Why ‘House of Cards’ Gets Politics Wrong
House of Cards is a first-rate series for us political junkies. I’m hooked. In fact, Right Progress Editor James Velasquez and I had plans to wake up at 3:00 AM to start watching it on the night of release. Really. The acting seems, to me, a cut above most television. The plot has perfectly timed twists. The interpersonal dynamics woven throughout – it’s really a well-done show, especially with all its one-liners and occasional deep thoughts.
But I have an objection to the show from an experience I had when I was on a business trip to Shanghai, China. Several (local) government leaders approached me while I was there last October and asked me: “How real is House of Cards?”
I was a little taken aback. First, that Chinese government officials watched the Netflix show. But second, the implication that American politicians – whom I work with regularly – could be so depraved.
The first time I laughed and hastily said, “No, not at all!”
Of course, that’s not quite true, either – I don’t know the degree but there certainly some aspects of the show reflect the truth… just not to the level of Francis Underwood (I hope). Even our worse real-life comparison pale in comparison. I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, though. I remember hearing once that foreigners think Americans are all sex-crazed lazy cheaters based off of the shows we export, such as As the World Turns, or Miley Cyrus’ “twerking.”
And the Chinese are one thing. In fact, maybe it’s good that they think we’re ruthless, right? That would be a not-so-subtle lesson, given the involvement of the Chinese in this second series. (I would explain, but that might give away some of the plot).
What alarmed me, more, I suppose, was when I went home (hundreds of miles from the Beltway and thousands of miles from Shanghai) to find the idea of widespread, criminal behavior from politicians suspected, or even assumed, by ordinary Americans. At a church service in a picturesque white church nestled in Blue-Collar Pennsylvania, I was asked similar questions to the Chinese regarding the ‘widespread corruption’ of politics. To paraphrase Frank Underwood, “politics is just shy of treason” – and that’s what people seem to think.
But that’s simply not true. I work with politicians on all levels and wings of government, and even the ones I vehemently disagree I honestly think get more hatred (and often praise, depending) than they deserve. I mean, sure almost everyone to some level is self-interested, and cronyism runs rampant. But really, most politicians do believe they’re trying to do what’s best for their constituents/the country/the world, even if they’re serving their own interests at the same time.
So, while I really enjoy House of Cards, and hope to see more seasons, the series on the whole reinforces a prevalent – and at least somewhat erroneous – perception that politicians are the ‘scum of the earth.’ Friends, it’s just not true – on the whole they’re not worse than you – or not much, anyway. Just as As the World Turns doesn’t represent our nation’s morals, or The Office doesn’t represent what most our daily lives look like, House of Cards doesn’t represent how Washington really works. Now the incompetence portrayed in Parks and Recreation, however… but that’s a different discussion.