House of Cards: Opening pandora's boxset

23 Feb 2014

*Warning: Contains mild spoilers*

‘Which part of this programme troubles me the most?’ Is the recurring question in my mind as I binge uncontrollably on the new series of ‘House of Cards’. Is it the ineffable scheming? The sleazy alliances? The fraternising of business, lobbyists and politicians? Is it that a bill can’t pass unless ulterior motive forces it through? Is it the polygamous nature of the Underwood’s relationship? House of Cards is a series with much to be concerned about, but somehow I don’t think any of the aforementioned reasons trouble me; not even in slightest. What truly perturbed me watching this series is just how little the shady dealings in every Washington corridor actually surprised me. The ‘Greasy Pole’ merely got a whole lot of sludge thrown on it.


Following the release of the first season, journalists of magazines such as Politico took to questioning the accuracy of the programme. In an interview with Robin Wright (the actress who plays Claire Underwood), she described the series as “dramatic, but not that farfetched”; even claiming that sources of hers inside Washington said the show was “99% accurate”; some saying “the only thing that’s implausible is, we would never be able to get an education bill passed that f—-ing fast”.  

For me an interesting question arises here: if backdoor, Machiavellian politics benefits the country, should a blind eye be turned? 

In the series an education bill is passed, bipartisan entitlement reform, military sexual assault legislation, and the watershed act is brought to the table (I won’t spoil what happens with that one). 

Serious bills, often bringing radical change, emerge through sleazy politics. Does the positive change legislation brings justify the means taken to pass the bills? If good is done through illicit means should those pulling strings be exempt from legal prosecution? Would I be satisfied with this type of politics occurring if the Republican’s held the White House? Do specific manoeuvres of Frank Underwood cross a line, whereby legal action is necessary? In whose jurisdiction does the onus fall to answer the questions detailed above? The People? The Supreme Court? 

Each question seemingly opens up a web of others, before long one is detailing a new constitution in order to prevent entanglement. After brainstorming, I’m thankful that I’m not the one making any those decisions.

My cerebellum pushes us onwards though: what I take from House of Cards is an exasperated cry for quality investigative journalism into the affairs of today’s Western governments. No one doubts that unscrupulous politics occurs behind closed doors, but our knowledge of it is severely limited- journalists have not been able to identify Pandora’s box, let alone open it. I take the series as a call, no matter the cost (and the cost is extreme in the show), for journalists to dig deeper into White House halls, Parliament corridors etc., and inform our demos of the truth in politics.  

As for the series itself, I’d highly recommend it, but would advise to not to take it completely at face value. The series is implicated by turning British institutions into American. Factual inaccuracies exist, and above all it is a drama. Exaggeration is apparent; the writers use coincidence, which they create, to develop the storyline. Nonetheless it provides hard-hitting entertainment and will be sure to shock, keep you on tenterhooks and thrill all in one. Enjoy.

‘For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted’

By Adam Isaacs

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