How 'House Of Cards' Is Like A Political '50 Shades Of Grey'

by John Flynn
House Of Cards/Netflix

Politics are boring, and we made them that way.

We have a glorified vision of the way things used to be.

The imagined old days featured shady deals in rooms with air that hung heavy with the smell of cigars and brown liquor. Backs were scratched and laws were passed.

But, it wasn't just the politics, it was the people.

We heard stories about JFK banging starlets, LBJ pulling out his dick as an intimidation tactic and Teddy Roosevelt fighting cage matches against lions with a grizzly bear as his tag-team partner.

The political world seemed to be a juicy combination of complex characters, unchecked debauchery and monumentally important decision-making.

So, we sent the press en masse to snoop out gossip. We had to know what our representatives were up to behind those waxed, ornately carved doors. And, we found some bad stuff.

Perhaps, the first major scandal, of the many more to follow, was Watergate, where President Richard Nixon paid staffers to break into the Democratic National Convention's headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

The burglars were arrested, but Nixon tried to cover up his involvement, which led curious reporters to tug on a string that would unravel his presidency with a whole host of impeachable offenses, including tape recordings of private conversations.

It was an ugly moment that is probably the genesis of a lot of the mistrust felt toward politicians. We wanted a look under the velvet curtain, but we couldn't stomach what we found.

Now, politicians are mannequins. Some are more animated than others, but most rigidly control all aspects of their lives to give off an aura of bland benevolence.

Even Obama, a man of magnetic personality, hasn't let one story leak of him dropping a fadeaway in a visiting dignitary's face.

Politics are boring because as fun as it may be to hear unexpected stories about our leader, it is disconcerting to know these sumptuous details while said person is still in office.

You love to hear about your dad's college days, but you wouldn't want to see him chugging from a beer bong before taking you to little league.

Our political fantasy is to have a leader with a personal life as dynamic as his ruling style. We want the political wheels to turn with the help of a little grease.

This makes "House of Cards" the political "Fifty Shades of Grey."

The movie has been blasted for the absurdity of its writing, plot and characters.

Take away Christian Grey's billions and the genre switches from erotic to horror. But, people love to indulge the fantasy of a powerful person taking control of their lives.

Frank Underwood is exactly the same. He is a corrupt, adulterous, abusive murderer who only cares about his own legacy.

But, he knows his legacy can only be cemented through noble service in office and landmark legislation.

Underwood is selfish, but his self-motivation results in enticing programs, like America Works, his third season presidential project where he seeks to achieve full employment in America.

Underwood is our idealization of Washington. He engages in the skullduggery of the pre-24-hour-news-cycle era.

He boozes, cheats and strongarms. He is as riveting as anyone ever produced by television or film.

The show has been criticized for devolving into a semi-sensationalist soap opera. Sometimes, episodes can feel like an excuse to let Frank bust loose a bellowing monologue, and there have been a few sex scenes that seemed more like arousing filler than crucial plot advancement.

The criticisms are fair. The show doesn't open eyes like "The Wire," or explore the human condition like "Breaking Bad."

And, after binging on all 13 new episodes this weekend, I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed. But, it doesn't matter.

The Fincher neo-noir style of the show makes "Cards" feel important. The stars punch up the already cool-as-hell dialogue that stuffs every conversation with quippy one-liners.

The characters are nuanced; the stakes are high, and the endings make you hold your breath without even noticing.

In the middle of your fifth straight episode, it can be tempting to wonder what an Underwood presidency would entail, but after a few seconds, you realize you probably don't want someone so objectively evil to be the leader of the free world.

But, we all have our fantasies.