Underwood under my skin

Last week, some kind of flu-like thing knocked me out pretty good and left me laying in bed for a few days binge-watching TV shows. One of those was House of Cards. It’s a show I watch in fits and starts mostly because Belle doesn’t seem that into it and I like to watch things with her that we both enjoy. HoC gets whatever time is left whenever I think of it (often watched while on the treadmill).

So, fair warning, I’m going to spoil the hell of that show in this post. I’m about three episodes or so into the third (and current) season, so if you’re interested in it, you’re probably further along than I am, but this is the internet so warnings must be posted. Also, if you’re ahead of me, please don’t spoil anything that happens later on.

I remember really well the moment we realized as viewers that Frank wasn’t cheating on Claire with Zoe. That she not only was aware of his dalliances but had no issue with them. I loved that the show was featuring a complicated monogamish relationship, even if at least Frank’s side of it was creepily calculated and politically motivated (in many ways, I found Claire’s relationship with Adam to be far more interesting and layered). Then, when we learn of Frank’s relationship with another man in his academy days, I was even more invested. Frank Underwood was bisexual.

And I kind of left it there. I didn’t think much more about it. A popular show was featuring an open relationship and a strong masculine character who fucked other guys once in a while. Two rabbity thumbs up from me.

But hours and hours of soaking in HoC over the course of two days has totally changed my POV about it. And it started with the episode where Frank and Claire tag team their Secret Service guy. That shit was not OK on many levels. And it made me rethink the show’s depiction of both Frank’s sexuality and his marriage arrangement.

I remember back in the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s when I was growing up that more often than not, characters with non-standard sexualities or gender identities were depicted as pathological. You couldn’t just be gay (let alone bi or trans) and part of the story. The fact that you were gay (or bi or trans) was part of your larger freakishness. There are exceptions (The World According to Garp), but usually that’s how shit when down.

So here we are now in the progressive 21st Century and we’re still doing it. Claire and Frank can’t just be murdering, amoral, power-hungry, self-absorbed sociopaths. They need to feature an extra layer of otherness to show to the audience just how amoral they are. They will sleep with anyone. Together. Frank sucks cock and goes down on women. What a freak!

This was set into sharp relief for me when I was back at work on Friday and talking to a colleague about my HoC binge. He said after he realized that Claire knew about Zoe and that it didn’t bother her that he knew they were too weird for him. And I was thinking, that is what told you they were weird? I mean, eventually Frank starts killing people and they both lie like fucking rugs but their relationship openness is what did it?

Openness and ethical non-monogamy are very much in the cultural conversation at the moment, but it has yet to be portrayed in the popular culture as a normal and positive thing. Not on a show that has a lot of eyeballs, at least. And portrayals of female bisexuality have made some gains lately but masculine, non-confused, healthy bisexual males are still a thing we’re waiting to see.

So no, House of Cards is clearly not the monogamish bisexual’s Will and Grace. Not even. Probably the opposite. And that pisses me off.