by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
(SPOILER ALERT! This article is not very good.)
If House of Cards only had a first season and a final season it could have been remembered as almost genuinely dissident television.
Season 1 did something never seen on American screens: It accurately showed that modern American Liberal Democracy is designed to be won by politicians who are amoral, individualistic and disgusting sociopaths.
Season 1 showed, via the rise of small-town Southern politician Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey, who didn’t forget his lines and stood on his marks; had it been played by someone else the political-moral thrust of Season 1 would not have changed one iota), that US politicians achieve success by being in a state of perpetual war with absolutely everybody, and not just non-Americans.
Say all you want about socialist despots, and there were some, but Underwood personally killed reporters and was a despot solely to further his own career, which came before everything. Western individualism – “#MeOnly” – was his ideology, instead of a party/social ideology. His wife, Claire, was a frigid sociopath of the exact same type, but female.
Besides being murderous and warmongering, everything they had was used as a weapon to “get ahead” or else had to be destroyed. Both were repeatedly adulterous, orgy-having (Frank was a closet bisexual), childless people who had mostly had zero contact with any family (a couple is not a family). Caligula seemed like their role model.
Despite decades of US liberality on the portrayal of sex and violence, Americans had never been offered such a jarring, unrelatable perspective on their own leading politicians. And that made Season 1 dissident TV; limited, yes, and by omission still proffering TINA (There Is no Alternative), but it was impossible not to watch Frank Underwood and think: “The US system is fundamentally designed to reward – not prevent – rapacious immorality.”
Why either of the Underwoods even wanted to win so much power is something which was never answered…but Western capitalist art never has an answer these questions: for a century their proffered explanations rely on either Freudian/childhood psychology or nihilism/sociopaths-are-just-a-part-of-life-ism, none of which is satisfying to an intelligent person.
Frank wanted to “win” because that’s what capitalism values and promotes: winning, always, at everything, no matter how meaningless, and regardless of the social cost. To Frank politics was devoid of any sacred meaning, and anyone who ascribed sacred meaning to politics he despised as a fool. Frank’s viewpoint was typically capitalist: “society” was limited to protecting the rights of one individual (Frank Underwood), so that he could fulfil any desire as much as he pleased and without legal consequences.
Being a politically-minded person, I found Season 1 riveting. Was there any doubt that Bill Clinton was not the model for Frank Underwood, and Hillary for Claire?
It is only via the false philosophy of “universal values” that one could say “Yes, but Frank Underwood was also quite close to Mao or Khomeini or anyone else in power”.
Really? You honestly think Khomeini’s relationship with his wife was similar to the Underwoods (or the Clintons)? And you think this relationship had no affect on Khomeini’s personal life and thus also his political attitudes? These two assumptions and the many others which are implied are…preposterous. And nihilistic, because it implies that nothing we do – not even the quality of our closest relations and our dearest feelings – matters. I note that this is also what the Underwoods believed and acted from….
To quote the Final Season (Season 6), “politics is war” – indeed. Anyone who doesn’t understand that has never been in, or close to, or affected by war’s fighting – people will fight to the death over political (i.e., moral) ideas. However, this phrase was used by now-President Claire in the capitalist-imperialist mindset: it was uttered to excuse any dirty action to advance one’s career and personal will-to-power, and thus an action which is totally untethered to any socialist-inspired idea of “this is to empower the oppressed classes” or a religious ideal of “this is to improve our morality”.
Season 1 was nearly revolutionary because it showed so clearly that US Liberal Democracy is yet another illegitimate and perpetually anti-social war levelled by the capitalist 1% against the 99 and also within the 1%.
All the seasons in between – boring propaganda
House of Cards lost its dissident, inherently anti-American viewpoint when Frank rose from parliamentarian to president: Seasons 2-5 became reactionary Hollywood propaganda because the “bad guys” were no longer American, and thus also no longer the failures of their antiquated US socio-political system.
President Frank focused on foreigners, and the foreigners of the 2014-17 moment: China (trade war, election meddling), Muslims (terrorists) and above all Russia (gay rights, anti-Putinism). Whom foreign bad guys replaced were the minor, only slightly-less ruthless parliamentarians and politicians whom Frank & Claire “fought”, and who also greatly contributed to the overall portrayal of American Liberal Democracy as a fundamentally immorality-rewarding system.
Instead of their own backyards, House of Cards Seasons 2-5 essentially became synonymous with Democratic Party concerns, which are extremely conservative on the global spectrum and which are pure Western fake-leftism.
I think they lost their nerve because their fundamentally jingoistic pro-American ideology (one disconnected from “internationalism” and “socialism”) compelled the writers and the script ok-ers at Netflix to at least partially “defend the presidency”. Frank and Claire were not portrayed as saints, but they were far more saintly and “inspired Americans” than in Season 1.
House of Cards Seasons 2-5 deprived us of the chance to see a series about a President whose immorality was so heinous as to inspire feelings of anti-Americanism within Americans, because those four seasons are simply stacked with American jingoism.
Season 6 surprisingly reversed that with Claire’s ascendancy. However, the negative portrayal of Claire was, in the current cultural context, even more daring than that.
Final Season 6 – You mean women aren’t the answer to all our social ills?
House of Cards’ Final Season cannot be examined without bringing in the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and sexual harassment. Spacey was fired for an incredible number of accusations of sexual assault, and that forced him off the show and forced Claire Underwood to be written into the presidential seat.
I think all fans of the show assumed that the Final Season would continue to follow the Democratic Party/US Jingoism party line: Claire Underwood would show that if only women were given the top jobs, then universal peace would immediately follow – women are the Messiah. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Claire’s presidency would serve merely as a “what could have been” revenge fantasy aimed at mollifying the supporters of Hillary Clinton.
House of Cards clearly lost its dissident mojo for four full seasons, but I tuned in because I’m political, and I’m thrilled with the tiniest morsel of true leftism (which is all I’ve come to expect from all American popular arts, excepting music).
So I was very pleasantly surprised to see that my assumptions were wrong: Claire is portrayed, constantly, as the psychopath she is. Hillary was likely disappointed (again) and offended, which is all we can hope for, since Trump cannot “lock her up”.
Fundamentally, the writers seemed to realize that, given Claire’s history, it would have been absolutely impossible for a psychopath like her to be “redeemed” just because she was a female awarded the presidency, and thus she had to remain an enigmatic sociopath…regardless of the current political climate. By being artistically honest House of Cards really defied public expectations, I think.
In fact, despite the 2018 “class credentials” of her gender, Claire is even worse than Frank:
Claire chooses a cabinet made entirely of women…and yet it is the Russian president who winds up pleading with her and her female cronies not to drop a nuclear bomb in Syria in order to distract from her domestic scandals.
In fact, the Putin stand-in gets many of the best lines in the Final Season. Claire gets pregnant, which at the outset seemed sure to be a manipulation to make her as American as apple pie and motherhood. However, the Russian president actually says something every adult knows but which can only be uttered by Russian despots in the West during the #MeToo movement: “Motherhood doesn’t automatically make a woman a saint”. Yes, the writers have Claire dismiss Petrov/Putin as an old-fashioned relic, but the fact that it is even published in Hollywood is more than a bit edgy in the US in 2018, I think. And given Claire’s nuclear-level psychopathy, how can the average viewer really view Petrov/Putin as the bigger problem? (Class-distorting Russophobia campaigns, that’s how.)
The series asked a question I imagine some readers won’t know the answer to: What is the opposite of “misogyny”? Unlike Claire, who poses the question, I didn’t have to look it up – “misandry”, which is prejudice against men. Merely bringing up this word in public seems like an act of political dissidence in the US in 2018. Sisters, hear my sincere cry: “I have suffered from misandry, too! I too have suffered from undeserved gender-prejudice!” (However, fake-leftists will tell me that as a man I cannot sympathize with women about gender prejudice…. Whatever: Womanhood doesn’t automatically make a woman a leftist.)
The series closes with Claire stabbing a former ally in the stomach, even though he no longer was physically threatening her: she didn’t have to kill him out of self-defense, but did so because he was going to expose her wickedness (in the silly, illogical, doesn’t-hold-up-to-scrutiny plot which is this soap opera/every TV drama ever).
If Frank was Bill Clinton and Claire was Hillary…both are equally bad. Men and women are psychologically different (not a popular idea in 2018), but it’s a dangerously bigoted and simply inaccurate idea to say one is morally superior to the other.
So, the Final Season goes quite against the current status quo – just as Season 1 did in a different way – by refusing to justify the current “men bad/women good” feeling which is so dominant in America from October 2016 until today. This feeling has turned from “feminism” into “female supremacism” and is thus reactionary.
That this idea has gained prevalence should have been an expected, positive outcome of the election of Donald Trump: by electing a true American fascist out of disgust with the US system (as described by Season One), instead of a whitewashed and protected one like Hillary Clinton, Americans forced themselves to come to grips with their enormous sexual assault/anti-feminist problems. There is no doubt that the #MeToo Movement would have never started under Hillary, just as “racism is over” was declared when Obama took office. Preposterous, of course.
I predicted a “Mexican Power” movement in response to Trump – and it’s still possible – but I forgot that in American Liberal Democracy the first group to get their rights rectified are Whites. American fake-leftism will not waste a good crisis – Trump’s election – and since gays have already been rehabilitated – which ensures that some White men are not denied their rights – it is now the turn of White Women. Western Liberal Democracy undeniably priorities White men and then White women. After that, if there is enough fake-leftism mojo – which is necessarily quite limited – then maybe the Mexicans will get some scraps. The racist and sexist nature of American Liberal Democracy does not tarnish the validity of #MeToo, but helps explain it.
In contrast, France did not elect their facist candidate (Marine Le Pen), postponing an honest reckoning with the fascism inherent in the French system, and thus it should not be surprising that last week President Emmanuel Macron wanted to honor Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain, the Premier of the État Français (Vichy France). Such a thing would have caused near-riots among French fake-leftists had President Le Pen proposed it, and that would have been a very good & necessary thing.
(It is amusing that Pétain is invariably described as Marshal Philippe Pétain (“Marshal” being his pre-WWII job title) in French and English media instead of his Vichy title – it is clearly a subtle way to whitewash his, and thus all of France’s, crimes.)
Spacey’s alleged crimes forced House of Cards to get back on the dissident track
As a lifelong feminist I support the #MeToo movement. The incidence of sexual assault is absolutely astounding, and I am surprised that more countries do not enforce capital punishment for rape. I encourage women 100% to go public anytime such a heinous crime has been committed, and to fight for justice.
There should be a war to defend the safety of women from aggression, but war is not black and white….
Accusations are not evidence – those who jump on “accusation bandwagons” (via social media or at the local café) are fundamentally anti-democratic, because they are morally assuming the “I make the law” powers of a despot. From the beginning of the movement, it was only in the leftist media which immediately and correctly diagnosed this major flaw in #MeToo. Mainstream media, however, adopted the incredible stance of “believe all accusers” – totally contrary to the standards of journalism – which is the recipe for a witch-hunt, not lasting left-wing reform to a culture.
At the same time, because social politics are not black and white, accusations do matter:
It is incredible that people like Kevin Spacey are STILL free! A man who is accused by one or two people deserves the total presumption of innocence; there are SO MANY allegations against Spacey that it really strains credibility to claim that there is a “conspiracy” against him. He is accused by something like 20 people, including minors! Such a person has a lot of explaining to do, and immediately, and from a place where his freedom is drastically restricted until he is proven not to be such a vast, Underwoodian menace. However, Spacey, and the similarly accused Harvey Weinstein, obviously has Hollywood “mullahs” protecting him thanks to their Liberal Democratic-encouraged fundraising for the fake-leftist Democratic Party.
Contrarily, and unfortunately given his views, recently-confirmed US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh deserved the benefit of the doubt because he had only one (not really) credible accuser combined with decades of a spotless record; with Spacey there is years of allegations, and which were allegedly committed when Spacey was an adult. Common sense cannot only be employed by judges – citizens should realize that the Kavanaugh case is not at all the same as the Spacey case. What the entire Kavanaugh episode revealed was the attempted co-opting of the #MeToo revolution by the Democratic Party in order to shamelessly achieve political ends, and at the expense of feminism, true reform and improved societal well-being. That’s what happens when you count on fake-leftists – Underwoodian tactics where morality should be.
There has been plenty of support for Spacey from the West’s true leftist media, but “American actor Kevin Spacey is one of the most gifted and significant performers of his generation,” is absolutely not the lede sentence when 20 people, including minors, are accusing him of sexual assault. It is telling that Western leftist media has not mounted an equal campaign for Tariq Ramadan, who is no mere, replaceable actor but a brave and unifying political thinker, and who also has plenty of proof that: he was the target of an entrapment conspiracy, that he has committed no crime, who has indeed been jailed for months unlike Spacey or Weinstein, and whose only crime appears to be committing adultery (which is not a crime in France).
Supporting Spacey or Weinstein – two guys who hung out with the Clintons and were 100% supporters of the 1% – is not at all the same as supporting Ramadan or Julian Assange.
Is Spacey a victim of the #MeToo movement? No: Lamenting the informal punishment of Kevin Spacey amid an obvious political-judicial conspiracy in his favor – due to his money, power, influential friends and status as a Democratic Party stalwart – is hardly a major crime or serious leftism – lamenting Ramadan or Julian Assange is, however. Spacey cannot get work, but I hardly imagine that he is on the streets.
It’s undeniable that Kevin Spacey’s fate is bound up with the collective perception of the Final Season. What seems almost certain, but not appreciated, is that by forcing Spacey off the show the writers had to get back to answering tough cultural questions.
#MeToo is a Cultural Revolution, and House of Cards warns against going too far
Without Spacey the writers were forced to take on the, “Are women morally superior to men in the Trump era” question – a huge question in the current atmosphere of American male-female heterosexual politics. They came down with a resounding “No, they are not”. Kudos to them.
The #MeToo movement is ultimately a revolutionary thing – the revolution against sexual assault and harassment endured by women. That’s a great and much-needed revolution, but revolutions are not black and white – all revolutions have excesses: House of Cards Final Season serves as a clear warning and corrective to this.
The Final Season has the ability to distinctly improve the #MeToo revolution: viewers do not see that false allegations are only just slightly worse than murder (You shall not kill is Commandment #6; You shall not bear false witness is #9 ), but they do see that men do not have a monopoly on evil ways.
By taking this dissident view in 2018, the Final Season also calls into question currently en vogue but fundamentally reactionary and not revolutionary ideas: the totally-childish notion that women are morally superior to men; that women play no part in maintaining the evils of the world; that all men are sexual aggressors, or should be treated as potential sexual aggressors; that men and women are fundamentally set in perpetual socio-political opposition; that the interests of women are fundamentally opposed to the interests of men.
It is only in a capitalist & Liberal Democratic system where these notions appear justified and are promoted.
Socialism – stressing social unity – has no such problems, and in fact promotes gender harmony as a goal in an infinitely more successful fashion. I can easily prove this: 49% of Cuba’s new parliament is female…and they achieved that without quotas. Wow…without quotas! That undoubtedly implies a revolution in gender equality at the most difficult level – the cultural level. That is a stunning success. Hats off to Cuban male voters, eh? How about a #CubanToo movement?
What needs to be replaced in the #MeToo movement is the false idea that “men are the problem”, because rampant sexual harassment and abuse is a hallmark of, a reflection of, and also ideas which are inherent in, Western capitalism. The gender equality produced, in an unforced fashion, by Cuba’s 2018 vote simply cannot be explained otherwise.
My analysis of the Final Season 6 is not a popular one – “US heterosexual politics is bettered by showing that Claire Underwood was as bad as her husband” – but that is a necessary message in 2018; and by producing a “necessary message” House of Cards’ Final Season deserves praise and viewership.
But this unpopular analysis is unpopular and not promoted for a reason: capitalist Mainstream Media absolutely would absolutely adore it if men and women became convinced that they were pitted in permanent competition for (allegedly) limited resources instead of cooperating to share them equitably.
House of Cards hated by the right, unappreciated by the left
Season 1 was groundbreaking, appreciated and prize-winning because the 99% in the West feels the same way: Liberal Democracy has failed as a modern, democratic ideology…which has been clear worldwide since the Paris Commune.
The Final Season – with its dissident view that does not canonise White Soccer Moms – got mostly bad reviews from US Mainstream Media, close to its lowest ever, but significantly higher marks from the general public. I contend that it is because the Media elite were not prepared to accept that, yes, Claire – despite being female, and pregnant, and a widow, and in power – was just as morally and socio-politically atrocious as Frank. After all, the soap-opera plot twists were no more absurd in Season 6 compared with Season 2-5; what fundamentally changed is that the Final Season no longer seemed written by Democratic Party hacks.
The popularity of House of Cards is thought to rest almost entirely on Kevin Spacey’s amazing performance of reciting lines someone else wrote while not blinking; contrarily, I contend the Season One popularity stemmed from the fact that its rejection of the American system is what resounded and earned it so many viewers: Season One had a populist viewpoint.
That means that focusing on Spacey instead of appreciating this fact of populism is misguided, but predictable. I note that whereas France has an auteur-(writer/director)focused view of cinematic art, the US has an absurd actor-focused view. Perhaps this explains the US-leftist approach of “Free (the unimprisoned) Spacey”, instead of promoting House of Cards as dissident TV which was so vastly appreciated by the US “silent majority”.
Given its anti-American-system content, it’s not surprising that right-wing US media like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal gave uniformly negative reviews to almost every season of House of Cards. Western rightists are so much more politically-astute than Western leftists, and they correctly identified the show as a major threat to the 1%. From The Washington Post article titled,“House of Cards insults our intelligence”:
“Maybe most irritating is the way “House of Cards” signals to us that Frank is a bad man. He’s a murderer, a man who has sex outside his marriage, a fellow who sells out a poor friend for political gain. But even though Frank’s transgressions are intimate and nasty, they’re actually relatively small-scale.”
Murder, to The Washington Post, is merely “irritating” – well, it certainly has always seemed that way with them; adultery is “small-scale” – I think many spouses do not feel that way, or at least their children hope so.
I refer to The Washington Post’s hilariously headlined article (given this article) “‘House of Cards’ is credible. Just ask the Russians, Chinese and Iranians”, LOL!
“In places like those, the show is a poisonous piece of soft power that validates toxic conspiracy theories and the anti-American propaganda of U.S. rivals like Russia, China and even Iran, all of which have avid viewers of the show.”
The series was considered so politically important that it was broadcast on Iranian TV; Putin reportedly recommended the show to officials as a way to better understand the United States.
That article only reaffirms the intellectual validity of this critique: I am not alone, I’m just not not going along with the American view; the opposition of right-wing media only reaffirms House of Cards’ “leftism-via-rejection”.
The Final Season was not the pro-matriarchal, accusatory, superior, misandry-fueling nonsense which is so popular in the US during our current era, and I applaud it for that. I think it is important that they rediscovered the dissident analysis which was the true reason of the success of Season One; rather crucially (if we can call TV crucial), Season Six’s dissidence confirms the cultural-political importance of Season One and proves it was not by accident. Leftist media should not forget this legacy, as the Mainstream Media will always ignore it favor of typically-capitalist “hero-worship” (even if the alleged hero is Kevin Spacey).
House of Cards only dissented and never promoted, probably because they are stuck in Western fake-leftism. “Underwoodism is bad” is not much of an ideology, but it does call attention to the anti-democratic dysfunction inherent in the US system. I was glad to see that House of Cards returned to its “limited dissidence” in its Final Season, and thus makes 1/3rd of the series not merely enjoyable but politically and socially useful.
For a similar TV series which actually had (semi) pro-socialist ideals – as impossible as that has been in the US for decades – I suggest the recently-completed show The Americans. I wrote a praising review following their finale, which can be found here.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.