While critics praise Netflix's House of Cards, its promoting an elite, right-wing political agenda is ignored. The show glorifies union bashing and entitlement slashing within a political landscape whose absence of activist groups or anyone remotely progressive resembles a Republican fantasy world.
After its first season story line bashing teachers unions and activists--a story line boosting the political agenda of Netflix head Reed Hastings -- House of Cards' second season is even more reactionary. It is less about the excesses of power and ambition and more a demonstration of how elite interests can use sex, quality acting, and soap opera scripts to get millions to root for political agendas that in real life they would despise.
And before I hear from people saying "it's just a fictional series based on an English plot, don't take it so seriously," my response is that if its only about power and ambition and not ideology, why does every plot line make it a point to positively promote elite, reactionary interests?
Consider the show's early plot line around increasing the eligibility age for retirement from 65 to 68 and for early retirement from 62 to 64.
This entire plotline never mentioned the AARP, the AFL-CIO or any other groups that have long fought such "reform." Nor was there a single Senator or Congressmember raising arguments against it.
Instead, Kevin Spacey's Democratic Party Vice-President gave Republicans the entitlement reform they have sought for decades solely in exchange for the GOP not shutting down the government. This entire deal occurs in a matter of days, and when the President announces it at his State of the Union address, he gets a bipartisan standing ovation.
What's next for House of Cards? A bipartisan ovation for eliminating abortion rights? Or for approving the Keystone XL Pipeline?
It's as if Pete Peterson and his anti-entitlement crowd got control of Netflix and used its streaming power to create a fictional universe where elite interests not only win, but are widely popular. The only entitlements the Peterson group backs are those entitling billionaires to even more money, all in the name of "reform."
This fictional universe did find one obstacle to its plans to force workers to stay in jobs longer before getting Social Security: the Tea Party. I'm not making this up. A Tea Party Senator didn't like the fact that the deal would make Democrats look good -- an absurd premise never explained, since Democrats have long opposed such Social Security attacks.
But Spacey's Franklin Underwood beat back this Tea Party obstructionism. It's as if the show's producers felt by making the Tea Party a villain would cover up their own reactionary agenda.
A Stacked Deck
House of Cards plays with a stacked deck.
It could make all the same points about power seeking and ambition without exclusively directing these traits toward the policy agenda of the 1%.
It also identifies the drive for power as the chief problem in national politics rather than extremist ideology. Politicians driven by a lust for power get things done; those driven by an ideological opposition to government, science, and most facts make governing quite difficult.
House of Cards portrays a political world where nobody (except perhaps the Tea Party) is driven by actual beliefs. That's why its characters betray unions after winning their votes, environmental groups are shown making deals with corporate polluters, and reporters who actually believe in searching for "truth" are portrayed as hopeless knaves.
I understand that the creators of the show banked on public cynicism about Washington DC to make even Frank Underwood's behavior seem realistic. But if the show's producers did not have a right-wing political agenda, then progressive issues and constituencies would be sympathetically portrayed at least some of the time.
The second season of The Americans starts next week on FX, and that show leaves House of Cards in the dust. The Americans refutes those who claim shows about national politics cannot be realistic. Not since The Wire has any television show got the political world so right.
Randy Shaw is the publisher of Beyond Chron and author of The Activist's Handbook, Second Edition: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century.