March 09, 2016

A clevr little newsletter. Edition #3

Just keep bingeing: Frank and Claire Underwood’s totally perfect election timing
edited by Peter Fray
featuring the work of Arin Keeble, Sonia Saraiya, Megan GarberSeth MasketDanielle Kurtzleben and Charles Sizemore (with assistance from Quora)
Read their full stories by clicking on their names in blue below
We’ve been trying to get away from US politics but then along came Frank and Claire Underwood in season four of House of Cards and the fight for Michigan, Mississippi and in days to come, Florida. That whole darn thing is so water-cooler central: the naked ambition, the character assassination — and the fact-defying rhetoric. But, hey, let’s get back to House of Cards.

Spoiler alert
For the sake of democracy, there should be a spoiler alert that reads, House of Cards is fiction; no one who is that evil ever gets away with it. Not even Frank, not even Claire. It’s probably healthier and safer to read HoC as a macabre comedy than a comment on contemporary US politics. But then again it is very tempting to jump in boots and all, as does literature academic Arin Keeble, writing on The Conversation website. “House of Cards could impact the way people vote,” he says.  His argument: “The Underwoods represent those who have submitted to careerism, the pursuit of status and, of course, power.” 

A model for the perfect political marriage
Salon’s TV critic Sonia Saraiya slices off a slightly smaller chunk of the 'real life' debate. She asks whether the Underwoods have something to tell us about power couples in the White House in general, and the Clintons in particular.  Unsurprisingly, her answer:  “It’s impossible not to think of the Clintons when watching the Underwoods. Both couples are seamlessly professional in public…both are partners in work and in life… and both are couples where male privilege meets female resentment.”

Power plays by the foot
On the feminine resentment side of the equation, Claire Underwood is a remarkable study in ambition, power and power dressing. Not to mention murder. Megan Garber, writing in The Atlantic, thinks there is much to be drawn from Claire’s penchant for the stiletto shoe in any situation, public or private. “The shoes, which at once elevate Claire and constrain her, function as both a defence mechanism and a power play," writes Garber. “They emphasise the thin lines between control and the lack of it. They emphasise aesthetics over practicality.” Well, yes. 

But let's forget the optics, what about the policies?
Seth Masket, writing in The Washington Post, hates the show but kind of loves it — as a piece of entertainment. In no way will Masket have it as a cipher for the real life in DC, and he lists several reasons why the show is wrong and worse than his Monkey Cage newsletter. His conclusion: “At the end of the day, House of Cards is a show about mean people doing mean things, and it does that well. But if you want to understand American politics, watch just about anything else.”   This is the sort of earned coverage HBO would, well, pay for and it is taken up in a by Danielle Kurtzleben, who, writing in Vox, takes apart with disease Frank Underwood’s signature policy, America Works. Again, it’s a gift to HBO and the nation. 

America is back on track — here’s one vote for Underwood
So, Frank Underwood is peddling crap, unworkable solutions to intractable problems. That's not a million miles away from what’s going on in parts of the actual presidential race, but who cares? In the real contest, it is all about personality over policy and Frank Underwood is a paragon of pragmatism. Charles Sizemore writes about investing and markets at Forbes.  He does not fully endorse the Underwood method but he likes his ideological thrust: "Just take President Underwood’s words to heart—you are entitled to nothing—and set about planning accordingly.”

Any further questions...
If you want to ask a bunch of people questions about House of Cards, try out Quora, a site that seeks answers via the wisdom of the web. There are several Q and As about House of Cards. For free.
Read some of the comments: some people think the Underwoods really are on the inside track. 

And back to the real world...
Breaking news, the the latest set of primaries: Donald Trump won in Michigan and Mississippi and Ted Cruz gained Idaho, It was a great night for Trump, bad night for Rubio, ok night for Cruz And, in the upset, Bernie Sanders carried Michigan, and Clinton, on the back of the African-American vote, won Mississippi.  Let's see what happens tomorrow.