Fictional Politics and Politicized Fictions: “House of Cards” and “Scandal”

Politicians debating

Photo courtesy Beto O’Rourke.

Since 2013, critics have been comparing and contrasting the hit shows House of Cards and Scandal. Both deal with the seedy, often immoral world of Washington politics, and the ambitions and passions of those playing the game. But aside from these surface similarities, critics have often dismissed them as radically different shows. House of Cards is a sleek, efficient portrayal of Democrat Frank Underwood’s rise to the presidency. Scandal tells the passionate, if trashy, tale of how Olivia Pope and a cabal of players made Republican Fitzgerald Grant president, and the fallout (both personal and political) of their machinations. With their differing tones, visual styles, and intended audiences, critics can often overlook what connects these two shows at their hearts: their fictional depictions of American liberalism in action.

Liberalism in the United States is difficult to define, but can be broadly summarized as service to the individual, encapsulated in America’s self-appointed nickname “Land of Opportunity.” Individuals in America have the opportunity to vote for their elected officials, to speak freely without fear of government censorship, to advance within the class system through education or hard work. The liberal narrative is Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches archetype retold: Frank Underwood can go from Gaffney, South Carolina to the White House, simply by being more clever and ruthless than those around him; Olivia Pope can become the most powerful woman in Washington by working twice as hard and being twice as good as her white contemporaries. The writers imply that America is a meritocracy, because if anyone else was as devious as Underwood, or worked as hard as Olivia, they would be in the same positions of power.

In both cases, the characters gain their social and political power through their actions, rather than the legacies left to them by their parents or the class boundaries inherent in capitalism. Frank Underwood’s father was an abusive alcoholic, but he overcame; Olivia’s mother died when she was young, and her father was manipulative and controlling, but she overcame. In overcoming, both characters choose success over morality. House of Card’s Frank Underwood knows that he can lead the United States better than Garrett Walker, the man he helped get elected, so he resorts to extreme measures and careful gambles throughout season two to ensure his place as Walker’s replacement. Scandal’s Olivia knows that Fitz is the man that America needs as president, so she rigs voting machines to ensure his place in the election. Continue reading

Policing Disability: Update on Kayleb Moon-Robinson

Eleven-year-old Kayleb Moon-Robinson was convicted in April of felony charges for kicking a trash bin and defending himself against an aggressive police officer in his Virginia school. PopFront covered Kayleb’s case as part of an investigation into a disturbing trend of police brutality towards disabled minorities (Kayleb is autistic and black). With his sentencing pending in June and an appeal currently in process to overturn his convictions, what is Kayleb’s case status?

Astonishingly, Kayleb’s former school district has made no attempt at transparency, nor apologized for the incidents leading up to Kayleb’s arrest. When contacted, the representative for Lynchburg City Schools released the following statement:

“We’re at a distinct disadvantage in responding. We cannot reply to all of the specific allegations that have been made because the law doesn’t allow us to discuss the specifics regarding the child or the court proceedings. The public is only hearing one side of the story, and based on our investigation of this matter, the incident did not take place in the manner in which it was portrayed. SROs [School Resource Officers] play an important role in the school division, and we have and will continue to work together on procedures for when SROs should become involved in incidents involving students. We feel they are being unfairly portrayed in this matter.”

Besides this statement, district officials have not responded to other allegations concerning the police officer’s misbehavior. The district is also currently under investigation for its high student-to-court referral rates. Kayleb has not returned his former middle school since his arrest—he is currently attending an alternative school awaiting sentencing. Continue reading

Policing Disability: Child Arrested for Being Autistic

Kayleb Moon-Robinson headshot

Kayleb Moon-Robinson, after being assaulted by the police officer.

By Zoey G

Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Walter Scott. We know all these names as victims of police brutality within the last calendar year. Their deaths have sparked nationwide protests and conversation about police brutality targeted at young black men and systemic judicial racism. These are important conversations America needs to have, but I’d like to talk about a recent case that hasn’t gotten as much nationwide attention. A case where a young boy was misunderstood and his innocent actions were seen as criminal. One that, like the aforementioned, pits a young black man against police with a special circumstance.

Meet Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an eleven year-old African American child from Lynchburg, VA. At the beginning of the school year, Kayleb was charged with disorderly conduct by a school resource officer after he kicked a classroom trash bin during a tantrum. Kayleb was acting out of stress of being overwhelmed on a bad day, but the officer overreacted to a bin-kicking near no one. Two weeks later, the same officer forcibly grabbed Kayleb to take him to the principal’s office for accidentally leaving class early. When Kayleb struggled to get the officer off him, the officer slammed the child down, handcuffed him, and charged him with felony assault. On April 13th, Kayleb was found guilty of both charges in juvenile court and is currently waiting his sentencing in June. And all because a school officer mistook Kayleb as a threat for his tantrum as opposed to a child who needed some extra help.

And Kayleb could’ve used the extra help, because he is autistic. Continue reading

Fear of a Capitalist Planet

Martian Canals

A map of the so-called Martian canals, an optical illusion witnessed by astronomers in the late 19th century. Image courtesy NASA.

Managing Editor Keith A. Spencer writes in Jacobin how scientists and businessmen project our economic system onto the stars:

Have you ever seen an alien? Scientists haven’t, but that hasn’t stopped them from speculating that imperialist extraterrestrials could be on the way.

With the exception of one inconclusive blip in 1977, we haven’t detected signs of alien intelligence. Having scoured our solar system with probes and turned up empty, extraterrestrial (ET) signal searchers now survey the galaxy on the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where photons can traverse interstellar distances and arrive on Earth unscathed.

The most prominent and well-funded organized effort to search radio bands is led by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, a private nonprofit foundation that borrows time on radio telescopes or scans the skies using their own arrays.

While the SETI Institute has been actively searching for forty years, there have been few attempts to send out focused radio signals of our own towards presumptive inhabited worlds. This poses a conundrum: why should humans expect aliens to send out focused “hello” signals of their own, if we do not do it ourselves? This idea, that we should send out messages in addition to listen for them, is known as “Active SETI.” Continue reading

The Way Out is Through: Class Conflict in Bogota

 by Julia Raskin

For many in Colombia, the election of Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro represents a step forward for democracy and the fight against poverty. The former leader of the revolutionary-socialist guerrilla faction M-19, Petro’s policies in office have explicitly recognized class tensions in the city and work to transform them. For the city’s wealthy, however, the election of an extreme left-wing politician threatens Colombia’s newfound security—or at least that of its monied neighborhoods. A recent proposal to build affordable housing in a wealthy enclave, isolated in the north of Bogotá, reveals the class conflict that defines life in the city. Continue reading

Art Made of Trash is Anything but Trashy

Jeremey Rourke video still.

By Kristin Jensen

While San Francisco prides itself on being one of the most environmentally conscious cities in America, a lot of unnecessary materials still end up in the landfill because we either don’t know how to sort or we fail to see the real value in what we toss. According to Recology San Francisco, the city’s primary resource recovery company (which is also worker-owned), 1,400 tons of landfill-destined waste are collected daily from San Francisco residents in Recology’s well-known green, white, and blue trucks that sport “Sunset Scavengers” on the sides. Additionally, 600 tons of compostable materials (green bin) and 600-700 tons of recyclables (blue bin) are collected daily. Continue reading

The Liberal Line

Why do privileged liberals care more about property damage than black lives?

By Keith Spencer with Teddy Roland and Shaimaa A.

“Riots,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr., “are the language of the unheard.” King is one of many civil rights radicals whose politics have been rewritten, his memory whittled into a sanitized, non-threatening corporate version fit for a Google Doodle. Liberals remember that he had a dream, even if they forget his sermons on sanitation worker strikes. Continue reading

Julien Blanc Is The Rule, Not the Exception

by Zoey G

The Internet is a remarkable means of expressing terrible ideas and feelings towards women, particularly through social networking and blog sites like Reddit and 4chan. Both have become hotbeds of this male subset where belittling women and expressing anger and thoughts of violence against them are discussed and encouraged—through various geek fandom threads to so-called “men’s rights activists” (MRA) threads. Such misogynist sentiment was the motivation to post nude pictures of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton. These women’s phones were hacked in an event titled “The Fappening,” a frivolous title incongruous to the misery inflicted. This invasion of privacy exposes a fundamental need for men to have access to women at any cost possible—and to thwart women’s success and talent by tearing down their bodies. Continue reading

#BlackLivesMatter: Find your local protest

Two grand juries that failed to indict police officers for the murder of unarmed black men—Mike Brown of Ferguson and Eric Garner of New York—have spurred to action a burgeoning movement against systemic racism and police violence in the United States. (Solidarity protests have since spread worldwide.)

The number and breadth of protests in any region is difficult to coordinate and organize, but we’ve found a number of resources for finding local protests in the Bay Area. (Note: This post will continue to update as new information is available.)

In the Tenderloin, Freedom is a Dance to Victory

Anne Bluthenthal and Dancers (ABD) concludes their fall season of Skywatchers on Wednesday, November 12 with live music, dancing, and a photography exhibit by Deirdre Visser at the Tenderloin National Forest.

Tenderloin National Forest

Illustration courtesy Naomi Cogan Rosenberg/Google Street View.

If there is one thing the Tenderloin has more than any other neighborhood in San Francisco, it is heart. Walking through the streets, you would never expect to find a redwood, but tall trees and lush growth in planters line what used to be another dark and dreary alleyway. As an urban renewal project started by The Luggage Store, a local arts non-profit, this formerly dark corner is now the Tenderloin National Forest. Continue reading