House of Cards

March 22, 2014


House of Cards attempts to portray the contemporary political landscape that situates money and power against one another, and as mediators, vain politicians. And to call these players on the Washington theatrical stage vain is misleading – pathological is a more appropriate word. At the juncture of the decline of preserving the inherited institution of American government, which was built by the bare hands of those willing to risk the detachment of their heads in exchange for creating a nation where every citizen was a free individual, those that feed at the trough furnished by a docile population are vigorously displayed. At center are Frank Underwood and his wife, Claire.


The series immediately mans the guns from day one, thrillingly trying to reenact how the sausage gets made these days in an unregulated filthy processing facility otherwise known as the Capital. That such individuals like Frank and his associates can thrive is a depressing reminder of how incapable the national citizenry is at governing itself. In any event, House of Cards is not about them, at least not more than pawns in the chess matches being played incessantly around the nation’s capital.


The aim of each politician’s game is of course self-centered, and of course about increasing the power they wield. What for? As if the question needs to be answered? Why of course. It may seem intuitive for someone to crave power, but why? The intentionally dysfunctional central government architected by James Madison makes so even at being the king of the highest hill in the land, the execution of directives will be ensnared and entangled in enough contradictory self-interests that the phrase “compromise” is an inevitable outcome. What seems to be clear is the feeling, the illusion, of having power, of having significance, of having control over the course of history, is all that matters. Indeed, Claire admits as much as she openly argues why she married her political ladder-climbing husband.


Of course, a healthy system of government does not attract – or at least deters – such characters who have a thirst simply for telling others what to do. Regardless, what is witnessed is Frank’s expedient game of chutes and ladders in the wake of the newly elected President, whom shares a political party affiliation, which is represented as nothing more than a convenience during everyone’s own self-interested and driven actions toward the pursuit of power. It is worth pausing here to juxtapose the jockeying exposed by House of Cards with similar dynamics in communist parties. Since the congruency of each is found in every participants drive for more power, it is no wonder that consistently the most violent and sociopathic player wins. Joseph Stalin is the flagship example.


It is technically a misfortune that the game Frank plays is so one-sided. It is as if his puppeteering of others does not cross his strings with other masters. It is too easy for him to get his way in this program. Even when resistance is met by the other side of the coin, those who actually mint it and for some simian reason strive for some life worthy of consequence by involving themselves in power as if they feel they lack a powerful enough presence in society, he finds a way to win. His rise is swift, as will surely be his fall, but it is simply too one-dimensional to be overlooked. Where it might be interpreted to maintain the attention-span of the series viewer, it is more likely an exposure of the simplicity of the screenwriters’ imaginations. Not to say they are trying to paint a perfect image of reality – though frightfully politicians have been documented to act out House of Card scenes in congress, like Romans slaughtering pigs in the Hebrew Holy Temple, which indeed validates the writers’ representation of the conspiratorialness of politicians who have no other means to move the world except by pandering to what Hitler remarked as the vacillating children of democracy, voters. But surely the climb up Littlefinger’s ladder could have been more sophisticated yet just as riveting as filmed.


Grade: B+



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