Challenging Modelling Pt.2 The Politics and Polemics of Modelling

Look at almost any modelling group on Facebook, and you will find the same rule: “no politics”. It is a commonly accepted trope in modelling that politics = bad.

Terms of Reference

What do we mean by politics? For once, a dictionary definition may help, especially as there are many forms of “politics”.

  1. Legal government and lawmaking, from national government to local councils, and the parties that compete for governance.
  2. The relationships within a group or organization: such as office politics, or group dynamics.
  3. The Politics of the person: where identity becomes a personal politic, such as feminism, race equality or gender equality.
  4. Geopolitics: the ways countries relate to each other.

These are common definitions, but at its most basic level, it’s the constant conversation within any group or society, about how people, as individuals, relate to each other within a group.

“Chris, Knock off the Undergrad Waffle, Stick to Modelling”

Don’t worry, I’m getting there…


First, what are we talking about when we say “modelling”? we tend to consider it within the paradigm of making miniature versions of full-sized, real-life, military equipment and personnel. But modelling is far broader than that, it also includes civilian real-world machines and people, fantasy and sci-fi machines, and people (military and non-military) and pretty much any subject you can think of, recreated or artistically referenced, in reduced (or, technically, increased) scale. Don’t worry, this is relevant, I promise.

Why don’t we allow political posts in modelling groups?

The short answer is Admins don’t like spending all day moderating grown men fighting on the internet.

The slightly longer answer is that political discussion is off topic and divides people along political lines. The concern is that a post about politics will bring negativity to a group.

You can make very arguments that discussion of politics as defined by 1 or 2 above, and with some exceptions: 3, have no relevance to modelling (I might disagree, but you can). But in reference to 4, you cannot legitimately say war is non-political.

People on Facebook are fond of quoting Carl von Clauswitz: “history is written by the victor.” He never said it (it is sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill but he didn’t coin it either, best research attributes it to French sources on the death of Robespierre c1855.)

But Clausewitz did have something to say about war and politics:

“24. WAR IS A MERE CONTINUATION OF POLICY BY OTHER MEANS.

We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses. That the tendencies and views of policy shall not be incompatible with these means, the Art of War in general and the Commander in each particular case may demand, and this claim is truly not a trifling one. But however powerfully this may react on political views in particular cases, still it must always be regarded as only a modification of them; for the political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

[Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Col. J.J. Graham. New and Revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Col. F.N. Maude, in Three Volumes (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & C., 1918).]

Clausewitz is of course, correct, War (and by extension, the military) is not separate from politics, it is a geopolitical instrument, either through exerting political will onto others, or in preserving the native chosen politic (self-government) from foreign political will.

Therefore, when we model the military, we model the martial embodiment of political will.

Does that mean modelling a military is an endorsement of the politics of the military depicted?

*Absolutely Not*

However, any military model will always be freighted with the politics of the military it represents. There is no escaping this without deleting any context from the model. Thus, to take the politics from a Tiger tank, or an A5M Zero, or a USMC marine on a pacific island, you have to remove all context: nationality, historical period and location. And if you remove these things, you remove any reference to the history of the model.

We must acknowledge that any military model expressly referencing historical events cannot be claimed to be apolitical in nature, even if not in intent.

Historical Military Modelling is one thing, but modelling current conflicts is quite another. I discussed this a while ago with Barry Biediger from the Small Subjects Podcast on my Models from Ukraine pod (https://modelsfromukraine.buzzsprout.com/2035660/13596069-episode-14-combat-giraffes-and-moral-models-with-reskit-and-barry-biediger).

Modelling current conflicts is not like the dry academic historical discussion of the past. This is happening to people right now. This is active politics by other means, being prosecuted as you read this blog. If we choose to model these conflicts, how can we possibly claim that it is apolitical, and deny others from reading the models in a political context? To do so would be absurd.

To be clear, I am not saying that your intent is political, but I am saying that its is, nonetheless, a political model because that is how people will read it, especially (in the internet age) those in countries actively involved in the conflict. The internet is not restricted to your safe, currently pacific, country. To summarise, we can’t claim military modelling is apolitical because the military is not apolitical. We can certainly say we have no political intent in modelling it. When I model a Luftwaffe aircraft it is very definitely not an endorsement of the Third Reich, but I will not try to wear the absurdly facile figleaf that there is nothing political represented in the model.

Is It Art Though?

(callback beetches)

One of my earliest bogs asked whether modelling was art (https://modelphilosopher.com/is-it-art-though/) Spoiler Alert: No, but it can be.

If we want to argue that modelling is art, then surely it should be subject to the other definitions of art, beyond simply ‘creative expression’. Politics is a big part of art and always has been, from Franceso Goya’s anti-war, anti Napoleon “Disasters of War Series”

(“Por Que” (1863) Franceso Goya)

To Diego Rivera’s activist Murals

(“Pan American Unity,” (1940) Diego Rivera, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Photo: SEBASTIAN HOCHMAN/The Stanford Daily))

To Norman Rockwell’s Civil Rights Era work

Norman Rockwell (American, 1894â??1978). New Kids in the Neighborhood (Negro in the Suburbs), 1967. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 57 1/2 in. (92.7 x 146.1 cm). Story illustration for Look, May 16, 1967. Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Printed by permission of the Norman Rockwell Family Agency. © 2013 the Norman Rockwell Family Entities

artists have always not only accepted politics, but actively engaged in it.

So if modelling is art, like art, why should it be apolitical? Why is there no room for politics in modelling? I’m not saying modellers are in the same category as Goya, Rivera and Rockwell, but I am saying we can express politics in our ‘art’, too.

One modeller embraces it, our good friend Robert Blokker. He has been bold in accepting that modelling can be art an art can be political with is busts ”Real Life Joker” and “The Great Polonium”.

(“Real Life Joker” (2020), Robert Blokker)

(“The Great Polonium” (2022), Robert Blokker)

And I have Robert to thank for inspiring my own new piece “The Criminal”. As I have mentioned before, my education was at art school, and honestly this feels like the closest think I have made to art since I left art school, and it is also modelling.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_0459-830x1024.jpg

(“The Criminal” (2024), Chris Meddings)

Robert’s pieces, and my own, have provoked people when we posted them. Most people have been fine with it, either because they agree with them or they accept our right to express ourselves this way, or they just don’t care (never underestimate the power of indifference). But a sizeable minority are made angry by these pieces. Good. If you want this to be art, art can be provocative. Even if you think its just models, why can’t models be provocative?

So, let’s stop this ludicrous fiction that politics can be removed entirely from modelling. You can of course claim you make no deliberate political statement with your model, but you cannot complain if a military model is read in a political context, especially if you chose to model a current conflict.

And should politics be kept out of modelling? This too is facile. Politics is threaded through our every day life, because politics is the dynamics of how we relate to each other, and if you want modelling to be art, you should accept that one way people use art, is to comment on politics.

About Chris

I'm Chris Meddings, Modeller, Author, Publisher of Modelling Books, Podcaster, and armchair wannabe thinker
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Challenging Modelling Pt.2 The Politics and Polemics of Modelling

  1. Andy H says:

    I’m really glad you started this blog. You and I have exchanged views before on SMCG and SCU but, for the reasons you point out, we don’t do politics (too much) or, indeed, over indulge in philosophical debate. I studied philosophy at uni (a minor to my IT degree) and have remained interested in it so having somewhere for those discussions is welcome.
    The usual questions that crop up are ‘is it art ?’, ‘is it porn ?’, ‘does it glorify nazis/Putin/some other bastard ? etc. I’m sometimes wary of showing a piece to certain friends of mine, particularly if it’s a WWII German subject. All my work is in my ‘man cave’ alongside the debris of my various hobbies so it’s not like it’s on the mantelpiece but while the guitars, fishing rods and comic books would barely raise an eyebrow, the ‘toy panzers’ might. So there’s that…
    As for ‘removing politics’, you’re right, it’s impossible but the fact that we’re anxious about it reflects the current climate. I can’t put a date on it but I feel there has been a change during my adult life. It’s not Trump or Putin, that’s too simplistic. It might be 9/11 or the emergence of social media or the fall of the Berlin wall or the rise of China or all of the above or something else entirely. I don’t know the cause but the consequence seems to be a belief that it’s OK to aggressively, perhaps even violently, oppose someone’s political views even when those views are objectively legitimate and democratically protected. The language we use in debate has become harsh. The actions we take are more extreme.
    I’m well aware that protest and rioting are not new and I’m not talking about the attack on the capitol or BLM protests or Just Stop Oil. The right to peaceful protest is essential to democracy. I’m talking about everyday interactions, often between strangers, that descend in a matter if seconds into verbal abuse and, sometimes, violence. I may be deluded. Perhaps it was always thus… but I don’t think so.
    I’ll finish with a recent example that might illustrate my point. I recently heard that someone I know at an American company was fired for mishandling a dispute between too co-workers who he managed. The co-workers had an argument about politics – one supports Trump, the other Biden. These two people have worked together for many years without any previous issues. The argument became heated and fisticuffs ensued. This was on company premises. The fight was broken up and the manager was summoned. He tried to handle it without taking it to HR, knowing that the two guys would be fired. He made the mistake though of commenting later that he sided, politically, with the Trump supporter. The person he told that to reported it to HR. All 3 were fired.
    So what ? … Well, I can’t imagine two grown professional people coming to blows over Bush vs Bill Clinton or Blair vs whoever the Tory was at the time. I CAN imagine a punch up over Brexit or Trump or Israel or Ukraine or even Boris. I don’t think the manager would have been fired 10 years ago. I think he’d have been slapped on the wrist and told to handle it better next time. In the event, HR took the view that the entire incident was toxic, particularly as it involved politics so they took off and nuked the site from orbit. It was the only way to be sure.

    • Chris says:

      I read your comment earlier this morning, and sorry to say I did not understand what your anecdote had to do with the subject of the blog (modelling political subjects)

      Then I opened facebook and found someone had laid a stinking turd on a share of the blog I put on the SCU page. He posted a racist dog whistle meme of Biden and then said ‘I thought we were just critiquing politicians’. Now I get your point; that in this age most people simply are not equipped to have a grown up conversation.

      However, I don’t think thats a good enough reason to require everyone to put their fingers in their ears, and cover their eyes and pretend the real world doesn’t exist on modelling pages

      My example would be the people posting their models of Russian Z tank models, and getting upset when people say something about it, especially Ukrainians complaining about it, and saying ‘its just a model, its not political’. I don’t think you can make something like that and complain when people find it political. thats wilfully delusional.

      As for your anecdote, I honestly can’t imagine a punch up in a uk office over politics. brief shouting followed by years of passive aggressive resentment is more our style

      • Andy H says:

        Yeah, I should have added that context. I saw that post early this morning and I’d assumed the SCU response was from you. Must have been WP or TH.
        My broader point is we should be able to talk and disagree about politics but it’s become more divided and toxic in recent years. It’s worse in the US than the UK, but it’s everywhere.
        When the model has a political overtone (which anything from any conflict will have at least a bit of) then reactions are more extreme and hostile. The ‘olympic podium’ Russian thing from a few weeks ago touched a lot of nerves. I flipped about on it and decided it was valid art. A little on the nose but that’s just my opinion.
        A few years ago the two idiots in the punch-up would’ve made sarcastic comments and laughed about it later. Now they come to blows. I know people who fell out over Brexit. I expect you do too.
        A few years ago people,even their supporters, would have chuckled at a satirical model of Nixon or Thatcher. Now, a satirical model of Trump might get you a death threat.

        • Chris says:

          there is no ‘Might’ about it. I have had some negative reactions to my putin, nothing I can’t handle: a few people “why don’t you do Biden?” or passive aggressive weaksauce laugh emojis, but no messages so far

          Robert reported the same about his ‘Polonium’, some anti americans taking umbrage, but nothing serious.

          but he got death threats about his trump. Trump supporters seem to be more extreme than even Putin supporters, based on this evidence

  2. Bruce Culver says:

    In the colonies, “politics” has become a blood sport. As a nation, the United States has not previously come to terms with its slaver past. We kicked the can down the road in the late 19th century when we ended Reconstruction and left Black citizens to the tender mercies of former Confederates. That can, and the chickens also kicked down the road, have now come home to roost. Discussing politics is safely done only with people who feel as you do. One result is the sad realization that so many modelers we have known, sometimes for decades, have turned out to be people who believe things we feel are abhorent. It is a huge problem because, as psychologists have pointed put, people who are moderate or liberal in their thought and political persuasions tend to be more open-minded and will change their opinions if they see new evidence that their old beliefs were incorrect, but most conservative people tend to regard their beliefs as part of their personal identity, so attempts to debate with them on political beliefs are usually regarded as attacks on them personally, and that shuts down debate pretty quickly. There is also the evident racism – not cross-burning KKK racism, but the belief that white people deserve to be on top and running things, and a feeling sometimes expressed that opening up the country threatens their lives and livelihoods. So there is an element of fear of losing position and influence, and that frankly terrifies many of them on the conservative side. Now this covers only the tendency for model blog discussions to fly out of hand – I agree completely with the comments you make about the inherently political nature of models, no matter what they may be. Any model or other subject will be seen as political by someone who sees it. Unless you model something so anodyne and bland that no one will be offended, there is no way to avoid that. I’m with Rodney King – “Can’t we all just get along?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *