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"The best thing about human beings is that they stack so neatly": Spectatorship and Platform Performativity from the White House to House of Cards

by Ethan Tussey

Although the FU2016 campaign ad which aired on CNN during the Republican primary debate last December was an advertisement for House of Cardss fourth season, its content is indistinguishable from real campaign ads (it includes a triumphant soundtrack; happy, patriotic people from all walks of life; stock footage of cornfields). The show's union of political, theatrical, and distribution platforms is made manifest in real life through #FU2016, which provides the audience with an opportunity to investigate, understand, and critique these platforms functions in the context of both the current presidential election and politics generally.
We know from Underwoods iconic fourth-wall breaks throughout the series that he is rarely, if ever, forthcoming to others about his plans and desires. Underwoods campaign platform is distilled down to catchy one-liners and laden with ulterior motives. FU2016 demonstrates this with several campaign ads which boast titles like Taking the Wheel, Pushing America Forward, and The Leader We Deserve, and which allude to Underwoods nefarious actions in past seasons. Underwoods slogans Whatever It Takes and Anything for America also speak to his constant deception: they read as typical vague promises (and in this sense bear a resemblance to our current candidates slogans), but also read as confessions that candidate Underwood is a character whose platform and personality can be adapted as much as necessary in order to win (a claim regularly made about our real candidates). The FU2016 campaign itself is equally guilty of this adaptability: it departed from its native digital distribution platform (Netflix) to advertise on other platforms (broadcast networks, subway stations, billboards, real campaign offices) that is, it literally adjusted its platform to win viewers.
The FU2016 campaign therefore operates as a metafictional device that alerts the audience to the deception taking place. When Underwood takes the stage (a physical, theatrical platform) and delivers his promises (a political platform), he performs the version of himself most likely to succeed with this or that audience. Our real candidates engage in an identical fiction. By adopting real political campaign strategies to advertise a work of fiction about politics, the #FU2016 campaign demonstrates that the versions of platform involved in discourse about House of Cards (political, theatrical, distribution) can also be understood in the context of the real election cycle. We observe that the 2016 presidential campaign, like House of Cards, is a work of fiction and performance.

Spectatorship and Platform


from Vimeo (2016)
Creator: IMR
Posted by Ethan Tussey