Shows encourage misguided representation of politicians

For some, Valentine’s Day means flowers, chocolate and a dinner-date with a significant other.

This was not the case for me, though I did partake in the purchase of some on-sale chocolate the next day. On Singles Awareness Day, I binge-watched the new second season of House of Cards, which Netflix released on Feb. 14. For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s about ruthless politician Francis “Frank” Underwood who seeks a spot in the executive cabinet but ends up losing his desired position to someone else. He hatches a plan to ultimately reach his goal. Immersing myself into the world of Frank is truly addicting: I find myself constantly trying to guess which character he is going to psychologically bulldoze next. This show truly unveils the dimensionality of political figures, cunning sides and all.

It’s no surprise that many find House of Cards extremely entertaining. Lately, I have also added Homeland, Scandal and Veep to my extensive list of television shows to follow (House of Cards is just the crème de la crème because it allows me to conveniently watch it all in one sitting). Capitol Hill is often shrouded in mystery, so I find it interesting to see how politicians deal with international and interpersonal relationships, even if it is just fiction. Almost instantly after delving into the world of pretend politics, politicians became less of the intimidating, suit-and-tie figures I had always pictured in my mind. Instead, I began to sympathize with them for entering such a cutthroat atmosphere.

Perhaps that is why, upon further analysis of my newly treasured shows, I can find them a bit agitating. House of Cards showcases a particular politician hatching an elaborate and malicious plan to achieve his ultimate goal. Homeland’s Nicholas Brody has to decide between what he has been conditioned to do and his conscience. Scandal and Veep boast politicians trying to reach their potential, but sometimes their hubris or insecurities get in the way of their decisions. Most of the public read these storylines as a trend to get away from the former West Wing glory, where the government is heralded for its dauntless acts. Additionally, in a society where the word “politician” is negatively connoted and could be synonymous with “liar,” people attribute these new shows to that mindset.

The critical reception after House of Cards’ second season release was positive, averaging 87 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes. But the foundation of this affirmation is due to the parallelism between the public viewing politicians as nefarious creatures and appropriating the portrayal as that. Politicians suffer from the same issues as their constituents, such as substance abuse or marital affairs, but that should not harm anyone’s perception of them. Yes, it propels me to judge their character, and I too agree that these downfalls are not anything of which to be proud. I do, however, feel as if judging someone’s ability to serve and lead based on one event is a logical fallacy.

I can, unfortunately, think of countless examples of when people jumped to conclusions and publicly shamed politicians for their actions, attributing their slip-ups to how they lead. I was not old enough to comprehend what was happening during the scandal between then- President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but I can still remember the cacophony of news reports during that time. It seems like, now thinking back on it, people forgot about his economic reform policies or the other good he did for the nation. Later on, when I started high school, the same thing happened to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer after he cavorted with a prostitute. Many hurled insults at him, but it was at that time that I realized that diabolical acts don’t mean that the people are diabolical or, more importantly, that society will ultimately become a diabolical sphere because of one action.

It’s almost as if, in this case, art not only imitates life but also skews it as well. In the case of these shows, storylines dramatize the gravity of a certain situation and brand people as protagonist or antagonist to create tension. But as we work to create more realistic fiction, fictional reality arises.

Reports from the Huffington Post call this “cynical conformity.” In The West Wing, politicians sacrifice for their ideals to make way into legislation. House of Cards, however, sees politicians exercising social Darwinism for personal advancement. This movement of distrusting the figures shaping our country in the media causes people to in turn make rash judgments about people based on one event.

Nevertheless, House of Cards remains one of my favorite shows. There are faults to the logic it presents — but in the words of one wise Miley Cyrus during her Hannah Montana days, “Everyone makes mistakes / everyone has those days.” No one is perfect, and politicians are no exception.


Danni Wang is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies. Her column, “Pop Fiction,” runs Tuesdays.