March 09, 2016

A clevr little newsletter. Edition #3.1

Just keep bingeing: Frank and Claire Underwood's perfect timing
edited by Peter Fray
featuring the work of Arin Keeble, Sonia Saraiya, Megan Garber, Seth Masket, Danielle Kurtzleben and Charles Sizemore (with assistance from Quora)
Read their full stories by clicking on their names below
We’ve been hoping 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 the days to come, Florida. That whole darn thing is 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. Ever. Not even Frank, not even Claire. Nonetheless it is probably healthier and safer to read HoC more as a macabre comedy than a commentary on contemporary US politics. 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. 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
Claire Underwood is a remarkable study in ambition, power and power dressing. 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.” 

Let's forget the optics, what about the policies?
Seth Masket, writing in The Washington Post, issues a clear warning: this show is not — in anyway — a guide to how Washington DC works.  “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.” In a similar vein, Danielle Kurtzleben, writing in Vox, takes apart Frank Underwood’s signature policy, America Works. It's a great piece. 

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 the actual presidential race where the debate revolves around personality rather than policy. And say what you like about Underwood, he certainly is a charming man. Charles Sizemore, who writes about investing and markets at Forbes, picks up on Frank's can-do persona. 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 the show.  

And back in the real world
In the latest set of Republican primaries Donald Trump won Michigan and Mississippi and Ted Cruz gained Idaho. It was a great night for Trump, a bad night for Marco Rubio, who didn't pick up a delegate according to Associated Press, and an OK result for Cruz. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders had an upset win in Michigan and Hilary Clinton, on the back of the African-American vote, won Mississippi. Angry White Males are keeping Sanders in the race and making Trump almost unstoppable. It is almost better than fiction.