tapping into the public imagination. In the original post, I mentioned movies like The Parallax View, Winter Kills and The Package that take some of the most wild-eyed theories about the Kennedy assassination and bring them to life in a lightly-fictionalized way, but now I’d like to dig further into that and create a corollary rule.
Politically, those movies seem to be on somewhat safe ground, because America’s debates about the Kennedy assassination have never been particularly partisan. Many staunchly defend the official lone-gunman story, and many others passionately believe in various conspiracy theories, but no matter how righteous people get, they don’t really get morally offended by the other side.
But here’s the funny thing: Even when you look at some more inflammatory versions of “What if it’s all true?”, you notice that it doesn’t actually matter, because audiences tend not to take offense no matter what.
There’s no better example of this than “House of Cards”. I know a lot of Clinton-loving Democrats who adore this show...and that’s downright weird, because it’s predicated on one simple supposition: What if everything the ultra-right said about the Clintons in the ‘90s turned out to be true? What if they really were soulless Machiavellian psychopaths? What if they really were killing former allies with fake suicides? What if they really were having creepy threesomes with secret-service agents? It’s all there!
It’s funny how much people talk about the show without mentioning the Clinton element, despite the many obvious connections, both in front of and behind the camera: After all, Beau Willimon, the creator of the American version, worked on the 2000 Hilary Senate campaign, and star Kevin Spacey is an occasional F.O.B. (they infamously flew to Africa together on the jet of billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein). And yet almost everybody politely declines to note the parallels.
Why is this? I’m not sure. Obviously, the fact that the names and major details were changed makes a big difference. When CBS made a docudrama claiming that Clinton was somehow responsible for 9/11 (“The Path to 9/11”), there was enough outrage to pre-empt it off the air. But a fictionalized version of other allegations, even one that faithfully recreates a lot of very-specific allegations, is seen as harmless.
Actually, because most of my friends are either Democrats or leftists, I don’t actually know how Republicans feel about the show. I assume they like it, but do they? It would be fascinating if they didn’t.
It’s interesting to compare the show to the remake of “Battlestar Galactica”. I wrote here about how that show’s premise seemed to be, “What if everything the far right claimed about Muslims was actually true? What if they really were a unified death-crazed theocratic hive-mind infiltrating all of our institutions in order to eradicate us?” In that case, this was clearly a show aimed at those who didn’t believe that, because it was implicitly asking “Even if that were true, what it be worth abandoning our values in order to defeat them?” And the implied answer was: “No.”
But “House of Cards” isn’t doing anything like that. It’s not, for instance, exaggerating Frank’s horribleness to make the point that he’s still better than the opposition (at least not in the first two seasons. I haven’t started season 3 yet, so no spoilers!) Spacey, on “The Colbert Report” (the only place I’ve seen him called out on the Clinton parallels), made a half-hearted attempt to say, “Yes, but at least he’s getting legislation through!” but the show itself, to its great credit, has not done that. There is no sense of “Yes, but we need the Frank Underwoods of the world.” He’s just terrible.
So I can only conclude that audiences just don’t care. We may find a particular allegation wildly offensive in real life, but as soon as it gets fictionalized, we’re just ready for the popcorn. One wonders how far you could take this…If they made a fictionalized version of a “9/11 truther” theory, would people accept that? Last year on the Black List, there was a script about Stanley Kubrick faking the moon landings. That’s a loony theory that many people find particularly offensive…but would it bother them onscreen? I guess we might find out…
But wait, all of this brings another permutation to mind! Come back tomorrow for yet another similar type of story idea suggested by “Les Miserables”, The Manchurian Candidate, and “24”...