YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 17, 2016

House of Cards and cynical Democrats

Claire and Frank go to Moscow, season 3 House of Cards, Netflix

Claire and Frank go to Moscow, season 3 House of Cards, Netflix

I have just binge-watched House of Cards seasons three and four, set during the presidency of upwardly mobile, cynical and manipulative poor white trash Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey co-starring with Robin Wright as his teammate Claire—- a former “Dallas debutante” with a preternatural understanding of how “the system” really works. Both Spacey and Wright are actually from humble backgrounds, and perhaps retain much of their repressed rage/nihilism).

I also saw the much-preferred UK original on PBS, so long ago that I remember most of it only vaguely, but who could forget the shocking murder of the young journalist? (At least my polled Facebook friends liked that version, nearly all finding the US adaptation boring at best; I disagree, all long series are uneven, but the writing is often compelling).

Ian Richardson as PBS villain (1990)

Ian Richardson as PBS villain (1990)

So I am in the uncomfortable position of questioning my own taste for television series, which turn out to be relatively highbrow compared to the “lowbrow” network offerings. (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/is-i-house-of-cards-i-really-a-hit/284035/)

What frightens me most about House of Cards (I have now seen all versions, entirely), is my own naiveté as a historian and reader of texts. I have often called attention to our limited access to relevant documents as we attempt to interpret and present the past and present, but I didn’t factor in silent, underhanded deeds and interactions that confront the reader/viewer with unmitigated evil. There is enough nastiness in my own life history to temper my disbelief that such behavior could exist. Frankly, I don’t know how the writers got so much of our political situation down with conviction, for in spite of my “realism” about what to expect from other people, I could never imagine such degrees of immorality, even from “Big Government.”

What is most surprising is that the actors and writers are associated with the Democratic Party (presented as rife with corruption, including mayhem), or perhaps they lean left, like many artists confronting the philistine bourgeoisie/modernity in either political party. There is a punkish, oppositional sensibility at play in the writing and acting, though one wonders if life offers more than an Artaudian scream or Brechtian ruthlessness.

Although the plot line is said to be “implausible” I find the series, like Billions (a Showtime offering that has completed its first season), to have ripped the mask off our elites, with enough ambiguity to satisfy any educated, fearless student of human nature.

No wonder I am attracted to the writing of Herman Melville, who ventured on the dark side more than most of his nineteenth century “optimistic” contemporaries, with attention to his life and art only made possible after the horrors of World War Two. And no wonder that the trashing of his masterpiece Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852) had to be denounced in 1947 by FDR-allied psychologist Henry A. Murray, whose lies I have reluctantly exposed on this website.  (https://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/).

Call me Isabel.

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