Dramas have gone dark. The more serious types have targeted character studies of the narcissistic men and women who have made the system so ineffective.
Meanwhile, comedians have aimed for hyperbolic satire. The theory goes that the clown car is so full at this point that the studios can just pile on and push it into the nearest drive-in.
Take, for example, Netflix’s remake of the popular British mini-series House of Cards.
The show casts Kevin Spacey in the lead role as a narcissistic, unscrupulous, South Carolina Congressman. After missing out on the post of Secretary of State, he goes on the warpath. Nothing will stop his character Frank Underwood as he plots his rise to the top.
I’ll avoid precise plot details for the sake of the readers who want the fun left unspoiled. But suffice to say that Underwood is not the friendliest of guys. A body count has started piling up following season one.
Thus, in obvious aspects the program takes things further than real life. However, in other ways it gives Washington too much credit.
As Spacey noted in a recent interview on the Colbert Report, “it’s obviously a fictional show, because it’s a Congress that gets (expletive) done.”
His quote refers to a massive education bill steered to passage by his character.
Spacey’s character is supposed to, among other things, appall audiences. He ends careers and lives without a second thought. He laughs while doing it. Yet in the midst of it all, he accomplishes a legislative package that would be all but impossible in today’s political climate.
Thus you have a situation where a homicidal sociopath turns out to be somewhat idealistic. Think about that for a moment, if you have time before the next House vote to overturn Obamacare.
Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell took a different angle with their picture, The Campaign. Foregoing legislative inactivity, they focused instead on the increasing influence of monied interests.
The film features two candidates vying for a congressional seat, this time in North Carolina. Unfortunately, their race gets hijacked as both vie for the substantial financial support of the semi-fictional “Motch brothers.”
In this case, the clear target of derision is thinly veiled.
“I think it is pretty obvious that the Motch brothers represent the Koch brothers,” said Galifianakis.
Like House of Cards, The Campaign creates entertainment through the utility of a parallel world in which all sense of proportion.is lost. Yet, like the Netflix series, it too may have missed its mark.
Galifiankis apparently agrees. In a conversation with Bill Maher, he remarked that by the time the picture was released it was essentially outdated. Even a Will Ferrell comedy could not do justice to the unabashedly heavy hand used by the real life version of their antagonists.
The Koch brothers gave credence to that opinion almost immediately. The two men have a combined wealth of $50 billion. One would think they could take a pot shot from a comedian and move on unaffected. Not so.
Instead, Koch Industries sent spokesman Philip Elender out on the offensive. According to Elender, “it is laughable to take political guidance or moral instruction from a guy who makes obscene gestures with a monkey on a bus in Bangkok.”
Following his logic, playing a lead role in the Hangover, Part II concedes one’s ability to register an opinion. Whether or not that is true is subject for debate. The fact that the company felt the need to even issue a statement however is unambiguously strange.
Thus, an awkward back-and-forth has become the new status quo.
Hollywood pours as much pessimism onto modern U.S. politics as it can. No to be outdone, their work gets parried back by a Washington seemingly bent on giving cable news anchors better material than the best of screenwriters in L.A. could conceive.
The influence of money continues to grow. The legislature is on pace to set a record for the fewest bills passed in a single session. And every day we are treated to a new installment of politicians finding creative ways to use Twitter.
Sources often call Washington, “Hollywood for ugly people.” At the moment, they might be right in more ways than one.
Lucadamo is a graduate researcher at the Miller Center and has been published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Daily Progress and Virginian-Pilot.