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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September 25, 2013

Ted Cruz, Generational conflict, and Remarque

GermanWarPosterWhile Ted Cruz was calling Republicans to arms to overturn Obamacare, I was watching the movie version of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), in its uncut version.  (Ben Urwand insists that Universal pictures caved to German pressure to remove certain incendiary scenes that impugned the older generation for mindless nationalism that slaughtered their young soldiers. I watched the uncut version that attacked the upper class older generation for murdering their unprepared lower class young men, through glorifying sacrifice for the Fatherland, teaching irrelevant subjects in schools, and for inadequate training, food, leadership, hygiene, and medical care while in combat.)

The original uncut movie reminded me of the pacifism that moved the formation of Pacifica Radio immediately after WW2. Such Remarque-like antiwar sentiments lack an analysis of the lead up to wars, but imagine an undifferentiated class of enlisted men, badly led by undifferentiated old and middle-aged men.  Indeed, Remarque himself was born into a Catholic home (his father was a bookbinder, not a politicized worker), then after his recovery from wounds in the war, went on to write numerous novels after his autobiographical first novel (that of course was banned and burned by the (relatively young) Nazis in power. His brazen book was riotously protested before the Nazis were put in power by…old men: the monarchists and conservative nationalists of Germany who hoped to control Hitler and his hotheads in order to destroy communism and the independent working class movement that opposed the Nazis.

Remarque, a handsome fellow, went on to a successful career as an author and affairs with glamorous movie stars. In trying to place him as if he existed later in the 20th century, I would have to locate him in the counter-culture, not in any political faction. In the 1960s, boys like him might have been draft dodgers or protesters against the Viet Nam conflict. But the more politicized would have had a more sophisticated analysis of WW1. For instance, they might have looked to rival imperialisms, or to the failure of the Socialist Parties to oppose the war in 1914, voting for war credits in Germany.  Or if more attuned to the errors of diplomats, they might have come to agree with Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War.

By the time Remarque wrote his novel, disillusion with the idea of progress pervaded what we now call the Jazz Age. Hemingway had written two antiwar novels (The Sun Also Rises about an aimless generation), then A Farewell to Arms (more overtly antiwar and vaguely autobiographical).  I have found one quote where Remarque prefigured the anti-technology sentiments of the counter culture, arguing for a vague humanism and faith in humanity; he was no nihilist.

paulandyingcomrade

The conflict du jour is over whether or not Ted Cruz is a hothead and ambitious for personal power. I am reminded of a line from the much lauded House of Cards remake, offered by Netflix to its subscribers. This time, a ruthless Southern Democrat, “Francis Underwood” (played by Kevin Spacey), explains to the audience that he isn’t in it for the money but for “power”.  Such is the charge now leveled at Ted Cruz by an older generation that hews to a more bipartisan approach to the management of social policy.

We know much more about this political war than Remarque knew about his war as an eighteen year old Catholic boy.  Given what I have studied about the moderate men—i.e, the older generation in charge today, it is difficult not to call them out for utopianism.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.)

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