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05/04/2020 The magazine by Communication Science students of the UvA

House of Cards – could it be considered a mockumentary?

Is there more to House of Cards than meets the eye? One of our writers, Kajsa, looked into it (voluntarily) and found some remarkable similarities between House of Cards’ White House and the real one in Washington


The fifth season is out, portraying Washington more vicious than ever. But could there be an element of truth in the series?

For every political nerd, House of Cards is what Star Wars is for normal nerds – our holy grail, the source of joy in our lives and a constant topic of discussion. What differs however, is the degree to which the two series can be used, practically. When I was a part of a political youth party back in Sweden, ‘House of Cards Dudes’ (HoC Dudes for short) is the term we used for young men who took notes of the manipulative, destructive behaviour portrayed in the acclaimed Netflix drama, to use it for their own good.

They copy-pasted Francis Underwood’s vicious careerism, and applied their newly acquired persuasive skills on 16-year-old girls. Speaking for the latter category, we thought we could still save the world and were very eager to help out our seniors, for the good of the party. Clearly, their strategy worked. So, which similarities can be found between the White House portrayed in the series and the real one? Were the HoC Dudes onto something? Is House of Cards a blueprint on how to succeed in Washington? Let’s map out the similarities.

Seth Grayson – Sean Spicer
Poor poor Seth, trying to clean up the Underwood’s mess, with little to no clue about what actually goes on in the oval office. Avoiding questions, desperately trying to save the sinking ship. Doesn’t that remind you of his real-life equivalent? Even though I must say that Seth does a better job than notoriously unsympathetic Sean Spicer.

Tom Hammerschmidt Martin Baron
Hammerschmidt, a political journalist and editor at The Washington Herald, is determined to find out the truth about Underwood’s wrongdoings, where the police have left off. He devotes his life to discovering the truth, not very unlike Martin Baron, the editor of The Washington Post. Baron was part of the team at The Boston Globe that exposed the abuse of young children within the catholic church. Their determination, their devotion to the journalistic profession and their search for the truth, make these characters very similar. The events in Boston have been staged in the critically acclaimed movie Spotlight, which is well-worthy of watching.

Raymond Tusk – Warren Buffet and Andrew N. Liveris
The character Raymond Tusk, the billionaire businessman who launders money and has strong ties to China, is said to have borrowed some character traits from business mogul Warren Buffet. However, he is a devoted philanthropist and has pledged to donate 99% of his fortune to charity, mostly through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A more comparable real-life character would then be Andrew N. Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemicals, the second largest chemical company in the world. Liveris has had positions in the White House both under the Obama administration and with Trump. Right now he is leader of the American Manufacturing Council. Now that is what I call influence.

Will Conway – Paul Ryan
Spoiler alert, Conway should have become president but didn’t due to Underwood’s meddling. Not that Paul Ryan ever was close to becoming president, but he does share some similarities with pretty-boy Conway. He was the Republican sweetheart that could (and should?) have become the presidential candidate, yet he was overthrown by a raging maniac. Underwood got away with manipulating the votes, Trump got away with literally everything he did. Conway didn’t become president, Ryan never got the chance to run for it.

If the real world super-villain is good enough, why invent a fictional one?

Viktor Petrov – Vladimir Putin
The most amazing, almost ridicule similarity found in the show is that of Viktor Petrov, whose looks, way of speaking and devilish political games are directly copied from Vladimir Putin. It’s brilliant; if the real world super-villain is good enough, why invent a fictional one?

I deliberately did not include the main characters in this comparison. There could be entire essays written on which character trait Francis Underwood borrowed from whom and if Claire Underwood really could be said to resemble Hillary Clinton or not. That job I leave to the HoC Dudes, who are probably busy transcribing their notes from the fifth season as we speak.

My main focus is set on Tom Hammerschmidt and Seth Grayson. The battle between the press-staff in the White House and the investigative journalists is thrilling enough to deserve its own series. Off-record confessions, classified documents and trails of money everywhere – a dream for those with journalistic ambitions. I’m ready to re-watch the season, notepad in hand, preparing myself for wonderfully vicious Washington. I never said I was any better than the HoC Dudes.

Cover: Spartan7W

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