Hollywood Party


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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262 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Full disclosure, I haven’t seen House of Cards and I thought from internet chatter that Underwood was a Republican, but it seems to me that Conservative Southern Democrat Has Trouble Navigating The New Ideological Partisanship Because He’s Very Conservative For His Party And Culturally in Sync With Republicans But No Modern Right-Winger is an extremely viably realistic-to-today premise. Those guys still exist, and they certainly did ten years ago. Which is not to say they do it in a way that ends up feeling realistic. I suppose especially since that guy is currently pretty unlikely to get a D nomination for president.

    Granted, Underwood doesn’t have that much trouble; he becomes president. But a world in which such a politician could get a Democratic nomination, while not this one right now, is hardly too far off from this one. Maybe it just requires adjusting to the positing of the slightly different history in which DLC or even conservative Democrats are not completely marginalized within the party and liberal politics.

    I don’t think that Southern Democrat TV characters with culturally conservative affects albeit not extremely conservative social views should trigger our disbelief alert. These guys were a feature of our politics for decades; they’ve been marginalized only in the very most recent period of politics. TV positing a world where that marginalization hasn’t been so complete that one of them couldn’t still be a leading figure in the party seems pretty reasonable to me. Again, though, that doesn’t mean House of Cards does that effectively.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      It’s (mostly) not so much that it triggers the disbelief alert. Other things do that, for sure, but not the “southern white Democrat” thing. Where I think it compromises the story is that it put the character at cross-purposes. I believe that the “southerner” aspect was in part an effort to make him a villain. And yet, his Democratic affiliation made it easy to go astray in season three and go with a “using evil for the sake of good” route that Season Three went. I think they would have been more consistent with the villainy if they’d made him the stereotypical Republican that Urquhart was Tory.

      The writers seem to have gotten themselves caught up in trying to make Underwood at least a little sincere, which is not a trap that they would have gotten into if they’d made him a Republican. (One could argue that the ambiguity makes the story better, but by and large Season Three did not go over well, in part because of Underwood’s crusading, and I think this is why.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Then we could be clear that “This is what Hollywood really thinks of Republicans.” The D thing messes that up.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Well, people would still complain. I’d probably groan and roll my eyes. But I wouldn’t be writing a post on it, because… well, it would be largely expected.

        However, if Season 3 failed along the lines that I believe it did, it would have made a better product.

        You mention West Wing below. TWW was supposed to be a functionaries’ tale. About getting stuff done, passing legislation, executiving, etc. The president himself was rarely supposed to appear. Along the lines, they discovered that the idealism worked and ran with it. And it did work, not just despite its biases but because of them.

        They never could have accomplished that with a Republican administration. It would have come across like Fitz Grant. Conservatives would still have complained, the same way they still complained about House of Cards’ treatment of Tea Partyers and the like. But mostly, it wouldn’t have been as entertaining. They couldn’t have carried it off the way that they did.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Again, not having seen it, I just think the premise – conservative Southern Dem does terrine things to get the the WH – is not problematic. But it doesn’t have to follow that all of his political instincts are villainous by the standards of the expectations of a liberal audience. Once the guy gets to the White House, to me it’s plausible that some of the villainy related to advancing in politics may fall away in favor of a need to get some stuff done. Has the character undergone a complete transformation – has all of the villainy fallen away completely? Or is he still underhanded in the service of what it’s now revealed he actually thinks are some combination of his policy aims and his political interests? Again haven’t seen it, but it seems rather inflexible to hold the view that because this guy is A Villain, therefore everything about him going forward has to be villainous, or the show is lesser for it. There is such a thing as too on the nose. Given the audience’s political preferences, having him be a villain both for his tactics and his beliefs, and then get to the WH and remorselessly advance the latter using the former – I mean, there is such a thing as too on-the-nose even for an audience for whom that would serve their political views. That’s actually what too on-the-nose means. Also – are you sure he’s meant to be a villain? Or is he maybe just meant to be the perfect embodiment of our current political class?.

        On TWW, I get why liberal Hollywood playing to liberal audiences were never going to show a successful idealistic Republican White House. I’m not sure I’m following why they never could have carried it off had they put their minds to it, though.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        To the extent that it wasn’t intended that they go the route of the villain, that’s a very serious departure from the source material, and what made its source material great.

        Also, judging by the reactions I’ve seen for the third season, it wasn’t successful.

        But if someone really liked the third season, then it did work and (for them, at least) my criticisms are invalid. My view is that it didn’t work. This post is looking at why. I believe it’s because they forgot that Underwood is supposed to be a villain, and I think that’s tied in to his partisanship. (That last part is indeed speculative. It could be Redemption Narrative. Or some combination of the two.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I’m not saying they didn’t mean him to be a villain from the outset, I’m just thinking out loud. Listening to talk about the show,m y impression was not that people thought of this as a show about an extraordinary political villain, but as a show about an exaggerated portrayal of the kind of venality we now attribute to politicians generally in this country. A reflection of our current assessment of the normal, not a portrayal of an exceptional villain.

        The source material point is valid. OTOH, in my experience sometimes British drama is much more willing to/interested in just unambiguously making someone a heel, while I think American television often just tries to make everyone characters of a kind. Often characters who are clearly villains are eventually, if not redeemed, then softened.

        And I think that is certainly going to apply to shows about American presidents. It’s one thing to say that a single member of the House or a Senator is a villain and our show is about him. I think that premise has its limits, but it’s one thing. It’s another to center a show that’s now about a president around that premise. American presidents (fictional ones) are rarely portrayed as being unambiguous villains when they ar the main character. Generally they have either redeeming motives/values and underhanded tactics, or else have what are seen as malign motives or values (i.e. bad politics), but a streak of conscience keeps their actual pursuit of those.

        Even had Underwood been a Republican, i doubt you would have seen the full villain treatment of him once in the Wh. First of all, it’s hard to sustain a show with a pure villain as the main character. (Again, I think British TV does this more than American TV, though I don’t think it’s easy in general.) Secondly, as I say, the motivations change once you’re in the WH. You’ve made it. Yes, you have one more election to win, but it’s far less obvious how to deploy political villainy to win t than it is to protray deploying political villainy to advance a career. Plus, the motivation to do so has to drop off. Otherwise, you’re psoting a much more fundamentally evil character. A president who does evil things n his first year in office largely just because he can is much different as a character than an ambitious Congressman who does evil things because a) he faces constant re-election threat every two years, and b) he wants to be president.

        Obviously that doesn’t mean that the season in which he becomes president isn’t therefore less compelling. But it sounds to me like it’s probably structural relating to that change and the need to keep the character roughly plausible as a human being given the change in context – not just not following through on the villainy because he’s a Democrat. I don’t know if the British version featured a similar shift – MP to PM – but if it did and it kept him villainous, that seems, first of all, more in keeping with their attitudes to go ahead and make a PM completely villainous, and then also, a bit more realistic to their system, where the PM is more beholden to his near-peers in government and thus presumably has more reason as a dramatic matter to continue to act cravenly than does the independently-elected president.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think it’s possible, had Underwood been a Republican, that we would have seen the same thing. Which was went I mentioned the redemption narrative. But I think the temptation would have been less great and I think they might have avoided it.

        They did a really good job avoiding it the first two seasons.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Michael’s right about the difference in US and British TV.

        Michael Scott (The Office) did not remain a heel in America. He did in Britain. Republican or Democrat or whatever, the villain is eventually softened. We make him or her more complex, give them redeeming features.

        It’s just what we like in TV. I think Americans find truly awful people either unrealistic (simple stereotypes! is often the refrain) or just unpalatable to watch unless we’re actively rooting against them, and you can’t really build a show around a character you’re rooting against.

        Of course, sometimes we can go too far — I’m pretty sure Magento’s shoot the dog moment in the X-men movies (where he kicks out Mystique because she’s no longer a mutant) is done entirely because Magneto they’d made Magneto too compelling and sympathetic. They had to reinforce “Dude, villain. You’re NOT on his side, audience!”Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Hmm. I’m probably allowing my views about whether I think that sounds like it would make for successful TV to color my views of whether it would make for “successful TV.”

        The world in which Underwood, of whatever party, has to stay nearly equally villainous at all times no matter what, even immediately after taking office as president, sounds both monotonous and like it has something of a human realism problem to me. Compared to the one where he reacts to becoming president by relaxing on the overt villainy a bit in favor of a felt need to earnestly govern the country, only to eventually have his rue nature and the fundamental corruption of the world lead him to redevelop his old flaws in new ways in a new context.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        A TV season in the UK is, what, 6 episodes? Michael Scott had a lot more screen time than David Brent. Heck, Magneto has had more screen time than David Brent. It’s nearly impossible to sustain a one-dimensional character across an extended run, even if you want to. Beat him down too much and the audience will have sympathy for him. Make him evil all the time and you’re bound to run out of steam. At some point, you have to make him jovial, or force him to work with the good guys, or give him a love interest or a good memory of a childhood pet or something.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        In the case of the Office, I wouldn’t rule out the singular influence of Ricky Gervais instead of larger cultural traditions. Gervais never goes light – not in awards show, not even in the Muppets.

        (and TIL there are French, German, Swedish, Israeli, Chilean, and French-Canadian(!) versions of the Office)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Chris mentions Boss elsewhere. That, to me, is a good example of how a show can consistently maintain a villainous lead. Lasted two seasons, but I don’t think Grammer would have redeemed himself.

        They managed it in part by having a counterweight, a reporter we could sympathize with (to an extent) if we wanted and by keeping it entertaining with a lot of moving parts and factions. It was more faithful in tone that Season 3 of House of Cards, even if they did some different stuff.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        So, thinking about it some more, and I think that the point is moot, because I now just think that show would have had almost no value with a Republican at its center.

        Think about it. Isn’t a clear point of the show to make a point about either the corrupting power of politics in general, or at the particular corruption of our whole class of politicians today? I mean, this is not supposed to be a show about an outlier that says, “Hey, look at this one really bad guy. But the rest of them totally aren’t like that at all!”

        Would a show about a corrupt, malevolent Republican have gotten anyone to do that? It would have gotten liberals/Democrats to say “Ha ha! Look at the corrupt, malevolent Republican! Aren’t Republicans corrupt and malevolent?” I mean, some would ave gotten the general point. But many would have been needless lost down the hole of priors-confirmation.

        And would Republicans (conservatives) have reacted with a sober, “Yes, let us consider the corruption of the system and of our current class of leaders”? No, they would have dismissed this as Hollywood yet again making the politician who is a villain a Republican. To the extent that they thought about a system-wide critique, they would have (not unreasonably) done it by saying Democrats are no better. But to that Democrats (liberals) would have taken solace in the fact that the show’s creators could have made the point by making him a Democrat – but he didn’t. That’s all unnecessary confusion when the point can be made so much more directly, given the proclivities of basically all parts of the audience, by making him a Democrat.

        Have you heard liberals and Democrats complaining that the point is being made with a Democrat? I haven’t. People seem to be accepting that the point applies across the spectrum. And Republicans appreciate that it is being made about a Democrat, since it’s so applicable on both sides, and they are so often cast as the heavies i political drama.

        If that means that the villainy gets turned down from the crowd-pleasing 11 it was at for season or two down to 6 or 7 for a while, well, to me that seems like it just has the potential to just make expectations for it maybe sustainable, rather than spiraling off into slapstick like Homeland did, when it never realized that it’s not sustainable to stay in the game of constantly topping yourself for more than coupe of seasons.

        Really, partisanship in the viewership doesn’t matter that much here. Everyone is used to seeing Dems as the good guys and Rs as the bad guys. If you want to make a point about corruption of the whole political class, it really only works to make the figure a Democrat. At least for now.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The point of the show is not what you are ascribing to it. I point again to Urquhart, who was rotten to the core. The show was, in my view, most successful when it stuck to that model rather than the models you prefer.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        The show’s not about that, or it’s most successful in your view when it’s not about that?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Chris mentions Boss elsewhere. That, to me, is a good example of how a show can consistently maintain a villainous lead.

        Surround him with gorgeous half-naked women with penchants for having sex in public.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The show started being a little about that in season three. Prior to that, there was barely more than a nod in that direction.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I never even heard of this show “Boss,” and I actually think that fact kind of counts in this discussion.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        House of Cards had better publicity and placement. Kane and Underwood are pretty similar until HoC s3, in many respects, in terms of this discussion.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        …Anyway, I think the dynamic is still in place with him as a villain rather than a symbol of corruption. It’s beating the trend of Bad Republicans into the ground to make him a Republican, which isn’t intriguing to anybody, and they probably lose a portion of whatever Republican audience you might have gotten with him as a Dem.

        And, given the perfidy the character undertakes in the first two seasons (with I’m more read up on now, yikes), why would partisanship then keep them from maintaining the same kind of character in the next season? They’ve already made him a cold-blooded murderer and a Democrat, why does that need to change now… because he’s a Democrat? Just because now (as opposed to before?) the opportunity exists because they made him a Democrat to be preachy about issues, and they can’t pass that up? How does that make sense after what they already did with this character/show?

        Occam’s razor to me here suggests they just made a bad judgement about what to do with the character, not that the opportunity to use a character to manifest their true nature as preachy (or, anyway, earnest) liberals became irresistible. Maybe at some level they felt they would start to hemorrhage viewers if they didn’t redeem him to some degree. I don’t know, but it’s a pretty hedged point if all you’re saying is that *maybe* they would have felt that way *a little* less had they made him a Republican. If they felt the premise wasn’t sustainable past two seasons, then that’s probably how they were going to feel regardless. These writers just might not have all that much on their fastball period, or maybe they only have it for three or four innings.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I’m not actually convinced that Republican Underwood would have actually cost it all that much in the way of viewership, if they did it right (and in this case, it wouldn’t have taken much to do it right – I’m saying this despite one of the main points in the OP being that I cannot expect Hollywood writers to do a good job in some of these respects). Given the paucity of conservatives, and especially of conservative winners, I believe they would have had a fair amount of leeway.

        I’m not sure whether having Underwood as an R would have prevented the third-season derailment or not. I think that having him a D gave them a temptation that they wouldn’t have had if he’d been an R. I think having the main characters of Alpha House as Republicans has curbed what I believe would otherwise have been a real temptation to make it a lot more earnest (and preachy). I view it in that context.

        I don’t know that I’m right about that, but I think I am. Or at least that there is a good chance. It would have been a longer road for Underwood-R than it was for Underwood-D to have the husband and wife busily trying to make peace in the Middle East, anxious over gay rights, etc. Hard to say with any absolute certainty. All of which said, more or less, in the OP.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I agree the viewership loss among conservatives per se wouldn’t have been a big deal. But I think it’s a less interesting premise if he’s an R. And I think that it gets less buzz among elite people who view themselves as mostly nonaligned (i.e. the sorts of people who sit around talking about what they’re interested in on shows like Morning joe) if it’s seen as just another entry in the Republicans Are Bad And Hollywood Is Liberal canon. And I don’t think it loses pretty much anyone by having him be a D.

        You’ve said different things about how strong you’re making this case out to be. You said “The writers seem to have gotten themselves caught up in trying to make Underwood at least a little sincere, which is not a trap that they would have gotten into if they’d made him a Republican” above.

        They weren’t going to make him an R, period, for the reasons given above. They just didn’t want to take the p.r. hit. But had they, I think the effect you are talking about would have been miniscule. They were going to do what they were going to do.

        Incidentally, if conservatives now don’t want writers to react to the critique of Hollywood as a bunch of liberals unfairly casting conservatives as antagonists and Bad People, and instead just do whatever their unrestrained Hollywood hearts tell them to do (though, dramatically, at some point the GOP-as-meanies trope runs itself out, and that may have been now regardless), perhaps they should stop complaining about how Hollywood portrays conservatives so much. After all, @Kazzy makes a pretty good case below that they largely brought it on themselves – beckoned for it, even.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I believe that the quoted sentence is the case, but I do not know it is the case.

        They weren’t going to make him an R, period, for the reasons given above.

        I’m not sure this is the case, either. I suspect (but do not know!) that there were discussions and disagreements on how to proceed.

        Incidentally, if conservatives now don’t want writers to react to the critique environment that way and instead just do whatever their unrestrained Hollywood hearts tell them to do

        Who are you arguing with here? “Conservatives” writ-large aren’t making the argument I am (to my knowledge). I am the one making that argument. And I’m also saying “You know what, Hollywood? Just be Hollywood. Just make it good.” That was the point of the post.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        But it sounds like you’re coming around to that from wishing for a transition to more evenhandedness. (Maybe that’s mistaken.) Transitions aren’t always smooth. Maybe Hollywood always should have just been Hollywood. Hollywood’s fairly liberal (right now); maybe them’s just the breaks. Hollywood also changes. You (not you) can hope, but if you put them under pressure, you will deform the product.

        Of course they had discussions in order to come around to the view. That doesn’t mean they weren’t almost certain to come around to it. I think they were very unlikely to make this character an R after thinking about the pros and cons of each.

        Here’s the thing on counterfactuals with little information (i.e. I think I have a lot more information about how this show would have played out with audiences had he been an R than we do about specifically how it would have been written in its third season had he been). Uncertainty has to be the rule. That means there is a narrow band of things you can say about the probabilities that are within the bounds of required uncertainty. Within that narrow band, it’s really easy to flit back and forth between making an uncheckable non-prediction that is too confident, and making a statement that is not functionally all that different from just restating that we don’t know what would have happened. I don’t have a lot of intuition about what would have happened in terms of story had they made him an R, because I don’t actually view that choice to be one they would have wanted to work with to begin with (like, strongly), and given that they had the choice, it’s then hard to construct models of what they’d have done using the choice they strongly wanted to avoid. But at the same time, I have to allow that it’s possible that, had they made that choice, the likelihood that this season would have been more how you wanted would have gone up. It’s among the possibilities, incontrovertibly.

        But the thing is, it’s possible you’re not really asserting much more than that. It’s very hard to quantify the amount more likely than merely possible you’re saying it is, so it’s basically impossible for me to know whether or how strongly I really differ. It’s possible, and since it didn’t happen in this universe it was probably at least very slightly more probable in that universe (though not certainly). I would tend to say it’s not much more than that, though. But my view is that, unless you’re saying something that borders on insupportably confident on the point, then you’re likely not saying anything of that much more interest than the mere undeniable possibility itself is. That’s how narrow the band of uncertainty between the margins of forbidden confidence is. And regardless of how much interest there is in it, it’s really hard to judge within that narrow band what you’re saying the impact on the likelihood of a different story would have been of the other choice.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        But it sounds like you’re coming around to that from wishing for a transition to more evenhandedness. (Maybe that’s mistaken.) Transitions aren’t always smooth. Maybe Hollywood always should have just been Hollywood. Hollywood’s fairly liberal (right now); maybe them’s just the breaks. Hollywood also changes. You (not you) can hope, but if you put them under pressure, you will deform the product.

        That’s actually a fairly decent encapsulation of where I am coming from on this. The thing I would add, though, is that I don’t think the transition will be successful. I don’t think it can, with the people presently staffing Hollywood. If there is going to be even-handedness, it’s going to need to come from conservatives stepping up and participating instead of just complaining.

        That doesn’t make the tilt unworthy of commenting on, but there should be no accompanying sense of outrage, as often comes from conservatives. (I don’t think I have displayed said outrage, unless I was mad at the dog and took it out on Hollywood.) Hollywood may be tilted, but they don’t owe it to conservatives to be untilted. And even if they want to untilt, recent attempts have convinced me that it’s just not something they can actually do.

        I may not like that limitation, but next time I am inclined to complain about it, this piece right here will be my counterargument with myself.

        I haven’t put “this is speculation on my part” in front of every single time I have mentioned what I think to be true. But I did put a paragraph in there explaining what I consider to be an alternate credible theory, and I have said that it’s speculation in the comments. It’s speculation, unable to be proven or unproven. I think it’s true, but if it strikes you as obviously false or almost certainly false or whatever, I don’t expect to be able to convince you or anybody of a counterfactual.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Well, I think we’ve got this one pretty well squared away, then. 😉Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    1. There is less conservative entertainment because too many would-be conservative entertainment writers set out to create conservative entertainment. It winds up being conservative first and entertaining second.

    2. Frank Underwood is a pastiche on Bill Clinton and about as thin a pastiche as the Russian President was of Putin. Like Clinton, Underwood is not particularly liberal, but definitely a Democrat. Mercurial, decadent, and narcissistic in personal demeanor. Devoid of ideology and willing to triangulate policies professionally. And, can take a punch and hit right back.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      1. That’s part of it, though (a) it’s more complicated than that and (b) that only gets us part of the way there in something with a large number of factors. In any event, I can shrug off the question of “why” politically-minded entertainment skews to the left, as long as we’re past arguing “if.” If we’re still at “if”, well everyone has a right to their point of view, but it’s beyond the set of assumptions this piece requires.

      2. A little, maybe, but I would think it rather strange to pattern the villain after someone the writers (presumably) voted for and to some degree supported. They didn’t need him to be Bill Clinton. They needed him to be (a more affable) Tom Delay.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        You overestimate the amount of actual support Clinton had. Most of it was more along the lines of “bro, are you for real? …um, yes, apparently, you are. Wow, just wow. Okay, well, whatever.”

        Brett Butler said “doesn’t Bill Clinton remind you of that guy you meet in a bar, and you know that every other word out of his mouth is a lie but you just don’t want to go home alone? Right? And then you both go to the door, and you’re like ‘okay sport, are you married?’ and he’s all ‘well you know we all do some silly things when we’re young and in love, and–‘ and you’re like ‘all right shut up I’ll eff you anyway’.”Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I think one problem is that many conservatives seem to hate subtlety. Overtly ideological works are rarely any good regardless of the ideology. A lot of pro-environmental entertainment from Avatar to Captain Planet suffer from this. On the more right-leaning side, Ayn Rand’s novels are bad because of slavish devotion to her beliefs. Conservative audiences seem to tolerate the requirements of entertainment less than libeal audiences. They want their television, movies, and books to be proudly and in your face conservative rather than subtly conservative.

        C.S. Lewis was a conservative and devotely Christian man. His Chronices of Narnia are rich with Christian meaning and symbolism. He also makes fun of a lot of mid-20th century progressive beliefs in the parts of the book that occur in mid-20th century England rather than Narnia. However, C.S. Lewis was also a talented writter and kept things approprately allegorical so you could enjoy the Chronices of Narnia even if you do not agree with his religious and social views. A lot of the entertainment for the modern Evangelical audience in the United States like the Left Behind novels are much less subtle and not as good art as C.S. Lewis because the audience wants to be hit on the head with anvil.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        There’s a fair amount of unsubtle liberal entertainment out there.

        I think (and I admit this is speculative) one contributor to the lopsidedness is the decision-makers don’t view all preaching equally. Not even intentionally, necessarily. If you hear a sermon you agree with, you’re likely to consider it less distracting than one you don’t. You, me, everybody.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        LeeEsq, the issue is that “subtle conservative entertainment” gets called “general, not specifically conservative”. e.g. The Cosby Show.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        you realize it’s REALLY not fair for you to use liberal pranks as evidence that the other side is stupid?Report

      • Avatar Lenoxus says:

        For what it’s worth, the last Narnia book basically is (an arguably less-dramatic) Left Behind, and it was the only one I didn’t like as a kid, mainly for that reason. Other reasons were what I perceived as symbolic sliming of Darwin (the villain is an ape named Shift who creates a literal false god, and also I was nine so maybe I read too much into it) and more overt sliming of Islam and religious pluralism.

        By contrast, although the third book’s caricature of a progressive boy bothered me slightly (he’s a vegetarian and a jerk, take that!), it was done entertainingly and light-heartedly enough that I still enjoyed even that part of the book. (Maybe because he learns not to be a jerk without that requiring him to lose any progressive values — in other words, his redemption story isn’t just the inverse of the Hollywood narrative described in the original post.)

        Kim: Are you saying Left Behind is a liberal prank? Or Ayn Rand? I kept re-reading LeeEsq’s comment and couldn’t find other examples.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I don’t know, his politics around *spoilers*

      Amworks is the opposite of a man devoid of ideology. Now I haven’t finished the season yet but I have found it knee slapping idiotic with regards to his attitude towards “Jobs,Jobs,Jobs”. You need a really big douse of ideology to think that taking social security away from the elderly (who vote, a lot) and using it to create employment for the unemployed who’re heavily poor and minority (who do not vote, a lot) is a good electoral idea.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Worse yet, he seems to genuinely believe in it…Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Politically and ideologically, the AmWorks plan is pretty incoherent. One the one hand he wants to do major entitlement reform that will cut billions of dollars in benefits; on the other, he wants to put in place a major make-work jobs program. It’s as if they took the worst part of being a free market “neo liberal” and married it to the worst part of being an old school tax and spend liberal. It’s possible that the writers looked to something like Obamacare, which manages to draw fire from the right for being a government takeover while simultaneously drawing fire from the left for not going fat enough, and tried to come up with something similarly centrist. Unfortunately, they to understand neither politics nor policy well enough.

        The whole thing only makes sense if you divorce the Frank Underwood character from ideology completely and see him as someone launching into elaborate political-ish machinations. And that’s pretty much what the American House of Cards is, I guess.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        On a re-reading, even my second comment is probably a bit unfair. Last makes some good points. But the whole idea that conservatives are put upon and cast forever unfavorably, because they have the thankless job of playing the grown up in the room is… underdeveloped, to say the least.

        There are lots of situations where conservatives are not playing brakeman to a train heading towards a cliff, but actually in the engineers seat driving that train in a particularly reactionary direction.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        That’s a fair criticism. If I were writing a post specifically on that piece, I’d be critical of his conflating one kind of conservatism for another.Report

      • Avatar Don Zeko says:

        My sense of the show is that whoever their political consultants are, they think that David Broder really understood Washington. It keeps rewarding a very WaPo Editorial page type of Centrism, where there’s tremendous skepticism towards traditional Democratic interest groups, weird attitudes about bipartisanship, no sympathy for the social right at all, and tons of interest in cutting social security.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I can only suppose they fired their political consultants.
        Or the consultants got outvoted.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Don, I think that’s accurate. This show is not liberal in the same way that The West Wing (or Boston Legal, for that matter) was. I do think it has experience some liberal drift and there is just a bit of O’Sullivan’s Law at work, but Broderite is a fair description, at this point.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        When my buddy found out I was starting a House of Cards (US) binge, he said, “Enjoy the drama, it’s really good. Don’t immerse yourself too deeply in the policies, because it won’t make any sense.”Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        As to @will-truman ‘s point here, I think a significant issue for Underwood in the third season of House of Cards (US) is…

        …ur nyybjrq uvzfrys gb oryvrir uvf bja ulcr — gung orvat Cerfvqrag tbg gb uvf urnq naq ur fgnegrq gb oryvrir ur pbhyq ernyyl qb guvatf nybar. Gur frnfba’f birenepuvat gurzr frrzf gb or gung Senax vf pregnvayl fgvyy pncnoyr, nzbeny, naq fuerjq, ohg ur arrqf n perj bs crbcyr gb fhccbeg uvz znxvat uvf fpurzrf unccra. Nznmvatyl, znal fhpu crbcyr ner ninvynoyr naq jvyyvat gb uryc, sbe gurve bja ernfbaf — ohg bar ol bar, Senax chfurf gurz njnl. Jvgubhg gurz, ur fghzoyrf. Jvgu gurz, ur fhpprrqf.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Burt, that’s an astute observations (in rot13). Which is kind of funny for a man who made his career getting people to help him.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I tend to agree with @burt-likko — and would add that the likely reason for going this route in the narrative is that they are retelling a modern version of the Scottish play, and that’s what happens there.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I would be interested to hear from conservative writers working on (liberal-leaning) political shows (there are many) about 1) why, in their view, Hollywood political shows lean left, 2) whether they think there is some reason that this works better either artistically or commercially 3) whether there is some reason that conservative shows don’t work as well other than just that the audience for whatever reason reacts more warmly to the liberal lean.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        It’s far easier for a show to “go dark” than it is to “go light”.
        Jesus, am I comparing Conservative to the dark side again?
        But, seriously, Conservatives care about protecting people, and purity and lots of things like that which involve drawing boundaries between Us and Them.

        Conflict can be fun, but to have a Truly Conservative Conflict takes external forces. And External Forces are expensive.

        In contrast, Nick just needs to remember not to smile (which he is remarkably bad at), and he’s good.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      I’d say that there is less identifiably-conservative entertainment for two reasons. One, much of the impulse to make conservative entertainment is channeled into Christian entertainment. Two, conservatives are less likely (whether due to personal beliefs or Hollywood culture) to make identifiably-ideological works than liberals. I recall conservative and author Andrew Klavan saying that he doesn’t try to make his works correspond with an ideology, only with reality.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        This is sort of my point. If a conservative wishes to make conservative entertainment products, that person should focus on making the product entertaining. They can trust that their own conservatism will show through. The resulting product looks like actual entertainment, not ideologically filtered pablum.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        I generally agree. This has a way of turning into an “I can always spot plastic surgery” conversation though. Should we be assuming that the only works by conservatives are obviously-ideological? Could it be that there are plenty of mainstream works by conservatives?

        On a tangent, I’ve always bought into the argument that the horror genre has strong conservative themes. There is good and evil, often a strong spiritual element, a belief in action, often a respect for virginity, and an implicit argument in support of capital punishment.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        your point is made and well made at that.
        Monster movies as well.
        That’s why Rocky Horror is such a fun romp, after all.Report

      • Avatar Zac says:

        “On a tangent, I’ve always bought into the argument that the horror genre has strong conservative themes. There is good and evil, often a strong spiritual element, a belief in action, often a respect for virginity, and an implicit argument in support of capital punishment.”

        On the other hand, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was about vegetarianism: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/07/30/texas_chain_saw_massacre_and_vegetarianism_animal_rights_themes_in_the_original.htmlReport

      • Avatar Kim says:

        first rx, before looking at link “Really?”
        After reading,
        oookay. And people think some of the realities I suggest are weird and couldn’t possibly be true.
        (Like the dog who exploded a house using a can of spray-on deodorant.)Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Ergh. Comments from sidebar slow to load again.

    From the couple words of your response I can see, I hear you, @will-truman. I have been meaning to check it out, but haven’t made it a priority because I had gotten the impression they kind of botch the politics. Which leaves it all on the quality of the show, and early on I heard there were asides to the camera, and I was kind of out on that. But I still mean to check it out.

    I’m actually watching West Wing for the first time since it aired with Maggie right now. I expected the politics to seem way more idealized than they do. They are that way, but not as much. And the quality of the show really kind o supports pretty much whatever they needed to concoct politically for it. Also, I expected republicans to be much more caricatured foils than they are. It seems pretty fair when they are actual characters. OTOH, Republicans are just in general much more absent from the show than I remembered.

    One thing I miss that I wish they done is a much deeper dive on the primary battle with Hoynes. I’m just through the (SPOILERS going forward) MS admission/censure sequence, and my main thought is that if it was a rough battle with Hoynes with the successful cover-up, then Bartlett doesn’t get the nomination had he been open abut it. When he “takes responsibility” for it with Leo (who resists agreeing to the censure), he doesn’t seem to be fully cognizant of this, nor does the staff. Anyway, that’s O/T, but I had half a thought of writing about it last night, and just thought it was coincidental that you ad this this post up this morning.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      what’s this about comments from sidebar slow to load “again” – here I thought you’d all still be celebrating over the fact they load at all! Plus no need for extra page refreshes. Or is that not really solved for all?

      As to the topic of the thread, we get back to the problem of defining “conservative” consistently, a problem hard enough in political theory, possibly heightened in relation to literary and cinematic fiction, where “conservative” is a character type or history of character types as much or more than it’s a coherent political or political-philosophical or temperamental (all different things) orientation or attitude. So, if you’re talking about the “conservatism” or lack of it in entertainment and art, it’s helpful or may be helpful to be more specific about what type of conservatism you’re discussing. Otherwise you find ideological confusion bordering on absurdity, which is probably reflective of of real existing political-ideological and social problems, but not in a way that gets us anywhere.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I’m referring quite specifically to “conservative” in the “right of political center” context.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I wasn’t in on exactly what was worked on or how it went. (After I wrote that, btw, I hoped it wouldn’t be read a slight on your work, @ck-macleod, which I greatly appreciate, even though I’m not fully apprised of what all it was. If it was, I apologize)

        Here’s been my experience. For years prior to your work, the comments I newly wrote, as well as a number of the newest comments of others that were appearing on the sidebar, wouldn’t appear in the thread for some time once I went away from the page that loaded immediately after submitting the comment. And the links from the sidebar wouldn’t take me anywhere either, or they would take me to the top of the post, with the comment I had clicked on not appearing in the thread yet. It could be a number of minutes – ten, fifteen, more – before they did. Maybe a certain number more comments had to be submitted first. I never knew.

        Then after you did your work, the lag seemed to be gone, or vastly shortened. But now today or so, the lag seems to be back.

        Maybe it was never better and I just bought it was. Maybe it was something on my end the whole time, or now it is. Maybe I’m hallucinating today. Maybe I’m hallucinating every day.

        I wasn’t actually sure whether you had worked on the problem directly, or whether maybe other things you did had made it better. Maybe you can tell me something I’m doing wrong to cause it. Regardless, I appreciate all the work you did.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        well, @michael-drew , I hope/expect or expect then revert again to hoping, that we’ll eventually have a single centralized place for feedback, and an opportunity to explain and develop improvements, and deal with glitches, systematically, as we’ve hardly scratched the surface of the possible. As for the specific problem, could be you just encountered a transient caching hiccup, but I don’t know, and my ability to delve deeply into it is somewhat constrained at present. Anyway, feedback is useful and appreciated, even if follow-up under current circumstances may remain a bit spotty. If it’s anything you (or any OT user) wants to discuss specifically, I just set up a page at my blog for the purpose: http://ckmacleod.com/contact/ot-development-feedback/ So let me know if when how the problem persists or recurs.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        @will-truman To my way of thinking – a minority view in political discussion – “conservative” really ought to be closer to “moderate” and even “centrist” than in current conventional American usage. Instead, views that in many ways count as extreme end up being identified as conservative or extremely conservative, which is something of an oxymoron. The most conservatively conservative conservative would be moderate, to my way of thinking, if only ever moderately or conservatively so.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Thank you, @ck-macleod!

        I will navigate to your blog in the coming days and report as to whether the problem is back, or just came back for a short time.Report

  4. Avatar Kim says:

    Was Star Trek really the best view of Conservative Politics? And have I mistaken Conservative for Paternalistic, or is that not a misnomer?
    [I’m not sure you quite ought to consider Section 13 as Conservative, but I do note the rather pronounced tendency for conservatives to join the CIA/FBI.]Report

  5. Avatar Pinky says:

    “Hollywood enjoys certain narratives that transcend politics, and one of them is that of redemption. Americans love redemption, or at least our storytellers love stories of it.”

    I haven’t seen House of Cards, but I have the impression that it’s an anti-redemption story. I’m thinking The Shield or Breaking Bad. No one wants to see how a criminal becomes a cop-killer or a drug lord; they want to see how it happens to “good” guys. Drama is about noble people falling; comedy is about buffoons finding redemption. So maybe Hollywood would see a “Democrat falls from grace” story as more compelling than the Republican counterpart.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      The big difference between Breaking Bad and House of Cards is that Walter White started off decent and became worse while Underwood was repulsive in season one but by season three is growing a conscience.Report

  6. Avatar j r says:

    That Salon piece is pretty funny (in the laughing at it, not with it kind of way). Not sure how Last typed that while simultaneously patting himself on the back for being an enlightened, forward-thinking liberal.

    The one thing that I can say about the relationship between arts and entertainment and politics and policy its that the former tends to have a very facile understanding of the latter (the reverse is probably true as well). So, if progressives want to claim Hollywood’s understanding of economics and policy as their own, they are welcome to it.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Last isn’t a liberal. Regularly writes for the Weekly Standard.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        D’oh! Here I am doing the thing that for which I like to call other people out and demonstrating very poor reading comprehension.

        I see now that this isn’t liberal patting himself on the back for good a job liberals do, but conservative lamenting that conservatives can’t do this thing as good as liberals.

        On one level he is right, but I stand by my point that the more blatantly partisan any piece of art of entertainment is, the more facile it becomes. If conservatives want to go that way, they are welcome to it. And perhaps they have indeed gone that way since this piece was written.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Mis-posted this above

        On a re-reading, even my second comment is probably a bit unfair. Last makes some good points. But the whole idea that conservatives are put upon and cast forever unfavorably, because they have the thankless job of playing the grown up in the room is… underdeveloped, to say the least.

        There are lots of situations where conservatives are not playing brakeman to a train heading towards a cliff, but actually in the engineers seat driving that train in a particularly reactionary direction.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I still think that the biggest problem with the American House of Cards is that the overall plot doesn’t work with the American political system and requires quite a bit of bending, twisting, and turning to make it work.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Yeah, it’s a hard program to fit into our political system. I think I personally would have enjoyed the show better if they’d worked Underwood to be Speaker of the House (at a time with a really weak president, like Garrett Walker was!). But I think they probably got better ratings going the route that they did.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

      It’s sort of like when people tried to say “is Harry Potter liberal? conservative? libertarian? anarchist? totalitarian? calling for a return to the feudal divine-right-of-kings system?”

      It doesn’t fit into any of those because it’s not trying to be a story about contemporary politics, any more than MacBeth was.

      They made Underwood a Democrat because that way people would judge his character for what it was, rather than saying “well of COURSE he’s a bastard, he’s a REPUBLICAN, this show is boring and stupid”.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Except that they couldn’t resist making about contemporary politics.

        What you’re describing worked… which is why I went back and forth on whether making him a Democrat was a good thing or a bad one… until season three.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      OT and I’ve not seen Cards at all, but can I ask, why is it necessary to remake these shows for America at all? Are British politics and culture so completely alien that people couldn’t sort of figure out what is going on?

      I mean, there’s that American remake of the French series The Returned that I ALSO think seems pointless, but on some level I get (even if I don’t agree with it) language barriers/subtitles being a strike against something getting a lot of eyes.

      But why do this for Brit/Aussie programs? The Office (UK) was perfect as-is.

      (That said, I watched Wilfred for a while and LOVE Review, both of which are American remakes of Aussie programs; and I actually thought The Ring was superior to Ringu. So….)Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The American version of House of Cards was, if I recall, at least partly conceived, cast, and produced on the basis of analytics. Basically, a lot of people watched the British show and Kevin Spacey movies, so you put them together for an analytically-guaranteed hit.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Also OT, but I assume y’all Pratchett fans have seen the news.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I liked both the UK and US version of The Office.

        I think there was room for an America House of Cards. It was always going to be an uphill climb, but altering it slightly to American sensibilities could have taken it in interesting directions.

        You can say “But the redemption narrative is altering it to American sensibilities… like the Office!”… and that’s true, though in the case of House of Cards, it alters it in a way that I consider to be incompatible with the source material.

        There are more seasons to go, and if this is the “rise before the fall”, then maybe they’ll make it work. But I believe that there was a serious miscalculation involved with this season. Based not just on my response, but the responses I’ve seen across the political spectrum. (If anything, others convinced me that it was worse than I originally thought it was.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Also, some people – like myself – have a real problem with accents. I’m terrible at understanding people with them. So porting it over to the US gives me a version I can more easily understand.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Interesting. My son has trouble with accents as well. We tried watching The Almighty Johnsons last week, and he kept asking me what they said. Same with English accents in the few shows we’ve tried to watch together.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        What really gets the noggin spinning is that they made a Brit version of Law & Order, a show that, at least for the first decade or so, starred New York City (playing itself).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        To be fair, I’m hard of hearing anyway. I like watching TV shows with subtitles. More necessary for Brit/Aussie shows than US/Canadian ones, though.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The first season of the UK version – the only one I’ve seen – was literally a matter of taking plots from the US show and putting them in London. Which is what you would expect for some programs, but L&O is a blank slate of single-episode programming. You don’t have to worry about “sticking to the script” in the same way that you might with House of Cards.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        To be fair, I’m hard of hearing anyway. I like watching TV shows with subtitles. More necessary for Brit/Aussie shows than US/Canadian ones, though.

        I (barely) hear ya, brother, though I don’t usually turn on the subtitles. The arthouse cinema near me has kind of bad sound, and so I’ve taken to sometimes getting one of their wireless headsets, sometimes even for American films; before I realized this was an option, I missed like 60% of the dialogue in Trainspotting there.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        that’s why i like foreign flicks. they always come with subtitles (except the british ones, which i tend to skip).Report

      • I tend to need subtitles and closed captioning, too, especially with accents and even without.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    A very liberal friend of mine from undergrad made a facebook post about how Underwood is basically “What if Nixon were a Democrat.”

    I think the comment above is spot on. There are still plenty of Blue Dog Democrats out there who are further to the right in many ways than the Democratic Party but still too liberal to be Republicans. Jim Webb comes to mind, John Tester comes to mind, Brian Schwitzer. Now what might not be realistic is that many of these Blue Dogs have been voted out of office so Underwood’s staying power is a marvel.
    They are still partisan Democrats through and through though.

    Burt and Lee on spot on. The problem with a lot of conservative entertainment is that it is conservative/Republican first and entertaining second. This makes being entertaining relative to enjoying the talking point. Now there is plenty of liberal catnip out there like the West Wing (which ended up being too catnippy towards the end). There is a lot of small-c conservatism out there in entertainment. The Simpsons in their own way is a very conservative show. After all, the Simpsons do seem to attend Church weekly.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      A lot of shows are considered conservative, right up until conservatives try to claim them, then they’re laughed at. And as I said to Lee, there is not a shortage of unsubtle liberal entertainment out there. It’s just that such is more accepted.

      As I said to Drew, the problem isn’t that Underwood’s politics are unrealistic – they are among the least unrealistic things about the show – but that his party affiliation gets in the way of what I believe House of Cards is supposed to be, and what the original House of Cards was. I think they would have been better able to stick to the script, and avoid the mistakes they made in the third season, had they made him a Republican.Report

  9. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Interestingly, John Goodman played a Republican President in the Sorkinverse, and was treated by the writers as one of the good guys. It’s quite possible that every well-known character that John Goodman has played has been a Republican or an Independent that more often than not has voted Republican.

    Dan Conner – working class white male drywall contractor.
    Walter Sobchak – Zionist gun rights advocate who’s a big fan playing by the rules.
    Ralph Jones – you really can’t get more Tory than actually being the king.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Yeah, Goodman’s role in TWW does run contrary to Trumwill’s Law. They’d really have broken the law if they’d given him, instead of Vinnick, the nomination in 2006.

      Another big exception to Trumwill’s Law is Arthur Branch, which I meant to mention. A political show, a Republican character, and a protagonist who is not a protagonist by primarily fighting conservatives.

      It’s my belief that around 2009 or 2010, there was room for a really successful TV conservative political show with Fred Thompson playing the president.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Thompson clearly didn’t want to be president in ’08. Why would he want to play the president in ’10? 😉Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Actually, I think that even if they’d approached him about it, Thompson might have declined that it was too much work. Like running for president.

        Tom Sellick? Kelsey Grammer?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Grammer, in Boss, may in a way be a counterexample as well. Since he was part of Chicago’s political machine, presumably he was a Democrat, but I doubt anyone will deny that his character was shown in a pretty damn poor light.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Villainous Democrats don’t break the Law. Hollywood has shown the ability and willingness to do that right.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Re: Tom Selleck – Blue Bloods is, in large part, West Wing for Cops. It has the same sort of overly earnest idealism about the upper echelons of management, as well as the selective mix of reality and counterfactual that completely stacks the moral deck in the main characters’ favor but allows that there is tension and drama in their choices. (and is generally able to wrap really big problems up in about 45 minutes of airtime).Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Blue Bloods is, in large part, West Wing for Cops

        That explains why I found it unwatchable.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I’ve actually used Blue Bloods as an example of “a conservative TV show” before. It’s the most conservative show I’ve seen in quite a white. Not 100%, but remarkable all the same this day and age.

        I’ve found that recent events in the news have made it harder for me to watch. So I’m a couple of seasons behind.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Blue Blood certainly seems like the most conservative show on mainstream TV to me. But there’s an important difference. Yes, the pro-cop-ness is anathema to a certain strain of liberals (and libertarians, and some conservatives). But, by and large, I don;t think most liberals would say that its theses are directly invoking political positions of theirs and defining them as The Other View. Most liberals I think see themselves as not anti-police, but merely critical of what they see as excesses and mistakes. I haven’t watched Blue Bloods a lot, but from where I sit, the show doesn’t hit on that view as wrong as much as just relentlessly pushes the idea of cops as good people. And that’s just not a political position that most liberals have a conscious opposition to.

        This is unlike a show like The West Wing, where particular political actors are singled out as The People Our Heroes Are competing Against, where the characters are going around all the time making arguments specifically against the arguments of opponents (conservatives and Republicans). You can’t watch that show as a conservative and not hear something you believe in called out by name and argued with explicitly.

        That’s just not the kind of content what i’ve seen of Blue Bloods gives you. You can be a liberal of the kind that doesn’t have a conscious dislike/distrust of cops (again, hardly only liberals there, either), and not really have any problem with the simple fact of a positive portrayal of a family of cops. That’s on balance more conservative than it is lefty, but only by association rather than explicit argument, and I would say it’s even possible to deny that such a show is conservative and not liberal a such (though wouldn’t necessarily).Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        that was supposed to say themes, not “theses.”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        And here I actually agree with Drew, more or less. West Wing and Blue Bloods are asymmetrical. But it’s also the closest thing that conservatives have, at the moment, and perhaps the closest they’ve had since Seventh Heaven and Touched By An Angel. (The closest that comes to mind, at any rate.)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        I’ve actually only caught Blue Bloods in the last two seasons, so my characterization of West Wing for Cops may be a more recent development.

        But among the plot lines they’ve used recently, they’ve really be ‘ripping from the headlines’ even more than L&O did in its heyday. been hitting recent hot button issues like police brutality*, the definition of ‘terrorism’, wrongful convictions, the divide between the rich and poor, gender and racial imbalances on the police force – but each with the facts slightly altered to give the heroes a way out of what is, in real life, usually intractable problems. Which, in my mind, is exactly how the West Wing handled a lot of plots revolving around policy issues (especially foreign policy issues).

        The West Wing was wish fulfillment of (what would become) the Vox crowd, while Blue Bloods is wish fulfillment for people who at one point may have thought Giuliani would have made a mighty fine President.

        Parenthetically, the West Wing didn’t treat Republicans that badly. It tilted the playing field, of course, but the only type of Republican that the Sorkinverse can’t stand is the social-con. They were the bad guys in A Few Good Men, in the American President, in Sports Night, and on the very first episode of the West Wing. (and one can probably generalize that to most of Hollywood. After all the movie business loves their tax cuts as much as anyone else, but hate moral scolds with particular antagonism).

        *twice, at least. Once with a ‘body camera shut off’ angle, once with a explicitly racial Al Sharpton stand-in angle, both with a community that doesn’t trust the police.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Vinnick was a heroic effort at producing a center-left version of a “good Republican.” And it was something I personally appreciated over a Ritchie redux.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        They were the bad guys in A Few Good Men

        In Sorkin’s defense, there were a number of conservatives who thought that Jack Nicholson had a damn good point.

        That’s something that might only be matched by Glengarry Glen Ross’s speech for the obvious villain giving a speech that fully half of the audience took as a call to arms.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        Which hits upon the elephant in the room answer for “Why are all the badguys Republicans?” Because that’s the way it goes in real life, too.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Selleck can’t play the President — at least, not a modern one — because he’s unwilling to shave the ‘stache.

        He could play a historical president, back when they sported facial hair. I think Selleck might make a pretty good Teddy Roosevelt, with a little makeup and some glasses. Compare:

        Teddy Roosevelt, circa 1914Tom Selleck, circa 2014Report

      • @glyph

        but the only type of Republican that the Sorkinverse can’t stand is the social-con.

        I agree, and yet WW did allow for some subtlety among social con’s. The Mary Marsh character was a caricature of the ranting zealot, but the other guy (I forget his name, but he was supposed to be some evangelical person) sometimes showed nuance, and did so without becoming the “good conservative who’s good because he turned away from his conservatism.” I’m thinking in particular of the show with the Chinese refugees, and he personally offers to pay for their resettlement in the US.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        you know very little of real life, if you put it that way.
        I seem to remember a democrat with loads of cash in his freezer.
        The country is better off not having such a stupid person in any way shape or form near power.

        But evil is not always stupid. (Good, particularly people who think they are good, is often stupid. See the Government Shutdown, which would have been unbelieveably stupid — and yet “god told me to do it” is seen as an appropriate way of deriving morality).Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Delbert McClintock definitely voted Republican.Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko says:

      Although his role in Treme suggests that totally uncontrolled rage is a bipartisan thing, at least when portrayed by John Goodman.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      Dan Conner was around the 1980s. It is very well that he could have been a Union-member Democrat through and through. He also could have been a Reagan Democrat. I don’t recall his politics coming up on Roseanne but I do recall Roseanne being a very liberal show and Roseanne’s sisters was openly gay or came out the closet if my memory serves me.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Dan complained about the complexity of the tax code once, if that means anything.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        My overall thought was Reagan Democrat in the 80s, voted for Perot in 92, Clinton in 96, Bush in 00. Didn’t vote in ’04, maybe voted Obama in 08, then voted a straight Republican ticket in each midterm and Presidential election since then. (gung vf, vs ur unqa’g tbar nyy Nyyfgngr xvq.)Report

  10. Avatar zic says:

    I’m not really sure why a TV show, particularly one about politicians, would be considered ideological in one way or the other; because there’s too much material to plumb there based on the ideologies of the characters.

    Rather, it’s how viewers take it that would be ideological.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      To me, a show is ideologically liberal if its protagonists primarily advance a liberal worldview, and a conservative show to the extent that its characters do the opposite. That doesn’t mean that everything is, or has to be, one-dimensionally aimed ain that direction. Some shows are a mishmash (Yes, Minister definitely fell into this category), but some shows pretty clearly lean in one direction or the other. Well… one direction, anyway. 🙂Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        When you start talking about liberal or conservative world views things get really muddy. I know some people strongly believe L’s and C’s have very different world views but i think that is in most cases wrong. Its the hysterical shrieking about Conservatives believe in The Family, like liberals dont’…. what….believe in families or have them. There are certainly some differences between C’s and L’s on big issues but that glosses over how we are all very American for better or worse. It also magnifies various political disagreements into competing world views which is an exaggeration. It’s to easy to see or project you world view, however muddily defined, things.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        That’s partly why I stuck to explicitly political programming, featuring Republicans and Democrats and obvious policy preferences.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        except there Is a Difference. Even if it’s hard to put into words.
        (I do propose throwing out the Authority, as I question the methodology on that one on general principle and without doing much research on the subject).Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        I am going to sign on with Greginak. There is a lot of conservatism in modern liberalism and liberals especially the upper-middle class types is about a very conservative delayed gratification.

        I grew up in an upper-middle class liberal town. My classmates seem to be mainly taught: Work hard in school, get into a good university, work hard there, get into a good grad/professional program, work hard there, and then you will be upper-middle class like mom and dad.

        If this is not conservative, I don’t know what is. There is a lot of discipline to this kind of life choice even if the Palinistas and far left like to sneer at it equally.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Saul, there was a reason I limited this post to expressly political programming.Report

  11. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I don’t think I ever groked the enormous quantity of fictional US presidentsReport

  12. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Mom told me the story about how, in the 50’s and 60’s, her church preached against the evils of decadent Hollywood and yelled at the congregation to boycott stuff like movies.

    This during a period when “Ten Commandments” and “Ben Hur” was in theaters.

    Now, of course, Mom also tells me the story about how she was a big fan of the Universal monster movies of the era, so it didn’t take among the entirety of the congregation, but it probably took enough for Hollywood to say “well, we’ve pretty much got free reign” and then say “heck with the Hays Code” by 1968.Report

  13. Avatar Will Truman says:

    As an aside, my guess is that, based on the feedback they got from this season, that next season Underwood will be the unambiguous villain again.

    Also, I was perhaps less than clear about something: I’m not using Underwood’s party affiliation to argue that the third season was a failure. I’m taking the failure of the third season as a given on the basis of the response I’ve seen to it. The biggest complaint I’ve seen is that they’ve moved away from Evil Underwood and towards a Darker West Wing. This is a post-mortem of that failure, rather than an attempt to argue the failure.

    If it turns out that the responses I’ve seen are not representative (as happened with Season 2 of The Wire) then there was no failure, and that’s that.

    As I said to someone up above, I actually didn’t think HoC S3 was as bad as a lot of people did. I was actually convinced that it was worse than I initially thought it was.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      It’s not so much that Season 3 is bad; it’s that it is supremely uninteresting. As the WaPo piece says, HOC does not understand politics, so when the focus shifts to politics there is not much going on that is compelling.

      Thinking on the British version a moment, I realize that one thing it has going for it was that it was not conceived in “the Golden Age of Television.” The British HOC is not particularly “great” television and I never get the sense that it is striving to be that. Mostly it seems like a vehicle for the very good acting of Ian Richardson.

      What I want from HOC is to watch Kevin Spacey twirl his mustache, manipulate his foes and pervert eager young minds. That’s what Season 1 was and that’s why I binged on it. Season 2 was much less so. Another thing that the British version does is to immediately realize that with a certain character no longer in the mix, something is missing. The American version would have done better to follow the same track.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      Well, it can’t really be binary failure/not-failure. I.e. the season seems more likely to me to be less compelling than the first two. So to some that will mean failure, to others, “yes, less compelling, but mainly just a departure. not as good to be sure, but certainly no failure.” It’s hard to come up with a clear sense of whether it was a failure from the response being a mix of those.

      Unless your standard for ti being a failure is, *basically everyone* agrees – it was a disaster, or at least clearly a real failure, i.e. Actually Bad TV, not just not as good as the other seasons.Report

  14. Avatar Glyph says:

    ACVlub did a piece on Frank Underwood (also, Dr. Doom – bonus!) today:


  15. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Well, let’s say that you want a Republican who is unmistakably a Republican but also sympathetic and also someone that both Republicans and Democrats would want to watch on a television show.

    What would this guy look like?

    Well, first off, have him be one of the adults in the room. This would probably translate to something like “being good with economics”. People will say “we want this, this, that, this other thing, and 80-inch HDTVs.” He will be the guy who points out that the budget covers maybe a third of that list and that’s pushing it. “But we need these things for the program to work!” “That doesn’t change the budget for the program.”

    He’s never cruel about these things, merely hard-nosed. He says stuff like “you can’t put reality up to a vote. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t expect reality to change. Well, you can, but you’ll end up disappointed.”

    When it comes to social issues, he will probably go to church *BUT* he’ll be socially liberal due to the fact that he’s indifferent on the issues. “It doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg, I don’t care if two guys want to get married. I have a third home I’d be willing to part with if they want to buy it for the right price.”

    He likes people, he’s misunderstood, he’s the guy whose job it is to, when the idealistic liberal wipes her (always her!) eyes after an obvious crying session and says “I guess you came in here to say ‘I told you so'” says “Nah. I came in here to see if you wanted a cheeseburger.”

    It comes out that he’s cynical because he used to believe in things too.

    The conservatives watching the show say “YEAH! THAT’S WHAT WE’RE LIKE!” and the liberals say “Why oh why can’t there be any conservatives like that?”Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Umm i think conservatives would just claim its a show with a liberal bias. Mr Duck and Queen Sarah are real conservatives….why are the Californicators afraid to show them. It seems like the conservatives who most like to complain about Hollywood are the ones with the most specfic list of things a character must show to be a Conservative and also must not show any of the qualities that liberals apparently have.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Of course they will claim that the show has a liberal bias.

        The terms were to make a show with a Republican that both Republicans and Democrats would watch and even *WANT* to watch.

        I’m not aware of a huge outpouring of love among Democrats for Duck Dynasty or whatever the hell show Palin is on… but maybe I’m not hanging around the correct Democrats.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Well yeah Jay thats the point. A show made so that both “sides” could watch would be considered biased and some conservatives would claim its biased. The conservatives who howl the most about liberal bias are also likely the ones with the narrowest and most dogmatic view of conservatism. Making show for “both sides” would be considered liberal.

        Are there correct Dems?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Again: The idea was not to make a show that would get praise for accuracy. The idea was to make a character.

        If you’re arguing that it’s not possible for Republicans to make a show with what authentic Republicans would consider to be authentic Republican characters that Democrats would be willing to watch, then that might in itself be worth exploring but that wasn’t what I was attempting to do.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I think the point you made was that a show with a balanced character that R’s and D’s woudl watch and enjoy would be considered biased by conservatives. That seems to be saying something about the kind of conservatives that talk about media bias.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Greg, conservatives are not monolithic. Some are begging to attach the conservative label to anything they can find. Which, incidentally, usually means that they have to stretch it a great deal.

        I don’t think political shows have to please everybody, but I think having more characters that pass Trumwill’s Law would be a start.

        But only if writers can do it well, and I don’t think they can. So with that being the case, carry on I guess.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        If you are showing other characters in, if not the best possible light, at least a flattering light, showing other characters warts-and-all *IS* bias, Greg.

        How many liberal shows depict liberals as being innumerate secularists who live in neighborhoods that have 99% white schools?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        C’s aren’t monolithic….hmmm are you sure about that. ( insert smiley face here)

        Of course they aren’t. It’s the ones who spend the most time complaining about liberal bias in Hwood that seem most intent on having a strict and dogmatic definition of what conservatism is. Conservatism, to that group, tends to be focused on strict adherence to socially conservative views and republican policies. However as Saul said someplace in this thread, plenty of people, liberals included, act if very small c conservative ways. I think the various CSI’s and Law and Order’s are pretty darn conservative in many ways like almost all cop procedurals are. But they don’t check all the boxes of conservatism for some people.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Law and Order goes out of its way not to be conservative. Seriously. There is a conservative-ish cop show, but it’s not L&O.

        Anyway, I explicitly focused on expressly political shows to avoid the “Full House is like West Wing for conservatives” argument.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      That was pretty much Will McAvoy on Newsroom.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        It’s a lot harder to make a religious conservative sympathetic.

        I’ve heard that Big Love was the only show in recent years to make a deeply felt religious faith something that wasn’t mocked. (And even yet I walked through the room when they showed Bill Paxton as being the liberalish guy in opposition to the hardline guy.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Big Love was a great show.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Most of the characters in Friday Night Lights were solid, regular churchgoers, and never got mocked for it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I never watched Friday Night Lights. Was church a cultural phenomenon (part of what everybody did on Sunday) or was it tied to the whole interventionist God through whom all things are possible?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        He prevented a young man from sleeping with an extremely willing Minka Kelly, which I would call miraculous.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      You know… people would love that show.
      And it sounds a lot like Ron Swanson (though he’s more libertarian — I don’t think that’s a coincidence).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Ron Swanson probably deserves an essay all by himself.

        The whole “nice guy born in the wrong decade/century” conservative is one that probably deserves to be explored more than it is. (And better than, shudder, Sleepy Hollow is doing it.)Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      I don’t get this at all, @jaybird

      A real Republican character would, 1) not be economically savvy, but stand by the ‘lower taxes increases revenues mantra; 2) Speak loudly about socially conservative issues and about society’s rights to regulate there, even as 3) S/he bemoans big government.

      You’re description is of a RINO, and they’re nearly extinct. Like the seven Republican senators (only seven) who didn’t sign on to Cotton’s Iran letter.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “A real Republican character would, 1) not be economically savvy, but stand by the ‘lower taxes increases revenues mantra;”

        They made this joke in the Santos-Vinnick debate episode of the West Wing, and Vinnick wound up on the best end of it with the callback.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Well, if you’d put some Democrats on the television that did stuff like “Write the USSR to have them help in the election against Reagan”, it’d result in people on the other side of the aisle screaming about bias.

        You’re stuck with trying to get renewed, Zic.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        Jaybird’s description was a little caricaturey, but yours is just rude.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I dunno what to make of a single memo reported in the London Times 20 odd years ago, but I know that a lot of people are as eager to believe it as they are quick to deny substantially more evidence that Reagan did the same thing with Iran.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      “When it comes to social issues, he will probably go to church *BUT* he’ll be socially liberal due to the fact that he’s indifferent on the issues.”

      Huh? That may be what you’d find in a sympathetic Republican, but why is it necessary? Couldn’t you envision a sympathetic Republican with beliefs?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        A sympathetic Republican with beliefs? Depends on the belief.

        If the belief is about, say, abortion? You *MIGHT* be able to write a character who is opposed to it personally but thinks that it should be an option that one hopes should never be taken and precautions should be made to make sure that it’s never taken… like a handgun in the gun closet… but not a character who thinks that it should be made illegal.

        On SSM? (Or, Atheist God forbid, homosexuality?) I might. maybe, swallow a character who would argue for civil unions being recognized by the state and marriages being recognized by the church… but anything that might argue that SSM (or, Atheist God forbid, homosexuality) goes against the natural order of things?

        No way, dude. No freakin way.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        That’s actually kind of messed up.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Remember, I’m trying to get both sides to watch.

        What Republican would you have in mind?

        (Archie Bunker in 2015 would be significantly different than the original.)Report

  16. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    Trumwill’s (still evolving) First Law of Television Republicans is that Republicans exist in popular entertainment largely to enhance the liberal worldview. They do this by being out-and-out villains, inept foils

    Interestingly, you could remove “in popular entertainment” from that sentence and it would still be true. Going by their general comments and arguments, Republicans in Congress and in the race for the presidency run the gamut from “idiotic” to “deliberately ignorant” all the way through to “genuinely evil”.

    Honestly, it’s hard to see how they could come across worse in fiction than they do in real life.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      *nods* Veterans Benefits are the new Welfare.
      I’m not making this up, folks.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Going by their general comments and arguments, Republicans politicians in Congress and in the race for the presidency run the gamut from “idiotic” to “deliberately ignorant” all the way through to “genuinely evil”.

      The Democrats are a joke, too. You’re just not in on it.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW says:

        There’s a good share of venal or dumb Democratic politicans, but they say a smaller proportion of dumb things that the Republicans, and most of them seem sane. Damning with faint praise, I know.

        Obama’s definitely thoughtful and intelligent, much as I disagree with some of his policies. He’s got a messed-up international situation, but he’s managed to refrain from doing anything mind-blowingly stupid with it, which is more than I could reasonably expect from any the Republicans attacking him for being insufficiently Putinesque.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Krugman’s in on the joke.
        You still aren’t, though, Brandon.
        Learn a bit more game theory and you might get it.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        ” but he’s managed to refrain from doing anything mind-blowingly stupid with it,”

        fought a land war in Asia, created a failed state in North Africa, set a diplomatic posture with Syria that made it a no-win situation, bought into the global narrative that all the US diplomatic problems with Russia was Bush’s fault.

        Luckily, Hillary Clinton was in on most of these decisions, so she will be able to clean up her own mess. Though maybe not, because it’s obvious that the conventional wisdom is that none of these are messes. So she may just keep on truckin’.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      What do you see as the value of having made this comment? How can it fail to shut down at least a portion of the conversation?Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        This is a perfect example of that species of statement that tells you much more about the person making the statement than it does about the subject of the statement.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Do you take me for an inherently suspicious, perhaps even paranoid person then?

        When someone takes unthinking, unthoughtful advice as their sole waypoint and guide, despite advice by their friends and allies, by people they’ll need to continue on, then I will call them thoughtless and stupid.

        There’s a good proportion of Republicans in Congress I do so name. I’ll do them the honor of not lumping them in with the Astroturf known as the Tea Party, though I perhaps ought not to.

        Because, my dear, they simply aren’t important enough to be bothered with.

        I’m really not all that suspicious.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        How do you explain the conservative shock-jock radio (and cable channels) that do not have liberal counterparts? There is no liberal Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck, etc., unless you want to call 1/2 hour comedy shows, which are clearly sold as comedy, the liberal equivalent.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        We can talk politics elsewhere (I know we can, because we do). The question on my mind was why a person would talk politics here, in a way that indicates a lack of a broad picture that is necessary for a conversation like this. A person could be way politically out there – say, a monarchist – and still be able to look at the topic of the representation of political parties in entertainment. A person could be ideologically in the mainstream but still be unable to participate on this thread if incapable of seeing humanity beyond politics.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        If I am understanding you correctly, your question implies that the existence of Rush Limbaugh and the non-existence of a left-leaning version is somehow proof that @katherinemw’s statement has merit, which is confusing because she made a particular point about Republican politicians. But hey, I’ll play this game anyway.

        No, there’s not quite direct leftist equivalents to Limbaugh and O’Reilly, but that’s because left and right do not exist as mere reflections of one another. They are different. I get that you’d like to spin those differences into a clear hierarchy, but I find that the real world doesn’t support such a conceit. Call it an application of the Anna Karenina Principle: each ideological faction is pathological in its own way.

        Conservatives have a penchant for being bombastic, overly deferential to traditional authority and unnecessarily dismissive of anything too different, so you get Limbaugh and O’Reilly. Likewise, progressives have a fondness for being smug, overly deferential to technocratic authority and unnecessarily dismissive of anything seen as not progressive enough, so you get Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart.

        I know you’d like to rule Stewart out of this equation, but any world in which you want to consider Rush Limbaugh a serious conservative intellectual, you cannot simply dismiss Stewart as someone “clearly sold as comedy.”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Ideological factions do exist, but to pretend that they exist alongside the Republican/Democrat continuum, and do not run through, betwixt, between, and in many other directions besides, is simply false.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        In 2006, after the elections, Rush famously said (paraphrased): “I’m just glad I don’t have to carry water for those guys anymore.”

        I’m interested in whether we’ll hear Stewart say something like that after he turns to directing.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        I did not ask in support of @katherinemw ‘s statement, so much as wondering why you were so harsh to her statement, given that politics and entertainment on the right are deeply entwined in a way that simply does not happen on the left. John Stewart does not have Democratic politicians kotowing to his dictates. He is not a featured speaker, proffering serious policy, at Democratic conferences.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Didn’t think that my comment was particularly harsh given the original comment.

        Also, let no one think that I put Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh in the same category. My point is that their partisan fans experience their shows in similar ways, as red meat. Or perhaps as red meat and tofu, respectively.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        @zic “John Stewart does not have Democratic politicians kotowing to his dictates.”

        You can’t be serious.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        @zic JR was harsh? Katherine said Republicans in Congress and in the race for the presidency run the gamut from “idiotic” to “deliberately ignorant” all the way through to “genuinely evil”, and JR was harsh?Report

  17. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I haven’t see S3 yet, but speaking to the more general trend if R’s-as-baddies, I think this has a lot to do with how each party represents itself and seeks to represent the other side.

    For a long time, R’s prided themselves on being a sort of “bad guy”. They criticized D’s for being soft, whiney, bleeding hearts. It went so far that a counter strain emerged: compassionate conservatism, requiring the qualifier because overt compassion was pretty absent from the public face of the movement. Furthermore, some if the R’s biggest allies include the military and big business and the NRA, faceless organizations that are easy to see as evil. “Toughen up!” “Fight back!” “Speak softly and carry a big stick!” These were rallying cries.

    None of this is to say that R’s are more evil. Just that they positioned themselves to be represented as such. Conversely, when you want a limp, ineffective leadwr, you go D… Because that is how that aide has positioned themselves to be repreaented.

    I mean… What would an evil D look like? “We’re gonna ram health care down your throat!” Not nearly as scary as, “Screw the poor!”Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      An evil democrat, why what an interesting concept.
      Shall I try?
      “Here, I’ve rigged this election for my own personal convenience”
      “Tampered with the politics of a foreign nation, to get a cheaper vacation”
      “Gotten the FBI involved in petty disputes that just happened to send other people to jail”
      “Paid bond on someone so that they’d ruin a New Years Party.”

      Why, what a positively novel idea!Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      That is I think a fair point from @kazzy that I never really thought of before. Conservatives do, broadly, criticize liberals for being too nice, too accommodating, not willing enough to punish or deny things to people, too naive, not realistic, etc. I long did earnestly wonder how it was that conservatives managed to get themselves stuck in the spot where they’re always cast as the clear Bad Guys on political drama. Not a great spot to get stuck in. But maybe it’s really that simple: you paint yourself as kinda mean, or at least rough and tough – the Daddy party, and not one of us, too-nice, New-Age Daddies – and that;s how you;re going to be perceived and painted by others.

      Is there more to it than that? Of course – Hollywood is liberal apart from that (I guess). But that seems pretty valid to me.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Hollywood, by and large, paints with a broad brush. (The movies and shows that paint with a fine one, with an eye for detail? Rarely have large audiences).

        I suppose that shapes how politicians are seen as villains. Democrats seem to be cast as smarmy (old-school machine politicians) or gullible (appeasers, easy to fool, naive), or extremists of a specific sort (eco-terrorists) which I think comes from the stereotypes of Democratic voters — hippy punching always being fun.

        Republicans are often cast as villains as either warhawks, big business (often as a stand in for corporate greed or pull), and extremists of a different sort (war, generally). Lately I’ve been seeing more versions that are cynical — “fooling voters” (pretending to be moderate while an extremists, pretending to be an extremist while really moderate, etc).

        I think that’s just how we say their supposed voters — we stereotype THEM and make a given politician the face of it. So liberals are naive, environmentalist, socialist, pro-abortion (and pro-gay and pro-condom use, so sexual deviancy is a hop, skip and a jump away) and wishy-washy — seeing things in countless greys and sympathizing with their foes and such — and Democratic villains tend to reflect this.

        Conservatives are pro-business, capitalists, belligerent, excessively religious and prone to black-and-white thinking.

        But most of all, I think — big business has always made a really good villain and part and parcel of that is showing how they’ve ‘bought’ politicians. And since the GOP is the self-proclaimed party of big business, odds are any stock ‘evil politician’ or even ‘corporate villain’ is going to be shown as Republican more likely than not.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        @michael-drew @kazzy

        I once saw a guy complain in the comments section (I know) that the problem with liberals is that they treat minorities with “kid gloves”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I would say that is a legitimate complaint of some policies supported by some liberals. The ‘racism of lowered expectations’ or some such thing. It’s real.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I don’t think this is what the guy quite meant and lines about “kid gloves” imply all sorts of world view things about how tough and hard one thinks life should be. My liberalism is all about government being a shield against “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I think it can also be used as a line against dealing with structural issues.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        It is really hard to engage with you when you A) attempt to infer all sorts of things about what people “really” meant and B) extrapolate your own personal experience to the masses.

        The guy said that liberals treat “minorities” with kids club. There is undoubtedly a phenomenon in some pockets of the left wherein well-intentioned support of people of color is really its own form of racism based on assuming people of color are inferior. Just because you subscribe to a different form of liberalism doesn’t mean the phenomenon doesn’t exist nor that the person in question meant something other than what his words directly convey.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        My apologies.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      A lot like Bloomberg, maybe (and a tad ironically). Mayor Kane. A lack of Democratic bad guys is less an issue. They’re out there. Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Aren’t good guy and bad guy relative propositions in politcs? Rahm Emmanuel is disliked by a lot of liberals right now and he is Democratic. I don’t really want Jim Webb to be the Democratic nominee in 2016 but if he somehow ends up as the Democratic nominee, I am going to vote for him because it does a hell of a lot less damage than voting for Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, or Mike Huckabee.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        First, let me say that I don’t mean to imply that Republicans are solely to blame for their portrayals in popular media. I think your point about a liberal slant in Hollywood writers’ rooms is a real issue. I actually wrote about this years ago with regard to the Times. It doesn’t take a conscious or explicit attempt for bias to take hold. All it takes is a group to be slightly going in one direction or another without a conscious attempt to account for that and things snowball. So, yes, I would say there is a certain liberal political* bias in popular media.

        Second, I do think you could construct a Democratic politician as a villain. I just think it is harder to. Because most of the popular faces of the Democratic party just don’t seem evil. I mean, Al Gore just doesn’t strike fear. John Kerry. Nancy Pelosi. If anything, they’re a bunch of wet blankets. You can certainly make them characters unworthy of admiration or worthy of scorn… but you can’t turn those folks into the type of villain who’ll pound his fist on the table and get loud with people. That just isn’t the angle that Democrats have been playing for at least as long as I have been conscious. And Republicans have been playing a very different angle. Which lends itself to such portrayals. It doesn’t excuse or justify the trend… it just helps explain it.

        If I were to craft a Democratic villain, I’d look at someone like Clinton or Obama. They aren’t the in-your-face baddies, but rather the suave, smooth-talking, charismatic folks who the good guy is constantly saying, “I KNOW YOU THINK THEY HAVE YOUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART! BUT TRUST ME… THEY ARE UP TO NO GOOD!”

        You know… sort of what people already think about Obama.

        * I think, socially (which can never really be fully divorced from politics), things can swing both ways. You still very rarely see black men with white women. White washing exists in casting decisions. To the extent that we concede “family values” as “conservative”, there are whole networks (CBS, ABC Family, etc.) that are devoted to this type of programming. But none of that is ‘political’ in the way that I think you mean it.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Ironically, @kazzy, ABC Family is in trouble at the moment with the social con types like Dreher and the like ’cause they showed two 13 year old boys kissing on one of their 19 zillion tv shows.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        Aren’t good guy and bad guy relative propositions in politcs? Rahm Emmanuel is disliked by a lot of liberals right now and he is Democratic. I don’t really want Jim Webb to be the Democratic nominee in 2016 but if he somehow ends up as the Democratic nominee, I am going to vote for him because it does a hell of a lot less damage than voting for Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, or Mike Huckabee.

        As for Rahm, there’s nary a chance that a Republican could be a contender in Chicago, and there hasn’t been since the ’80s. So discrepancy between his party affiliation and the fact that a lot of liberals dislike him doesn’t mean much.

        As for Webb, one advantage he seems to have over HRC is that he seems like less of a warmonger.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        1. We shall see how Rahm does in his run-off. I imagine he will win but he pissed off enough people that he got a challenger and one that did very well in the Democratic Primary against him.

        2. Maybe but I am not fully convinced that Webb is the norm for the 21st century Democratic Party


      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Jim Webb is the solution for people who still think (or hope) it’s 1992.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @kazzy I was actually unclear what I was saying. When I said “they’re out there” I meant in popular entertainment. While I struggle to find meaningful conservative characters that breach TL, it’s not as much of a struggle to find bad Democrats. Mayor Kane from Boss is one. John Hoynes from West Wing (who had the sin of being a bit conservative for a Democrat, but I’ll still count him). The Good Wife had at least a couple (to Peter Florrick’s left, even). Tends to happen in places where Republicans aren’t realistically available, but they do know how to do it.

        And I don’t mean to dismiss your point entirely. I do think that all things being equal, it is probably easier to write things from that direction. But it’s also easier to write cop stories where cops are the good guys and criminals are the bad guys, and they have shown a willingness and the ability to get beyond that and produce good and interesting stories. Politics touches a different nerve, though, which I think makes it particularly difficult to do well even for good writers.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        1. Chicago doesn’t have primaries for the mayoral races anymore. Chuy Garcia is a Democrat just like Rahm is.

        2. Those objections to Webb are the same ones you can lob against HRC (consider her “white Americans” comment during the 2008 primaries). Also, please keep in mind that I said Webb is better than HRC, not that he’s the future of the party.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I’ll give Jim points for courage, and for knowing when to run when the heat gets too hot (few politicians let the heat get hot enough to burn).
        He’s still broken campaign promises, and Important ones at that.
        I hope he has a good explanation.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      Most Republicans would cite the bureaucrat from Ghostbusters as the classic Hollywood evil D.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        I was watching that scene a little while ago and the exact same thing jumped out at me. I thought it really added to the scene’s humor in a way they probably didn’t anticipate at the time.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Oh, I don’t doubt that it was meant at the time. I more mean that, since then, such a portrayal has become almost extinct (who would cast the EPA as a meddling, clueless agency today? whereas that was the REagan era, and, I think, even if Reitman thought he was being sly about it, it was actually a very au courant point to make), so that this looks and sounds like a bit of a artefact from a certain time and place today. That’s the additional part about it that made me smile today.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I’ve read about the “libertarian” reading of Ghostbusters. Let me put it this way, i have far more respect for actual libertarian arguments then to take the GB is all libertarian seriously. Because in GB the EPA guy, besides being dickless, is completely correct. The GB guys do have very serious and dangerous stuff poorly contained in a building in the middle of a city. Heck their ray guns could cause complete protonic reversal. If that isnt’ some sort of externality then i’m not sure what is.

        Trying to find political meanings is goofball horror comedy fantasies is silly silly silly. Let GB just be a funn movie.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I can see that but the thing about Ghostbusters is that you can totally appreciate the movie because the libertarian message does not hit you over the head unlike say Atlas Shrugged. Most of the jokes are not libertarian even the jokes against Mr. EPA.

        The more recent “conservative” entertainment failsReport

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        …Following the links, the question to ask would be, what bigger business was the EPA protectng against competition from the small, upstart Ghostbusters? Whose ghost-busting was being protected?

        Maybe the government’s own potential ghostbusting, which would come into existence when the government saw through it’s stablishment complacency to the real threat of of the comng of Zul. Which, in honesty, seems like the kind of threat the government certainly would justified in seeing as its purview to address, though not by shutting down private efforts to help.

        …Unless, that is, such private efforts entailed the use of unlicensed nuclear reactors to counter a threat no one but the Ghostbusters had really come to understand yet. …In which case, while ultimately it was right of the mayor to stand back and let them do what they knew how to do when the threat manifested into an emergency, it was also quite reasonable for Walter Peck to attempt to do his job and regulate unlicensed nuclear reactors operating in extermination/pest containment businesses (pests n question bing ghosts, of all things) on Central Park West.

        This is why the scene makes me smile. It is a funny, zeitgeist-evocative moment of cinema. And it’s true that an anti-regulation message was intended in the film overall. But if Reason actually wants to press the point and have the argument, I’m with Walter Peck all the way here, even in the mayor’s office (though I support the mayor overruling him). Peck was rightly zealously trying to do his job, which in that situation is a job w actually want done. No one says that a bureaucrat caught in the act of trying to do his jobs is actually an attractive thing to see. But that’s dispositive of nothing as a matter of policy or philosophy.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        I think that the regulator bully is still a recognizable, workable evil D character.
        I just rewatched Season One of Boomtown recently, and natural resource Neal McDonough played a classic legal “fixer”, the son of an East Coast ward-heeler. That’s also a valid evil D. The union thug is a bit dated, but still usable. The more modern racial instigator would be a bold choice for an evil D. In a way, The Shield’s David Aceveda was that kind of character, putting his career before everything else and using his race to advance it, but he was somewhat ambiguous in morality.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        @michael-drew The libertarian argument is more than just “regulators playing favorites”. Anyway, I brought him up as a recognizable evil D type, not to lay out the rightness or wrongness of Ghostbusters’ critique of regulation.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        (Pinky could write an interesting post on this general topic, if invited and so inclined. Might even be a good subject for a “symposium.”)Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        It *is* worth pointing out that simply shutting down the power at Ghostbusters Central caused a massive PKE explosion.

        Of course, perhaps they should have listened to Egon when he said that the building was completely inadequate for their power needs. I’m sure he’d have installed a secondary main had one been available.Report

  18. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    @will-truman First off, this was a really fantastic post. I’ve been thinking about it off and on all day. My only quibbles aren’t really quibbles. The first is that I don’t know that you need as big a qualification on Truman’s First Law of Television Republicans. I think it’ pretty spot on.

    The second, though, is that the law may have less to do with the political leanings of Hollywood employees than Republicans themselves.

    When we’re talking narratives people want to see — and mind you,I’m talking about the narrative they sell here – not necessarily what they really do when in power — I think the basic Democratic narratives are more conducive to the kind of fictional stories you’re discussing in your piece.

    Someone going to Washington to help get food/medicine/education/assistance to poor kids is always going to drawn as the hero more readily than someone going to Washington to fight that. I’m not talking the efficacy of public policy here, I’m talking about narrative. Similarly, people tend to want to see stories of underdogs prevailing more than they do Goliath pounding David. This too fits the Democratic narrative more than the GOP narrative. After all, no one want to see the movie where the wise, freedom-loving corporate lawyer prevails against the tiny school girl with a dream fighting so save {insert endangered species/historical landmark/pristine natural land here]. Sure, in real life maybe that kid’s a snot-nosed brat that doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about, but we still want to see her portrayed as a hero on TV and in the movies.

    The one notable exception to Truman’s Law in my lifetime are cop/crime shows. Those have always skewed the opposite, because we like the narrative in those stories to be one where there are clear good guys and bad guys and justice always wins.

    (A second, possible assumption is the string of “vast-conspiracy” themed dramas we’ve had since the success of the X-Files, such as Revolution, 24 or the V re-vamp. Those, I feel, have pretty tea party-friendly heroes, because they’re the kind of satires that are really built for that kind of hero.)

    The last thing I’ll say is that to some degree, being portrayed as the villain or buffoon is to a large degree the inherent price to being the last ones onboard the moving train. It isn’t fair, but there you have it. Democrats in the 40s and 50s who fought segregation the civil rights act ended up on the wrong end of the hero-villain stick over time, even though they spent so long on the hero end prior. The same happened to member of both parties that fought interracial marriages in the 70s and 80s. And the same will prove true of Republicans and gay rights.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      See, I don’t think it’s just as simple as that the guy wanting to spend tax dollars to help “X” will always inevitably have a more sympathetic narritive drawn about them. Do conservatives acknowledge that their program is just inherently less narratively sympathetic? Or doesn’t it reveal something about either a basic ideological attitude on the part of at least TV audiences, or else something successful about either liberalism’s broader framing of these questions, or else Hollywood’s that skews left – all of which could be different, but isn’t, because that the politics either of the audience or of the presenter?

      I don’t think it can be that liberalism’s program is just inherently more attractive. That has to say something either about political culture at least of the audience, or about Hollywood’s take on the questions involved. I tend to think it says something about the audience’s political culture, which to me is something of a justification for Hollywood’s liberal slant. No one who’s serious thinks that Hollywood’s role isn’t to give the audience basically what it wants.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @michael-drew You’re talking about programs; I’m talking about narratives.

        A GOP program to promote bring in businesses and create jobs in a low-income urban area is one that has the potential to have hero written all over it. But wrapping that program in a narrative of 47%-ers, makers v takers, and “parasites” won’t make for a character that many audiences will root for.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      @tod-kelly did you see this? Feels very much like your comment to me.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @zic I didn’t, so thanks!

        I confess, I don’t remember the comment to you that you’re referring to — but yeah, that Chait piece sure looks like something I would have written.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @tod-kelly I responded to the comment; I’d read the Chiat piece this a.m, your comment here later, and it brought the Chiat piece to mind. I’m not sure that you and Chiat are saying the same thing, but are going toward the same place here in a R/D divide on what even constitutes narratives.

        So we get Someone going to Washington to help get food/medicine/education/assistance to poor kids is always going to drawn as the hero more readily than someone going to Washington to fight that. I’m not talking the efficacy of public policy here, I’m talking about narrative. as a D narrative vs the self-reliant, boot-strapping R narrative — i.e., narrative of how policy functions (help people with food/medicine/assistance) vs. the narrative of how policy should be conceived (let people forage for their own without interference.)Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Realizing now I misread the “to me” part of the phrase “sounded like your comment to me.”

        (Thought you meant that it sounded like a comment I had once made to you; now realize you meant that to you it sounded like my comment. Reading fail on my part.)Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        damned pronouns.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:


      I remember an multipart storyline of Detroit 1-8-7 (a cop show) where the big villain was a guy who audaciously wanted to set up a development in Detroit. Because, yeah, that’s the problem with Detroit: Greedy developers. (To be fair, this was as much a matter of laziness as it was bias, because there were better cards they could have played here and they chose a relatively nonsensical-in-the-context trope.)

      Regarding your initial comment, which I’ve been thinking over, I do think that’s a part of it (as I said to Kazzy last night), but I don’t think that gets you there or particularly close to there. First, because this isn’t a particularly recent phenomenon and goes back to and through “compassionate conservatism” and the like. I’m not sure Republican behavior here is particularly fundamental (even if it does have an effect). Second, because counterintuitive sympathies don’t seem so difficult when it comes to other things. They seem to have an easier time with sympathetic portrayals of mobsters than Republican.

      Which I think there are actually sort of understandable reasons for this, but they relate to who is in the room. Some of it being what Zic points to, inadvertently. When “goodness” is tied to liberal aims (expanding healthcare through government action) by everybody in the room (or everybody willing to speak up), I think that makes it into the product. And I think there is a fear that by pushing the wrong ideas and types of people, they are actually advocating them in ways that are absent from consideration in other cases. And they (understandably) don’t want to do that. Which, given that, is why I am leaning towards saying “Do your own thing, Hollywood, and get to work actual-conservatives.”Report

  19. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    The problem is that, for the most part, even RL D’s don’t do things that are all that evil. Now, you can argue stupid or the wrong thing policy wise.

    I mean, look at Obama. He used his executive power, in the most controversial way, make it easier for kids born in this country whose parents are illegal immigrants, likely working for peanuts, to stay in this country. Unless you throw in the whole Steve Sailer, “he’s trying to re-make this country into a South American banana republic,” conspiratorial edge, that’s kind of hard to make out to be an evil thing outside of the hardline 20-30% of the population who thinks all Democrat’s are terrible, by their letter.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      How would *I* do it? I’d look at real world effects of certain policies and imply that that was the point.

      Like, for example, I’d create a character that lived in a part of town that had 95+% white students and unionized teachers and 100% literacy, high test scores, low crime at school, and so on, I’d have the character oppose charter schools in the part of town that had 95+% minority students and unionized teachers and less than 100% literacy, low test scores, high incidences of crime at school (including violent crime), and talking about the importance of teachers, the importance of schools, the importance of our children, and how our children deserve better than these tea party schools trying to overthrow unions in the middle of the part of town that had the most at-risk youths.

      I’d have the character talk about the evils of drug use and the importance of keeping our kids off of drugs and have high police presence in *THAT* part of town but not in ours because our schools don’t have a drug problem and use the number of arrests as evidence for that. I’d have the character support the police and police unions even after the police shoot one of the students and is found innocent by a corrupt system.

      You can do stuff with the minimum wage, rent control, and, of course, being “tough on crime”.

      That’s how I’d do the character.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        I’d have him tell coal miners that he believed in strong unions and that’s why they should vote for him, while telling environmentalists that he wanted to destroy the American coal industry and that’s why they should vote for him.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        There’s deliberately acting in one’s own self interest and then there’s deliberately reinforcing structural oppression under the color of weakening it.

        Anybody could do the former.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Well, that’s only if you believe that destroying unions for teachers and letting for-profit corporations and our benevolent trillionaires like Bill Gates run education policy with no democratic oversight will lessen oppression.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Anybody can create a corrupt character that would have people saying “Hey! That’s corrupt!”

        I’d want to explore the corruption that has people saying “Hey! But what about the person’s internal life?”

        Is that what happens in House of Cards? He says “let’s make sure children have computers in schools!” and then we hear his internal monologue that says “and the computer companies that gave me campaign donations will give me donations next time”?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Jaybird, not exactly, but that was sort of a setup for a (Democratic) governor of New York in Person of Interest (this is not a meaningful spoiler).Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      The problem is that, for the most part, even RL D’s don’t do things that are all that evil.

      Depends on your standards and definitions. I’d say Obama’s extremely extensive use of drone strikes qualifies. It’s not deliberately malicious, but it’s worse than that in a way: the administration (and the country) has essentially decided that murdering hundreds or thousands of innocent people is an acceptable price to pay for killing some terrorists. It’s pretty much the epitome of the idea that “our” (Western) lives matter more than “their” (people in the third world) lives.

      Conor Friedersdorf has done a lot of great writing on the subject, for example: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/12/if-a-drone-strike-hit-an-american-wedding-wed-ground-our-fleet/282373/

      John Oliver also did a good piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4NRJoCNHIs. “We’ve managed to make blue sky terrifying for people.”Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Eh, the thing is, drone strikes are popular. Especially, when you consider they’re at 60% popularity with the reflexive “anything Obama does is wrong” effect thrown in.

        I may not like it, and you may not like it, but in reality, if you wanted to write a “bad” liberal politician, he’d actually be far more pacifistic President and say, let the evil ISIS fighter completely take over the Middle East over a fear of accidentally killing civilians. I mean, that’s actually the trope among bad military novels (hello, Tom Clancy) and a lot of TV over the past 30 years.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        stereotypes aren’t truth. We don’t elect politicians to be good people, we elect them to pretend that we actually expect them to do a damn thing.Report

  20. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I agree with most of this piece. I’m not sure about this though: “Even setting aside some of the Hollywood barriers I believe would stand in the way of such a project, it would require talent to write it and produce it, and conservatives have done a pretty lousy job of cultivating that talent.” I mean that could be true, I don’t know. But television writing could be like a lot of other professions where people who do it have connections, went to certain university writing programs, all kind of know each other, etc. and that could tend to narrow the pool more than just talent. After all, somebody must have written shows like Full House. It can’t all be a matter of talent!Report

  21. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    We watched our episode of The West Wing tonight, and I paused it to talk it over before the credits were over.

    Here’s where it paused:


  22. Avatar Zac says:

    It occurs to me that there is a show on the air that deeply embodies conservative values; in fact, it’s the most popular drama series ever broadcast on television, at least going by numbers of viewers.

    I’m talking, of course, about The Walking Dead.

    Bear with me here.

    Think about the values The Walking Dead’s setting rewards:

    1) Black and white moral thinking. Over the course of the show, anyone who clung to the notion that the world was still morally complex has died (Dale, Hershel, Beth, etc) or shed those beliefs (Rick, Carol, Glenn, etc.).

    2) Practical skills over booklearning. Who has proven time and again to be the MVP of the group? Dale, the guy with all kinds of useful hunting and tracking skills. Meanwhile, of the three “scientist” characters on the show, one was suicidal, one was a fraud and the third died for betraying the Governor.

    3) Hierarchy, conformity and deference to authority. The first two seasons of the show were devoted to showing how impractical it was to run the group as a democracy, resulting in the declaration of a Ricktatorship by the end of the second season. Since then, while his “power” has waxed and waned, the group more or less always defers to Rick. And it is no coincidence that this is partially because he was a cop.

    4) Extreme suspicion of outsiders. Since every survivor they come across presents a potential danger, the group is extremely apprehensive regarding strangers, and sometimes will simply kill them outright if they seem to pose a threat (for example, when Rick killed Tomas at the prison with a machete to the dome, then chased Andrew into a fenced-in area full of walkers and then locked him in).

    5) Strong purity/contamination ethics. When Hershel gets bitten, Rick immediately chops off the infected part, with zero compunctions (same with Tyreese, more recently, although with less success). Likewise, Carol kills two sleeping survivors, Karen and David, to stop an infection that has begun to spread through the prison.

    6) Guns. Lots and lots of guns. This probably doesn’t need elaboration.

    The point is, if you want to see more shows that embody conservative values, shows based around basic survival in an extremely dangerous world (like a post-apocalyptic one) are your best bet.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I haven’t seen it, but it reminds me a bit of Tod’s argument about Revolution being a conservative show. I think that like cop shows, post-apocalyptic shows likely do have a bit of a natural conservative bent, though one you can go against-type with, if you wish. Revolution did, to an extent, but I can’t speak to Walking Dead.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Lucifer’s Hammer managed to be remarkably pro-science, and I’m sure Brin’s post-apocalyptic book is the same way, though I haven’t read it.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      I think the above on WALKING DEAD is clear. The key exception in WD to conventional liberal views of conservatives, though not to most conservatives’ views of themselves, is interethnic cooperation, and, now, the establishment of a very positively depicted gay couple, whose relationship is presented as the most unambiguously positive and normal of any relationship thusfar on the show, with the possible exception of Glenn and Maggie. Another typically culturally conservative aspect of the show has been its interest in and respect for Christian religion, even amidst a predicament that tests faith to the extreme (and turns some against faith). That the show is set in the South also may make it more appealing to conservatives.

      Pointing to X-Files, Revolution, and other conspiracy-driven shows also points to the split within the popular imagination of conservatives that also reflects different tendencies within the conservative coalition.

      The other character type I don’t see being much discussed is the action hero or warrior, from Rambo, Dirty Harry, John McClane, and Jack Ryan to Leonidas, Chris Kyle, and, possibly, Zero Dark Thirty’s Maya. Some pacifistic citizen of the world left-liberals – like those appalled by the idea that Americans are more worried about American casualties than about non-American ones – may denounce or look away from, or simply refuse to take seriously, anyone who achieves or advances justice in arms. Not sure where you all place Batman, Spider-Man, and other comic book heroes, but a conservative case can be made for many of them, especially, again, if you view conservatives more as they see themselves than from a perspective of liberal prejudice/liberal self-regard. I’ve heard both conservatives and liberals attack Jason Bourne, and I thought that conservatives somewhat embarrassed themselves a few years ago by failing to recognize the “Tea Party Rambo” (anti-corporatist rebel) elements in AVATAR. They seem to have less trouble with Ripley. I’d say James Bond clearly qualifies as conservative in important respects, though he’s clearly not much on family values, at least for himself.

      Just to tie off this ramble in relation to the top post – the action hero is a hero precisely because he and increasingly she rises above or bypasses “politics” and even the “law,” or, perhaps more typically, bypasses legalism and the state in favor moral or natural law. I remain skeptical that a simple liberal-conservative binary (as also simply left-right) can adequately organize this topic.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The further you get from actual politics, the harder it is to gauge. Not impossible, but enough that I limited the scope of the OP. From what I’m reading, though, I would probably see the gay couple and Christian angle canceling each other out.

        But, again, the further away from actual (contemporary) politics you get, the more a show has to do in a particular direction for me to call it in that particular direction. Roseanne has to do more that The Practice has to do more than The West Wing.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        The problem is that for major streams within American conservatism or simply Americanism going back to the Revolution, “getting away from politics” is the highest goal of political activity.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        The Dirty Harry movies were pretty straightforwardly anti-liberal. Usually he was fighting with some liberal administrator who wanted to get the criminals together for an “encounter group” and Harry had to go kick ass instead. The Death Wish movies were even blunter about it. Actually, to my mind, Paul Schrader was the most interesting writer of this kind of stuff. He wrote at least three siege movies about disaffected men whose traditional views alienated them from society, but who sort of redeem themselves through violence: Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder, and Hardcore.

        Superhero movies seem a bit like Dirty Harry in spandex, but it’s usually not just liberals but liberal democracies that can’t protect us from some existential threat like superior beings can in them. So, they tend to be closer to fascism than conservatism.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        The Dirty Harry movies, and at least the original Death Wish, were not conservative. They were meditations on where the line is. Magnum Force is the strongest example of this, with the villains being vigilante cops. All of them indulge in the visceral thrill of personal justice, but they exist in a world where the system doesn’t work, and where everyone but the villains would like to see the system work.

        I just saw the 1983 film The Star Chamber again recently. Not a great movie, but it’s my duty to honor the phrase “co-starring Hal Holbrooke” whenever I can. If you haven’t seen it, Michael Douglas is a judge who joins a vigilante “court of last resort” that passes sentence on the criminals who are freed on technicalities. I found it interesting because it clearly didn’t fall into a left/right framework.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        There were a couple of superhero(ish) revenge flicks that came out a few years back. “Super” starring Rainn Wilson and “Boy Wonder” starring… well, it was an indy.

        Anyway, Super was a (yet another) deconstruction of the whole “what if a real person decided to become a superhero” genre (see also: Kick-Ass). It actually got a lot darker than Kick-Ass. Like, a *LOT* darker. It also had a strangely moving affirmation of conservative values at the end when Super gave the Drug Dealer Bad Guy one hell of a good monologue about the importance of social mores.

        It’s also, seriously, surprisingly violent. Like, not in the “wham, zing, pow!” sense of violence but the “what would it look like, really, if you hit a guy in the head with a wrench?” violence.

        Boy Wonder was competence porn, mostly, but it had a very interesting scene where he fought a pimp (who had just finished beating up a young woman under his employ) and beat the pimp up. The pimp gave a monologue to the guy about how he probably feels all righteous about beating up a pimp, but, in reality, he’s just made it worse for the young woman. Today’s beating would have been over and done with but, because of the guy playing hero, the beating hadn’t even begun.

        So the hero killed the pimp. (My jaw dropped.)

        So this movie was, if anything, the revenge fantasy people argued that Dirty Harry or Death Wish was.

        Both movies were pretty good, as these things go. Super is a dark comedy and Boy Wonder is a dark drama.

        (Warning, some spoilers appeared above)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        put yourself in that position. Do you pull the trigger?
        I find it curious how many people can hide behind the power that laws and policemen give — just wishing the problem away.

        Then again, I didn’t exactly even SEE the homeless guy wrestling with a rat for his supper, and I might not have helped even if I did…Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I will point to an anecdote of Brother Patrick’s that was originally told here and steal his conclusion:

        So, on the particular case of child abuse, I break down here: “If there is a solution, it can be implemented systemically.” I don’t think this is true. I don’t think you can formalize it in a way that you can codify it in law and enforce it and audit it and do anything that will produce measurably consistently better results. That sucks. It sucks hard.

        Some things in life are like that.

        The movie benefited from an eloquent writer who put a surprisingly detailed speech in the mouth of a pimp who, we assume, was telling the perfect truth.

        The author’s thumb was on the scale and was quite heavy (indeed, in a later scene, the young woman was telling the police that she didn’t really care to describe the assailant given her knowledge that, someday, the pimp would have killed her).

        So. All that to say: any answer that I give would be the result of the author’s heavy thumb on the scale and there’s no way for me to separate my answer from the knowledge that I was manipulated into whatever corner I happened to find myself in.

        (It was satisfying to see it happen in movie fantasyland, though.)Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I don’t know about Bond being conservative in either the British or the US style. Bond is all for Queen and Country, to be sure, but that doesn’t tell us much about his politics beyond patriotism. And even that is not unvarnished: he is sometimes frustrated when politicians interfere with spycraft.

        I’ve not noticed him being particularly respectful of other peoples’ families, as he uses his powers of super-seduction to tease information out of, or access to critical people through, bedding a bevy of beautiful married women. Even when it comes to dating for pleasure rather than work, Bond in both the movies and the books express a preference for married women, because the relationship is simpler and more easily-terminable. Of his fifty-five on-film sexual conquests, he’s had by my count are only four meaningful emotional connections with partners (Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama, from You Only Live Twice), Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, whose death propels the drama in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher, from Tomorrow Never Dies) and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, from the canonical Casino Royale)). Of course, you don’t need to be a Bond scholar to realize that most of the time, Bond treats sex very casually indeed, and that doesn’t sound socially conservative at all.

        You’d think with his promiscuity, he’d have fathered a whole lot of children, but if he had, he has zero interest in that fact and we’ve never seen Bond (at least on film) confronting the living, breathing consequence of a past seduction. Indeed, he only rarely interacts with children at all and even then only superficially.

        Bond appears to have no religion at all. While both movies and books have religious references, we have at most hints about his Scottish background suggesting family ties of some sort to Catholicism, and some other more vague hints to a Calvinist youth, we never see Bond engaged in any sort of worship or reverence; he does not feel guilt for his acts of killing, adultery, theft, or sporadic disrespect for the orders of parental cognates like M.

        Cold War Bond understood the Soviets and SPECTRE to be evil; post-Cold War Bond understands a) terrorists / b) rogue actors in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army / c) a handful of nationless corporate magnates / d) the North Koreans to be evil. But only rarely can we call these slanted to the left or the right; the authors carefully select villains so as to make Bond’s neutralization of them to be relatively uncontroversial to readers and viewers of all political stripes.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh, allow me to press forward then! Take off the perfect knowledge and step behind the veil of ignorance (or war if you prefer).

        Bullies often do react by hurting someone more, if they are hurt themselves. Now, of course, you can’t say that the bully will hurt the girl — but you can come up with some probability for it. (as you can, indeed, come up with probabilities that the girl would get hurt without your help — bullies often act out of malice, or probabilities that the girl would escape and thus not come to further harm).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Rant about the veil of ignorance: it’s a useful tool by which we can explore discussions of what rules we’d want to set up if we had the opportunity to start from scratch rather than having to kludge kludges on top of kludged kludges on top of kludged kludges on top of (this goes on for a while).

        Anyway, the solution of “we need an even bigger bully, one who hates bullies” is emotionally satisfying in the way that turning the tables is always emotionally satisfying but if you’re looking for solutions that would work in a seriously iterated version of the prisoner’s dilemma game, you pretty much have to be willing to separate the two, protect the victim (and you’ll probably have to protect the victim for years or decades), and provide some serious social support to overcome the coping mechanisms that both abuser and abused have developed over years/decades that got them to where they were.

        It’s easier to just kill the bully and right after we catch the victim saying “I’m glad the bully is dead”, close the book.

        What’s the real solution? No idea. The first thing to come to mind is a small, tight, society with no privacy that would allow for everybody to use social pressure to get bullies to stop. But what do you do about seriously antisocial bullies? The answer of “some folks just need killin'” is, I understand, no longer acceptable.

        So I’ve got no idea.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh, I’ll allow “some folks just need killin'”.
        Because some folks do kill children in horrible, sadistic ways to make snuff pornography.
        (this, I hasten to add, is me pulling my punch. It is not the worst, nor the most horrible thing ever.)

        I’m not certain everyone can be saved.

        But I think you’re right, it is naive indeed to assume you can solve every problem with a knife, simply by cutting the knot.

        My answer is more complicated than that, at least. If there is law enforcement capable of catching the guy, with a reasonable probability — then it’s probably best left to them (not the least of which is that he’s far more likely to simply listen to them, rather than trying to kill them. The same cannot be said of … “sheepdogs” was it?).

        If there is not? Clearly the shining example would be to get the girl to stand up for herself — the quote is “someone cannot remove your chains, only you can do that.” But that requires a hard mind… and even so, hard minds can break. If there was a way to tell which girls would stand up, would do the right thing for their soul as well as the rest of us … I might say let them suffer for a time. Will they be stronger for it? Perhaps not, but learning is a good thing, even when it’s painful.

        And I can’t say that most will learn that.

        I suppose there’s the “punch me” variant. “Leave her alone and punch me instead.” — but that’s not solving anything, except the issue you caused by being there in the first place.

        I think I’d rather have a society where people go vigilante (including, in this case, sitting on a porch protecting the whore inside, until the bully goes away) than a society where everyone is poking into everyone’s business. I’ve read the Cherry Orchard.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        @burt-likko , @rufus-f, @zac

        Well, I acknowledged that Bond doesn’t show much interest in “family values,” but we get here again into different types of conservatism, and the further layers of complexity are that what most appeals to someone about a character or story may express something different from other aspects of character or story, and further that people are quite capable of enjoying or even falling in love with a work of art precisely for the countless ways what it depicts or, another different thing, what it expresses, are at variance with his or her beliefs and desires. Finally, getting back to my earlier point on the nature of our coalitions. There may be good historical reasons why particular types of people with varying primary commitments – family values as opposed to strong defense – end up in the same coalitions, possibly because a strongly motivated core group fully embraces both stances and sees them as connected. They may or may not be right.

        A righteously anti-war feminist progressive can be an obsessive fan of GAME OF THRONES, for example. He’d hesitate to harm a fly, but will spend all day on a fan site reliving the Red Wedding, just as he’s strongly in favor of sexual equality but is addicted to types of pornography that, to say the least, show scant respect for women.Our elite left-liberal lights may love, and love to share their love for, comic book superheroes, and may even acknowledge the cryptofascist tendencies in the genre, but, then again, may assert “they’re just comic books” – while denying excuses of the same general type to those on the other side when it comes to designated politically incorrect speech acts (“it was just a joke”). There may likewise be good moralist conservatives who “ought” to find aspects of GOT deeply unsettling and offensive – sexual and other perversity, bizarre pagan religion – but instead find it entertaining, or cathartic, or who find it reinforces some of their conservative tendencies: “This is what a world without Judeo-Christian morality, capitalism, and the Constitution looks like.”

        Again, there are too many tensions and contradictions within Americanism, within our real existing political coalitions, and within people, to turn this into a simple rule. Zac points below to the scarcity problem. In conditions of complete abundance and security, there would be no need for law (as Hume a.o. explained at length), eventually no need even for moral law (or eventually for anything recognizably “human” to us, but that’s another discussion), meaning no need for punishment and no need for a monopoly of violence by the state. Zac takes the implications to be liberal tending, pointing to the potential obsolescence of inherited norms. In contrast, one conservative perspective in art, including in much supposedly liberal art or art by self-avowed left-liberals, will often insist that beneath the surface even (especially) our “complex, technologically-advanced societies” are still run by unchanging human nature and the old rules, among them “man is a wolf to man.”

        Thus, for Schmitt, a key question is whether an ideological system begins with the premise that human beings are inherently lethally dangerous to each other or beings best describable by some more optimistic concept of the human. However, before you decide that belief in the malleability and improvability of human beings is decisively liberal or left or progressive, you would have to consider that such belief may be another interpretation of the moral essence of Christian revelation, as prefigured in Judaic messianic prophecy. At the same time, “homo homini lupus” and “bellum omnium contra omnes” (state of nature) were presumptions at the origins of modern liberalism, or the justification of the existence of the rule of law state (and civilization or world state of states), and hence a space for what we call the liberal state or liberal conditions of life. (Expressed in the famous “you can’t handle the truth,” “walking the wall” speech in a A FEW GOOD MEN: A liberal’s movie that provided much emotional fuel for conservatives.)

        So, the modern liberal-progressive idea rests, not exactly paradoxically, on what in discussions like this one we might view as a “conservative” precept. Furthermore, much modern liberalism-progressivism will consist of an effectively “conservative” defense of inherited liberal norms and values. Likewise for the notion of scarcity or competition as the origin of respect for law – the premise is neither a liberal nor a conservative premise necessarily. Popular art gives us recognizable character types, and is marked, as our discussions of them are often marked, by false coherencies, when the truth, which we can’t handle, is ridden with antinomies.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Pinky: Good point. I’d actually argue that movies like Dirty Harry are better described as reactionary than conservative. I should have gone with that.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        @rufus-f Thanks. I have a suspicion that if you took all of Eastwood’s old westerns, Dirty Harry movies, and Unforgiven, and digitally removed the horses and cars and Sondra Locke, they’d tell a single story.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      A conservative is just a liberal who’s been mugged by a zombie?Report

      • Avatar Zac says:

        In a way, yes, and vice versa. I have long suspected that lowercase liberalism and conservatism (as human tendencies, not political persuasions) in a society are closely related to the prosperity and security (physical and material) of that society: more prosperous and secure societies tend to be more liberal, and the converse. After all, you can do the opposite of the Walking Dead scenario: look at The Culture from the Iain M. Banks novels of the same name. They’re a post-scarcity utopia that is largely interested in finding pleasurable ways to pass the time, usually via drugs and sex and social games. It pretty much selects for liberal values in all the ways a post-apocalyptic scenario selects for the conservative ones.

        Now, a conservative might look at this and say, “So you’re saying liberalism tends toward hedonism and signaling games, whereas conservatism tends to select for survival and fitness traits?” And I think they’d be mostly right. On the other hand, a liberal might look at this and say “So you’re saying conservatism is optimized for small tribes fending for their lives against the elements, and liberalism is optimized for the large, complex, technologically-advanced societies we actually live in?” And I think they’d be mostly right as well.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Yeah, all of this sounds about right.

        I do have this feeling that things are going to flip in the future due to the economic and political changes that have been happening and the liberal-progressives will be more like agrarian traditionalists.Report

  23. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Is it possible that House of Cards is simply jumping the shark in a more conventional way? Specifically the trope Will they or won’t they?

    I propose that Underwood is to power as Sam is to Dianne, as Niles is to Daphne, as Ross is to Rachel, as Ted is to Robin, as Harold & Kumar are to White Castle, etc, etc. So after ‘they do it’, the show is either over, or effectively over (most of the time).

    Having is not so pleasing as wanting – it is not logical, but is often true.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      (disclaimer – I’ve never watched any portion of the American House of Cards, and only a little bit of the Brit one and its associated shows)Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      It was never the same after Skipper and Little Buddy got off that Island.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      This is kind of what I was clumsily trying to get at. Maybe except instead of jumping the shark, they had hitherto been parasailing over a school of sharks, and are now settling in for a bit of simple waterskiing for unapparent reasons.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      In the British version, once power was about holding on to it. Easier to write for a parliamentary system, but here they have both a primary and general to threaten him, then down the line another election.

      They should have focused more on the election, in my view.Report

  24. Avatar ScarletNumber says:

    “Good” Republicans who spend an inordinate amount of time as a tool against “Bad” Republicans.

    Would you place Arnold Vinick in that category, or do you think he was more nuanced than that?

    I will give TWW credit for the character of D Wire Newman, a milquetoast Democrat a la Jimmy Carter.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Vinick is an interesting case. On the one hand, he exemplifies that description almost to the point of being the archetype, though he may not qualify for that category because it’s hard to say that his character is necessarily “largely” about advancing the liberal worldview. He is a case that challenges me to find the appropriate verbiage.

      Right now he serves as kind of a benchmark. If they’re not more largely about being contrasted with other Republicans than Vinnick (like, say, Walken), then they don’t count towards that end. If they are more largely about that than Vinnick (like Cliff Callie) then they do.Report