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The uncertain future of the political genre

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“Democracy is so overrated”. This is one of Frank Underwood’s signature Machiavellian remarks in Netflix’s flagship show House of Cards. Similar words to the arch villain’s mantra flashed through my mind when America decided on its 45th President earlier last month. 

The last year has been one momentous political surprise after another – “the times they are a-changin’”. But apart from the politics of the centre ground, there is another casualty to the flurry of the radical populist mindset. Now shows like House of Cards, The Thick of It, its American counterpart Veep, and even something as old as Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing are all becoming relics of a political epoch behind us.

These political dramas and satires are among some of my favourite shows that this century has produced. They range from sharp, insightful dramas of shows like The West Wing, which ultimately win you over with their heartwarming characters and cautiously optimistic narratives, to biting, witty satires that poke fun at the era of ‘spin’ in politics.

“Democracy is so overrated”…Similar words flashed through my mind when America decided on its 45th President”

But what really struck me, as I watched this election unfold was how quickly the reality of politics diverged from the political worlds of the shows. House of Cards is great, thrilling drama. But a show like that looses some of its thrill when the political world it replicates no longer exists. Much of what drives our intrigue in a show like House of Cards is the lingering question we ask ourselves: is this what politics is really like? Are the smiles and waves of our own political leaders even remotely representative of their character?

With questions like that looming around the show, it is no wonder that one could draw a mild comparison between Frank and Clare Underwood and Bill and Hilary Clinton, two fiercely ambitious couples. (However this isn’t a theory I’d take too literally!)

The real world Republicans pushed all the right buttons in pegging Hilary Clinton closer and closer to this political caricature. The whole e-mail scandal was quite frankly hot air, but the one thing that stuck – it maybe even frightened people – was an idea that the woman is deceitful and untrustworthy.

What really struck me as I watched this election unfold was how quickly the reality of politics diverged from the political worlds of the shows

The closed, illusive, calculating figure seems to have disappeared. Now we have Trump, someone who his supporters praise for his curt, candid take on things. In House of Cards secrets can undo the politicians. But Trump is a new animal. Much of what the president-elect says is practically as bad as any of his secrets. Even the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape could capsize the Trump-Pence campaign.

In House of Cards someone’s exterior is never the complete story. But with the show’s next series likely to be with us early next year, it’s hard to see how it could be relevant to today’s politics; a concern that’s worth addressing to the entire political genre (be it drama or satire).

But with that said, change grants new opportunities. Here’s to hoping that we can get something new that really goes after the dross awaiting us in the future.

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