Frank Underwood: Champion of Morality

Frank Underwood

A couple of weeks ago Frank Underwood became my everything for the weekend. Like millions of others, I binge-watched the new season of House of Cards and have now been left with a large Kevin Spacey shaped hole in my life. I could write paragraphs waxing lyrical about the show, filled with superlatives and attempted analysis of how it deals with traditionally difficult themes in a distinctly modern way (the fluidity of Frank’s sexuality wouldn’t be out of place as a case study in a Gender Studies class), but instead I think that what needs to be discussed is the central theme: power.

Frank Underwood has threatened, bullied and murdered his way to the top: this seems absurd when thought about in the abstract: after all how could the President of the United States (probably the most watched man in the world) get away with these things and still maintain the veneer of respectability? At first, it seems like this is all drama created to make sure that the show appeals to those who aren’t interested in politics, as well as adding more content and depth to the story line. However, if we look deeper, we can begin to really understand that politics-although the central topic of the show-is not the central theme. That is power.
And it is power that goes to Frank’s head, making him think that he is invincible. It is power-both feeling it and a lust for more-that forces him to plummet in to the deepest, darkest depths of his psyche and commit acts that are abhorrent to our sense of morality. It is power that leads a group of politicians to fuck and murder young children.
Don’t worry, you didn’t miss that scene. That’s something that definitely happened in real life in the UK. There is also a mounting body of evidence that this happened in the US; and if I were the sort of writer to engage in conjecture, I’d hazard a guess that this has been happening all over the world in various ways. Here’s the sad thing: all of the horrible acts that Frank and Claire have committed in the 39 episodes that we have seen so far could easily be overshadowed by real abuses of power by politicians all over the world.
Leon Brittan was a former Tory cabinet minister and was lucky enough to die before the world discovered he facilitated-and may have taken part in-major child abuse. He is one of many from the 80’s and the heedy days of Thatcher’s reign (who is also implicated in a cover up) in which people simply became another commodity and behaviour like this was further normalised. The annals of power are stained with this sort of murky activity due to the tendency of the public to elect a homogeneous group in to our establishments over and over again. When a group of friends has been together at boarding school, university and then the Houses of Parliament and Lords, it is easy for their behaviour to take on an evil sheen, especially when their values include knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Close friends are likely to let each other off for morally ambiguous behaviour: when power is involved it seems that this behaviour spreads to raping minors. Moreover, when this sort of unbridled power is combined with the follies of a neo-Conservative capitalist system-where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing-there is even more chance of this happening as lives can become dispensable due to not being “worth” basic human rights.
It’s not all child rape though. Some politicians simply use their power for the more traditional evil that we associate with our ruling classes. Tony Blair and George W Bush continued a long tradition of lying to their respective populations to make a quick buck through the murder of thousands and the theft of natural resources (Iraq, for those of you who would like it spelt out). There is a long and easily accessible list of things that the CIA have fucked up in the last 50 years in the name of “maintaining American interests” (read: increasing American wealth at the expense of millions of others) and an even longer list of things that politicians all over the world have done to maintain and abuse their power. Whether it be privatising national infrastructure so that their friends can make money (usually followed by the politician in question entering that industry after their time in parliament is over), skirting around laws so that no one in their circle has to go to jail, or even covering up the deaths of almost 50 people who died as a result of “cuts”, politicians have always given the impression that-despite their attempts to be an everyman/woman-they feel above the laws which they put in to place.
And it is clearly power that is the issue here. Some people may be lacking a moral compass, but there really isn’t any way that the average person would think that child rape and murder is acceptable under any circumstances. However, those who feel untouchable will always push the boundaries of acceptability: we saw it with Jimmy Saville and his friends, with Muslim sex trafficking gangs in the North and now with this Westminster scandal. The common theme within all of this isn’t the BBC, religion or upbringing: it is the fact that these men (as it is often men, although women have been implicated in these scandals and various others) have been granted power and believe that they are masters of the human race.
With regards to the Westminster child abuse scandal, the saddest thing is most of them will get away with it. They are old, they are protected and they belong to a system that is so incredibly broken that by the time we finally get around to unearthing all of the evidence, most of them will be dead. These people were in charge of our country, making laws on everything from how we should be taxed to how we should behave in the bedroom (the irony of Section 28 being passed by a bunch of child molesters would be funny if it wasn’t so horrifyingly sad) and now they get to die in peace, unlike the poor children who have to live with a lifetime of trauma and stress. Moreover, their successors (well, actually, Lib Dem and Tory successors, i.e. the two parties with the most MP’s and figures implicated) recently rejected a bill that would have given whistle-blowers protection from prosecution (most likely under the Official Secrets Act). It’s hard to change a culture of entitlement.
Whether House of Cards is a case of mimesis or the Oscar Wilde assertion of the opposite is not the issue. Like The Thick of It, House of Cards continues in a long line of fictional shows that have mirrored real life despite the story lines being seemingly absurd. Politics is the perfect fodder for ludicrous story lines because power turns humans in to monsters. This has been proven over and over again. So maybe it’s time for us to realise that we can move beyond a system that places power in the hands of the few and allows a wider range of people to make decisions, otherwise corruption, murder and child abuse will continue to be the norm, simply because we encourage it.
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