The problem with “House of Cards” is it paints everyone in Washington with the same poison brush. I suspected it would bad for our brand from the start, but tuned in for the first season out of curiosity. I turned off the first episode after Frank Underwood killed a dog with his bare hands. After a year of persuading, friends talked me out of my boycott. I gritted my teeth through three more episodes, until Frank Underwood was in bed with a 20-something female reporter 30 years his junior, who was calling her dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day while the Congressman was ripping her clothes off. We have two twenty-something daughters. I was done.
This was exactly the place where I switched away from Netflix. I realized that this Congressman was a psychopath, and that he was not representative of anything I saw on Capitol Hill. I was there only six months, and I was isolated in an office on the other side of the main office, but what I saw there was the normal run-of-the-mill bureaucracy that is the inevitable result of over-funding by the federal government.
If the money were not so gigantic, most of what goes on in Washington’s political circles would be penny-ante stuff. It’s mostly about raising enough money to get re-elected. There are undoubtedly lots of payoffs, but the main one is the promise of employment as a lobbyist after someone has finished his term in Congress. That’s when he makes the big bucks. It’s basically multibillion-dollar chiseling. It’s not social pathology. It’s what governments have done from day one. The difference is simply that the numbers are so big today.
Government is about four things: money, power, sex, and booze. Rare is the politician who is not affected by any of these four. Undoubtedly, some politicians get addicted to one or more of them. But that doesn’t mean that he strangles dogs on the street.
I find it remarkable that Kevin Spacey is something of a psychopath. He played the part to the hilt. He did the same in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Also in The Usual Suspects. Also in American Beauty. I thought he was a great method actor. I was wrong.
REALISM VS. DEVIANCE
I don’t like unrealistic dramas. I don’t even like unrealistic comedies. I turned off Alpha House after five minutes for the same reason that I turned off House of Cards. It just was not realistic. It tried to be funny, but it failed. If humor is not grounded in realism, it isn’t funny. This is why Mary Tyler Moore still holds up. Ted Baxter is funny because he is exaggerated. But everybody knows at least one insecure blowhard like Ted. This is why the exaggeration is funny. The same comment applies to Betty White’s Sue Ann Nivens, although I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite like her. But I can imagine somebody like her.
I also didn’t watch the evening soap operas of the 1980’s: Dallas and Dynasty. They made successful capitalists look crooked. Yet, all over the world, these two shows were wildly popular, especially Dallas. People loved to hate J.R. Ewing. I lived in Tyler. That was 90 minutes from Dallas. I never heard of anybody like J.R. Ewing. I remember all the hullabaloo in 1980 about “who shot JR?” That was the buzz around the world all through that summer. I had hoped that the shooter would turn out to be Nielsen. It wasn’t. The show lasted another 11 years, and then, 21 years later, it was revived for two years.