This fall break, as I sat down late Saturday night to catch up on my newest Netflix obsession, House of Cards, I couldn’t help but think about my Poly-Sci 101 class back at school. I have been taking this course now for close to two months and the concepts I’ve come to understand have changed the way I see many regular things in my life. For those of you who don’t know, House of Cards is a TV series on Netflix that tracks the political uprising of Frank Underwood, house majority whip and the most recent candidate to be passed over for the Secretary of State position. The show follows Frank as he schemes his way into a power position.
Before showing up at school, I viewed Frank’s tactics as ingenious and revolutionary. I even remember running to my dad saying, “Wow I wonder why more people don’t act this way in politics, a lot more people would get what they wanted.” It was not until learning about Niccolo Machiavelli that I understood Frank Underwood was merely employing textbook Machiavellian tactics to scheme his way to the top of the political world.
In his article “The Cunning Critic of Political Reason,” Vincent Barnett compares the name “Machiavelli” as a synonym for the devil. He speaks how anyone who is viewed as “Machiavellian” now a day is someone who uses sly tactics to manipulate situations to gain an advantage over the competition in a situation. Cue Frank Underwood. The House of Card’s star displays Machiavellian tactics as he uses bribery, blackmail, trickery and deceit to gain power over his colleagues in the political realm of Washington DC. Underwood’s ultimate goal is to gain the highest possible seat in the government (the presidency) and will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. Throughout the show, Underwood has done everything from blackmailing senators about their drug addictions to gain their support to working hand-in-hand with a newspaper reporter trading the top stories for the promise that she will publish exactly what he wants. He even resorts to eliminating (killing) competitors that stand in the way of achieving his goal. Underwood displays classic Machiavellian practices as he is as two-faced as they come.
After learning about what Machiavellianism is and how it is displayed in the political sphere, watching House of Cards has become that much more enjoyable for me. To see a topic that I have learned about in school be displayed right before my eyes in a way that interests me is something that embeds that topic even deeper into my memory. As I continue to watch the show I will be sure to look for more Machiavellian tactics used by Underwood and think of my Poly-Sci class each time I am able to pick one out.