What a relief to hear Rachel Maddow croaking on the phone during her usual show hours after a week of absence. She has turned out to have the most effective research team and delivery style in this very tangled political time. Rumors included renegotiations of her MSNBC contract; attacks by right wing sponsors demanding that she be fired (she had right wing sponsors??!!); a biowarfare viral attack; a poke in the butt from a poisoned umbrella? All possible. We’ll need her in the coming week when Comey will testify if Trump doesn’t gag him; as Mueller absorbs other investigations before his own is barely staffed; and as Trump has finally heard about “The Handmaid’s Tale” and finds it a “great, unbelievably fine new script” to pursue. That’s a bear trap, man.
I’m still trying to catch up with “House of Cards” Series 5. Somehow I never watched Series 4 and forgot the other three except for the most memorable scenes. At the time I didn’t know who Rachel Maddow was nor many of the other reporters we now turn to in an attempt to remember the real-life scandal’s cast of characters. I keep a “key” for myself and it’s as long as my pages of website passwords. Netflix software is clearly overloaded with marathoners like myself and balks at functions that have always been smooth, like looking at previous episodes or repeating sections. Now and then it freezes, while asking “Is something wrong? Tell us!”
Maybe I have too many windows open, because I keep looking for good commentary and scenario recaps. It’s not that I’m politically naive. Being part of the UUMA — the liberal ministers’ professional group with a penumbra of wannabes, has-beens, demi-mondaines and handmaidens in drag — has been an education. You thought the Alt-Right was full of power plays! On June 21-25 in New Orleans the General Assembly will gather and it ought to be a doozy, since the internal dynamics have just decapitated the president by using the race card as a frisbee. Being in New Orleans while it plays out is just . . . Greek drama. High moral content and the possibility of real tragedy.
The consensus among some commentators on “House of Cards” is that a tale that seemed preposterous in the beginning is now looking as though it is far too conventional, too small scale. After all, the sometimes painful choice of fidelity in marriage, webs of criminal obligation, and murder of young women are pretty much just taken for granted these days, familiar plot threads. We know all about the mixture of gay whores and the writing life. Frank asks his biographer why he is so curious and the reply is “I’m addicted.” The writer once turned tricks and made that the subject of his first novel. So far the drugs have mostly been alcohol and nicotine, banal. Nuclear war was on the table in the series but it never seemed as possible as today. Major pandemics triggered by poverty and climate change were not mentioned.
One commentator says “. . . the problem now is that Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood seems almost Lincoln-like by real-life standards.” Trump sinks to Mortimer Snerd levels. We know Claire Underwood — Melania Trump is no Claire Underwood. Ivana Trump, the first wife, is a closer match. Dumping her was a stupid move on Donald’s part. He wants to be the dominant one and thinks that money provides power — he’s as clueless about that as he is about everything else. He has a Celtic Scot’s body (like mine, very redhead-limbic, often seized by the under-mind) and wants to be cold Nordic, which is why Lars Mikkelsen is brilliant casting. I’m sure Putin feels flattered. As long as I’m playing with stereotypes, Gerald McRaney as Tusk is the Ulster man who eludes the Scots, a role he mastered long ago. Michael Kelly? Black Irish with a Spanish streak? Mahershala Ali picks up the role of the Black man as conscience. (While I’m thinking about it, what’s happened to Djimon Hounsou, who was so good at that?)
“The Presidency is an illusion of choice.” (“House of Cards”: Underwood) Because if one doesn’t accept any evidence except delusional desire, how can the choice be anything but illusion? Incidentally, is anyone writing a sequel — maybe fans — of how advancing Alzheimer’s might play out for Frank Underwood? Would Claire cover for him? Would he stumble us all into war? Would it be revealed at last — more than just clues — about a warped childhood? Would his mother turn out to be the real villain?
In human relationships at least, intimacy and sex are two very different things that overlap in a Venn diagram. Pure intimacy or pure sex are ideals for different kinds of people on different kinds of occasion, but the area where the two overlap in tension is where the stories germinate. Both are about survival, reproductive sex in the most obvious and direct way and as a value of the group. Recently there has begun to be concern about falling birth rates. We want that — or do we? The Baby Boom Bulge was great when it was generating expansion, but now that they begin to be a drain, the balance is different. People didn’t produce enough children to take care of them, so the government, the group, must do it. One can have too many children, too few children, or the wrong kind of children.
Intimacy is about individuals and doesn’t need sex to be powerful, but to persist it must be flexible enough to change with the context, the times, the gender roles and economic resources. The constant renegotiation holds together “House of Cards,” and makes us care about the players. It’s not the same as the woozy “love” theory on t-shirts, loving the losers, loving the handicapped, so on — love as condescension from the entitled, love as delusional devotion to people who are malignant grandiose narcissists. (Has Sam Vaktin made any comments about Trump?)
Did we expect to find out that every evening the President of the United States slumps alone in front of cable TV in his bathrobe and gives out his cell phone number to those he wishes to seduce? I’ve got to hurry along so I can get to the end of Series 5, but I doubt it will end this way. Far too preposterous to believe.