. Mr Trump has the backing of just 30% of the 25% or so Americans who say they are Republican. But the turnout for primaries and caucuses in America is less than 20%. The turnout in France was just under 50%. The way to beat the populists is at the ballot box. The moderate majority has a responsibility to show up and put a cross next to candidates who stand for openness and tolerance.
  3. ENSAF Haidar cut a brave, dignified and somehow lonely figure today as she received a standing ovation from the European Parliament and collected a highly prestigious human-rights award on behalf of her husband, the jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose internet activities have earned him a horrific sentence of 1,000 public lashes. Under the ghastly terms of his punishment Mr Badawi is supposed to receive his lashes in doses of 50 at a time. The first 50 were meted out in January but he was judged medically unfit to receive the next lot. Since then his family and supporters have lived in fear that the lashes might resume, but also in hope that the Saudi authorities might yield to international pressure and release him.
  4. Having bought Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, Disney has skilfully capitalised on their intellectual property—and in so doing, cemented its position as the market leader in the industrialisation of mythology. Its success rests on its mastery of the three elements of modern myth-making: tropes, technology and toys. Start with the tropes. Disney properties, which include everything from “Thor” to “Toy Story”, draw on well-worn devices of mythic structure to give their stories cultural resonance. Walt Disney himself had an intuitive grasp of the power of fables.The Marvel universe goes even further, directly appropriating chunks of Greco-Roman and Norse mythology.When Disney bought Lucasfilm it did not just acquire the Star Wars franchise; it also gained Industrial Light & Magic, one of the best special-effects houses in the business, whose high-tech wizardry is as vital to Marvel’s Avengers films as it is to the Star Wars epics. And when Disney was left behind by the shift to digital animation, it cannily revitalised its own film-making brand by buying Pixar, a firm as pioneering in its field as Walt Disney had been in hand-drawn animation.
  5. But these days myths are also expected to take physical form as toys, merchandise and theme-park rides. This is the third myth-making ingredient. Again, Walt Disney led the way, licensing Mickey Mouse and other characters starting in the 1930s, and opening the original Disneyland park in 1955. Mr Lucas took cinema-related merchandise into a new dimension, accepting a pay cut as director in return for all the merchandising rights to Star Wars—a deal that was to earn him billions. Those rights now belong to Disney, and it is making the most of them: sales of “The Force Awakens” merchandise, from toys to clothing, are expected to be worth up to $5 billion alone in the coming year. In all, more than $32 billion-worth of Star Wars merchandise has been sold since 1977.

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