Fiction is Not Fake
On March 4th, the fourth season of the Netflix original TV series House of Cards was released. Actor Kevin Spacey found himself at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery on Monday, February 29th when a portrait of his character, Frank Underwood, was unveiled. When the obvious questions arose for Spacey about the show’s reflection on the 2016 debate, he played it off. According to The Guardian, he stated that “It’s nothing but a trapdoor for me that I don’t want to fall through.”
The portrait’s painter however, Johnathan Yeo, was quoted with some pretty profound comments on the piece stating that “The Smithsonian encouraged this deliberate blurring of distinction between reality and artifice and the fact that the painting is obviously of a performance, but it’s a performance in particular of fictional character in a real job… The fact we’re doing it in the city where the real events happen, in a gallery where they have the most famous collection of political portraits in the world, and obviously most of the best presidential portraits. It plays on that further” (The Guardian).
Yeo got it right here by stating it is a fictional character in a real job. According to Vanity Fair, when Spacey was asked what the show says about the 2016 elections he responded blatantly, “Nothing. It’s fictional.”
Claiming House of Cards as entirely irrelevant to politics let alone the corrupt side of humanity is like claiming 1984 by George Orwell is also socially and politically irrelevant. Orwell is, after all, the one who stated that “all speech is political.” Just because something is fictional, does not mean it lacks truth or relevance to the real-world. We all hear it too often; we write what we know.
At the same event, we see a famous Hollywood star denying claims of the show’s political commentary and the artist tasked with interpreting his character saying just the opposite. So in no way is Spacey believable, he is merely doing what he does best; being political. It is as though we still need to be sheltered from the scary possibility that this show might actually be, in fact, based in reality.
House of Cards is not fictional, the characters are. Past presidents remain the same, locations remain the same, historical elements such as Arabic extremism, Syrian conflicts, gun violence and competition with Russia are both of the show and of reality. Not to mention we, as the audience, are addressed directly when the fourth wall is broken.
This is where narrative “film” becomes powerful, deceptively appealing to the masses and trusting us to connect the dots. Sure, it’s technically realistic fiction, but it doesn’t get any more discernible.