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February 25, 2014

Those News Anchor Threesomes with Frank and Claire Underwood

I know I’m going to be labeled a killjoy, as someone who has no sense of fun. Clearly the following thoughts are going to demonstrate how little I believe in the public’s ability to separate fact from fiction, or TV anchors from TV stars, or popular politicians from popular actors.

That said, I still have a hard time imagining Edward R. Murrow or IF Stone sitting down for a faux interview with the character, Vice President Frank Underwood. But what exactly did it mean that all these anchors participated, as themselves, in this second season of House of Cards? What did it mean, beyond nothing, for these broadcast journalist to identify themselves with a product that equates Washington to toilet paper?

If the premise of the show and the person of Frank Underwood (FU) and his Mommy Dearest wife, Claire, is that Washington is a slimy place – more slimy than anybody cares to imagine – then what is the effect of these anchors lending their professional identities? Unless we’re all reduced to fanboys and fangirls getting a thrill to see “real” people like Morley or Rachel or Candy pop up in Frank’s Washington, perhaps they thought (like a Tonight Show visit) an appearance in the ficticious version of the real house of cards drew less than a farcical comparision.

But then, if Chris Matthews’s and Ashley Banfields’s involvement only makes Spacey/Underwood look more real, perhaps the assumption here–given the credibility of the media in the face of the Nerd Prom, the photo op prayer breakfasts, the corporate pimping and birthday notices, and Hollywood on the Potomac (calling Marc Leibovich! or not) — is that the anchors couldn’t look any worse.

However, they come off like caricatures, as annoying gnats at best or enablers at worse, as if they really were cheap Hollywood actors in comparison to the actor, Ayla Sayyad/Mozhan Marnò, who plays the ”The Washington Telegraph” journalist. So there is Rachel going on and on, then off. There is Chris talking to nobody but himself. And there is Morley, the wrinkly dinosaur, who won’t back down but who dares to press Frank as if in tribute to CBS reporters long gone.

Maybe the vanity and professional incest in Washington is so matter-of-fact, one wouldn’t stop to think anything at all about the nature of the cameos. Perhaps the main outcome of the news personalities appearing in “House of Cards” is that it allows him or her to officially claim that, “Yes, I’m a talking head, but I also play one on TV.”

  • pikUrSem(i)04

    Wittgenstein’s, ‘Zettel,’ 670: “Mann kann doch einem Spiegel besitzen; besitzt man dann auch das Spiegelbild, das in ihm zeigt?” (Med(i/e)a/mirror) 670: “One can own a mirror; does one then own the image seen in it?”

  • black_dog_barking

    However, they come off like caricatures, as annoying gnats at best or enablers at worse, as if they really were cheap Hollywood actors in comparison to the actor, Ayla Sayyad/Mozhan Marnò, who plays the ”The Washington Telegraph” journalist.

    The very best fiction projects highly distilled truth. ( The truest thing I’ve ever read is Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, fiction. ) That the arrayed TV reporters, pundits, and talking heads come off as cheap Hollywood actors when compared to the actors that portray journalists in House of Cards is another example of this highly distilled truth. Compared to my memories of the previous generation of journalism what is offered as the “real thing” these days by mass media is indeed a cheaper product.

    That these people would choose to offer their persona to lend a bit of realism to a fictional account of DC politics is completely in line with the “product” they’ve successfully marketed in real life. Appearing in a widely watched drama produced specifically for online distribution raises their value in their day job. I imagine their real life competitors must have winced to see these cameos and conjured volumes of denial to justify their own exclusion.

    Times have changed in terms of media. Not so much in terms of the efficacy of Frank Underwood’s Iago-like skills of psychological prestidigitation.

  • pantherkitten

    I was pretty jazzed to see Rachel.

  • http://reciprocity-failure.blogspot.com/ Stan B.

    In an earlier episode the previous year, there was a cameo of George Stephanopoulos playing a pit bull of a journalist who would not accept any of the pat, prepackaged answers politicians are usually allowed to get away with in the US. Stephanopoulos was actually playing the part he always dreamed himself doing in real life- best job of acting in the entire series!

  • Scarabus

    Re the question why “they” do it, I think “they” is the wrong pronoun. For example, I can’t imagine that Rachel Maddow responds to the same motivation as Chris Matthews!

    Regardless, on this question I’m more interested in results than in motivations or intentions. In that regard I think le chien_noir is on track when he says, “talking heads come off as cheap Hollywood actors when compared to the actors that portray journalists.” Henry James makes that principle the focus of his short story The Real Thing.

    The protagonist is an artist who creates illustrations for works of historical fiction. His usual models are a working class man and woman. He’s approached by a married couple who have plenty of “gentleman class” pedigree, but no cash. They hope the artist will hire them as models, because they won’t have to pretend. After all, they’re the “real thing.”

    Long story short, the “real thing” [genuine network talking heads] come across in the paintings [taped episodes] as wooden and fake, while the lower class, malleable pretenders [professional actors] come across as…well, as the real thing. This being a Henry James story, the focus is less on the plot than on the psychology of the desperate upper class couple, and the question of who contributes most to making the final result real – the models or the artist?

  • Minor Heretic

    This, and Stan B’s comment about Stephanopolous, remind me of a line from Stephen Coplbert’s epic speech at the Washington Correspondent’s dinner. He was telling journalists to relax and be stenographers because it would give them more time for their families and that novel they were writing; “about a hard driving reporter who bucks convention and digs to the bottom of important stories. You know, fiction!”

    99% of the talking heads on TV are news readers and actors, the personalities attached to other people’s writing, not actual reporters. Their “reporting” stays within carefully prescribed boundaries, much like the plot lines on a TV drama or comedy. Appearing in House of Cards is just a minor lateral move.

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