The director of Fight Club, David Fincher, teamed up with the actor Kevin Spacey to bring you Netflix’s first original series, “House of Cards.” The upper echelons of America’s federal government serve as a playground where Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, casually maneuvers his way to undisputed power. The first two episodes which set the tone for the development of Frank, an incredibly well-connected Democratic congressman, were directed by Fincher himself.
There is a certain level of trail-blazing domination that characterizes the role of Frank within the American government. Be it closing a shipyard employing tens of thousands of people for the sake of getting the right person in the right political office, it would seem as though there is no horror too awful in the face of Frank’s will.
There is a question in my mind as to the positive ends toward which someone can actively head within their social networks. About a week ago, I pulled myself away from the glare of my computer screen to speak with one of my friends about her work for Relay for Life on the UC Davis campus. It was refreshing to speak with someone who can help those around her in ways that aren’t exclusively sequestering oneself away with a laptop.
The opening scene in “House of Cards” is of Frank leaving his nice, old-brick townhome in Washington D.C. at the sound of his neighbors’ dog being hit by a car. Frank, arriving at the scene just moments before his neighbors, knows it would be impossible to save the dog’s slipping life and takes matters into his own hands. To save his neighbors the hardship of watching their dog die, Frank cleanly breaks the dog’s neck.
The show compels the audience to ask a number of troubling questions about contemporary understandings of free-will with respect to the progress of society and democracy. The utter megalomania that Frank expresses in his wretched navigation through power play after power play is one that would seem, to the audience, to be something done only in the better interest of all Americans, regardless of party lines.
“House of Cards” portrays many of the politicians on Capitol Hill as lazy, selfish, sluggish characters who only seek to gain control of their political environments for the sake of drugs, women, fame and money. Frank cares little for these things — his eyes remain eternally fixed on the prize, so to speak. I say through grinning lips that Frank is a dark knight, like Batman, that the American government would seem to need, but also must disapprove of at the same time.
For Frank Underwood, the media are tools for convincing people that they should be working toward a specific end goal in their lives. Americans, in “House of Cards,” obsess over subscribing to a definite goal or political ideology and, as a result, quickly become pawns in Frank’s massive chess game of king building.
When serving as the guiding light for much of America, Frank identifies the goals of his audience, then convinces them that they share his goals and then subtly breaks them down. Frank gradually and charismatically brings people into his fold with this process that, quite frankly, appears much like hypnosis.
When I consider all of the terrible things that are being done by politicians out there for what they believe to be the greater good, my mind is drawn to my friend actively fighting for change. On April 13 and 14, just blocks from where I live, Relay for Life, as part of a massive, inter-collegiate organization called Colleges Against Cancer, is going to bring about a massive fundraising event, bringing in some three to five thousand people in the ARC Pavilion to combat cancer.
It’s easy for me to spend all of my time on Netflix wishing that there was some massively good deed I could be doing to bring about good in the world. But life is not some epic battle where heroes go to war against villains.
For as tremendous and exciting as the battles of Frank Underwood are, there is a lot of really good work being done very close to where I am right now.
MICHAEL FIGLOCK can be found frying his brain cells with David Fincher in his bedroom at firstname.lastname@example.org.