Is it a family show? No. Do I recommend anyone under 18 watch the show? No. But, beyond its obvious appeals to sex and violence, Netflix’s Emmy Award winning political drama, House of Cards, is an allegory of the Obama era in American politics.
Set in present day Washington, D.C., the show chronicles Frank Underwood and his ruthless pursuit of power. The second season debuted on Netflix on February 14.
Right off the top, Democratic President Garrett Walker may display powerful oratory from time to time, but he is the weakest and most easily manipulated leader I have ever seen. He relies heavily on Majority Whip Rep. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), which in turn gives Underwood a monumental amount of operational power. Underwood takes full advantage of this clout to climb the political ladder at a rapid pace.
On certain key issues, the show tilts to base conservative policies, as America does. The first season featured an early push for education reform, where Underwood vehemently opposed the teachers unions on performance standards for teachers. Unions were portrayed as reactionary, obsolete, and the biggest impediment to change.
The second season tackled entitlement reform. Not only was the very idea of reform depicted as crucial, new Vice President Underwood helped push through a hike in the retirement age. Something today’s Democratic Party would never accept.
A more shocking facet is that of a relatively positive view of Christianity. Even though the show is aimed at mature audiences and features numerous immoral behaviors, the second season showed Christianity to be highly redemptive. An ex-prostitute, after being used by Underwood’s cronies to bump a fellow congressman off the wagon, encounters a Christian youth group that seems to right her life and give her solace in the midst of her pain.
But, above all, House of Cards’ primary virtue is its illustration of a Washington that everyone assumes is true. A city filled with utterly cynical, corrupt, and horrifyingly evil people perpetually at war with each other, using good citizens as pawns. Everybody backstabs everybody. There is no loyalty. Crimes, both legal and moral in nature, are commonplace and are seen as necessary to survive. While much of this is clearly dramatic license, the underlying depiction of this lust for power at any price comes off as all too real. Spacey says that many DC insidershave admitted to him that House of Cards is “99 percent true.”
Just six years ago, America elected a president who promised to end everything House of Cards depicts, yet the DC beltway confirms this dramatic account of the Nation’s Capital still seems to be fundamentally accurate. It was once said that there is a little bit of truth in every joke. It would seem House of Cards proves the same applies to TV shows.