Unless you’ve been immobilized by the sticky basement floors of ATO for the past semester, you’ve probably heard that the new season of “House of Cards” premieres at the end of this week. Like the vast majority of my fellow Netflix bingers, I plan on starting season three the second it comes online and not leaving my house until I am finished. It will just be the Underwoods and me drinking wine and backstabbing anyone who gets in our way.
In my growing excitement for the new episodes, I went back and watched the first two seasons again. However, with an understanding of the type of phenomenon “HoC” has become, I examined the show’s characters and actions through a new lens. Instead of admiring the antihero, Frank Underwood, for his calculated schemes, I watched with disgust as America’s favorite politician ruined the lives of his peers simply for personal gain.
It was not the show itself that disgusted me; rather, it was the idea that a ruthless character such as Underwood could capture the hearts and minds of our Netflix generation. As a character, Underwood represents deceit, selfishness and cruelty, yet the world can’t seem to get enough of him. Similar to characters such as Walter White from “Breaking Bad” and the titular character in “Dexter,” Underwood has become a reflection of our society’s insatiable hunger for immorality as a means of achieving a personal end.
Don’t get me wrong, I am also guilty of loving “HoC” and its gripping plot, but the problem really begins when viewers’ fascination transcends the plot and becomes reverence for Underwood’s nastiness.
I should make note of a spoiler here.
Underwood is responsible for the deaths of at least two people in the series, both acting as sacrificial lambs for his political ascent. For that reason, it troubles me to hear my peers discuss what an “awesome” or “badass” character Underwood seems to be — even more so when those friends aspire to become politicians one day.
I am not assuming that everyone who enjoys Underwood as a character will emulate his unethical actions, but at what point is a viewer supposed to distinguish between political fact and fiction? As is true with many shows before it, “HoC” glorifies, and at times even rewards, Underwood for his selfish decision-making.
Although I use “HoC” as the primary example, it would be hard to deny the saturation of antiheroes on television. Don Draper from “Mad Men,” Emily Thorne from “Revenge” and Daryl Dixon from “The Walking Dead” all garner their popularity specifically because of their deceitful and ruthless natures — and that only names a few of the many characters that fall into a similar category.
You might argue that not all antiheroes succeed, thus teaching the viewer a lesson, but even when antiheroes fail as a result of their actions (e.g. White at the end of “Breaking Bad”) the viewer is still supposed to feel a sense of loss over the character’s misfortune. As the title would indicate, Underwood’s “House of Cards” will most likely come tumbling down in the third season, but does that stop you as a viewer from rooting for Underwood? — probably not.
Perhaps I’m wrong in assuming that most people want Underwood to succeed or survive unscathed, but with comments on “HoC’s” Facebook page such as, “Frank is the man!” and “I really don’t want him to get caught,” it makes you realize that our society tends to overlook unethical actions as long as they happen on a screen. That is exactly the problem though: our dismissal of immorality depending on the context. The show may not be real, but it affects the way we view the real world.
People should not aspire to be as scheming as Frank Underwood because, at the end of the day, his actions are despicable. As future politicians of the United States, we should appreciate a show like “HoC” as a fictional portrayal of the evils of Washington. There is nothing glamorous or attractive about backstabbing and dismantling others for one’s own gain — so let’s stop admiring the characterization of those actions.
As I said before, I will be watching “HoC” season three along with the rest of the world, but I will be doing so with the understanding that if and when Underwood’s empire begins to fall, it will be the result of his terrible heart. I will not root for Underwood in his siege of power because, ultimately, I would not root for any politician to act in such a way.
TV is meant for entertainment and shouldn’t go any further than that. Frank Underwood is not a real person so we should not admire him as though he is. It’s time we kick the foundation of the “House of Cards” and send the idea of antiheroes tumbling down for good.
Daniel Coffey studies journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.