Washington’s National Portrait Gallery is known for its huge collection of the paintings of all the Presidents of the United States. What many of you would not expect to find is a painting of Frank Underwood aka Kevin Spacey. Surprised? He is a President alright, but only in the television series, House of Cards. Yet, he has managed to find an eternal place in the Gallery. This shows the extent to which people identify with the show and how deeply the show influences the people. It is really remarkable that just a character from a show was officially bestowed a President-like honor. The show has gained so much popularity that even President Barack Obama himself tweeted about the show and congratulated the cast on getting multiple nominations at the Emmy Awards. This is rare and definitely can be counted as one of the tangible real-life effects of the reel-drama.
There is no doubt that the political drama, House of Cards, has a powerful grip on people. So, an interesting question that arises is – will the show be able to generate more interest in the Presidential elections that are due in the States in November? This is a possibility, but how exactly can they make the common man interested in politics? Is there only entertainment value or will the show be successful in making the people more politically literate?
House of Cards is a web series, which debuted on Netflix in 2013 and is currently in its third season. The series is not based on any true events. The fictional drama witnesses the journey of an ambitious Frank Underwood. He was to be appointed the Secretary of State after the elections, but was betrayed by the powers that be. He then goes on to make a strategic and elaborate plan to reach the seat of power, the Presidency of the United States. His wife, Claire Underwood, played by Robin Wright, assists him with every step on his way to power.
One thing that should be clear is that the show is not an actual reflection of the political system and executive branch of the government, nor is it about the people. It is about a ruthlessly practical man, turning his ambitions into reality by making calculated moves throughout the way. The third season of the show is out and just as the first two installments, has created quite a buzz. People are binge watching the third season and have loved it. Now, since it is a political drama and given the critical time at which its third season has come out, it is definitely going to create some interest in the audience towards politics. This is very similar to how people feel romantic after watching a movie like Notebook or science becomes fashionable after the airing of The Big Bang Theory. So, in that regard, yes, people are going to become interested in the current elections.
However, if the interest is solely derived from binge watching House of Cards, then, it is not going to last. A fan, who tunes in to a discussion on presidential candidates, might get bored within fifteen minutes and decide to switch off. House of Cards is about a smart person like Sherlock Holmes. He has the skills to make people do what he wants by manipulating how they think. Frank Underwood’s rise topower is also dreamlike and purely a product of his efforts, whatever they were. He is a strong character too, and everybody wants to be like him. There is no dull moment. People are drawn to the character because he is accessible, he is like them and makes them feel powerful. So, yes, people like politicians, but it is the fictional ones that they are more interested in.
So, it is really the ‘drama’ part of the political drama that keeps the fans hooked to the series. A person who is completely not interested in politics, can watch the show, understand it and may appreciate it. However, they may still remain uninterested in politics as they were before.
But the show has a cult following and that means something, especially during such an important time in US politics. Frank Underwood is a master of tactics and his viewers love how he uses his power to get things done. This kind of personality is suited to a President, a man who can tiptoe through a minefield. People who are heavily influenced by the show may start looking for similarities in the personalities of the Presidential candidates and the Underwood. There is no certainty about how many hardcore fans of the show may be influenced in this manner. But, this may not be so terrible after all. Reel life does imitate real life many times, and vice versa.
Another way the show might generate interest in its viewers for the real-life politics is through the detailed discussions on forums and the parallels drawn to real life. Forums related to television have s large number of active participants, especially for shows like these. Discussions often lead to comparisons between the reel life characters and the real life politicians. These discussions make people aware of the many different politicians and their respective stances to various policies. These generate the curiosity in people to know more about politics, because fans are also looking for avenues to get more information on their favorite characters.
Other than that, as one political drama becomes popular, more and more is written about it. A super-successful series like House of Cards is minutely dissected by reviewers and critiqued in detail. Such details are bound to revolve around the US political scene or accuracies and inaccuracies of the show. The fans and those who do not even watch the show are constantly exposed to this kind of content and people start reading about politics, even if they do not take any interest in the subject.
House of Cards is a highly entertaining, fast paced and interesting piece of work. It has viewers across the world, who cannot wait for the fourth season due in March this year. It will definitely make people more interested in the next Presidential elections, but the extent of that interest is difficult to gauge. Will all the fans of the show become politically aware? No, but it will definitely inspire them to find more about the contenders for the Presidency.