Television and film tend to caricature Southerners. We’re all familiar with the types – the drawling sadistic sheriff who looks as if he has swallowed a sack of horse feed whole; the I-do-declare coquettish belle all aflutter, the tart-tongued steel magnolia, the wiser-than-he-lets on Negro manservant, etc.
Therefore, when I finally got around to peeking in on House of Cards for the first time last weekend, what a pleasure to witness Kevin Stacey’s portrayal of Congressman Frank Underwood, who not only sounds like a real Southerner but who also rises above the stereotypes non-Southerners generally associate with someone from Dixie – rightwing politics and racism – which is not to say that Frank is an admirable character. Part Richard III, part Iago, he’s the apotheosis of Machiavellian machination, a son of a bitch who makes the historical LBJ seem like Atticus Finch in comparison.
Frank not only sounds like a Southerner, but he has a way with words reminiscent of those who have grown up in the oral tradition of story telling, a tradition that appreciates a clever, alliterative turn of phrase. Here he is provoking NEA union boss Marty Spinella into assaulting him: “I’m a white-trash cracker from a white-trash town that no one would even bother to piss on. But here’s the difference. I’ve made something of myself. I have the keys to the Capitol. People respect me. But you, you’re still nothing. You’re just an uppity dago in an expensive suit turning tricks for the unions.” Some of my favorite moments occur when Frank turns directly to the camera in Shakespearean asides looking you, the viewer, in the eye and saying shit like this, “Every Tuesday I sit down with the speaker and the majority leader to discuss the week’s agenda. Well, ‘discuss’ is probably the wrong word… they talk while I imagine their lightly-salted faces frying in a skillet.”
Frank hails from Gaffney and represents South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, a district that just a few years ago had as its representative courtly Democrat Congressman John Spratt, Davidson-educated, a man of immense integrity, as unlike Frank as Henry V is from Macbeth. Of course, now the district has fallen in Republican hands. It would appear as if Democratic elected officials in South Carolina like Spratt and Fritz Hollings have gone the way of the Carolina parakeet – that is, offstage forever.
At any rate, if you like small batch bourbon, chances are you’re going to like House of Cards. Although occasionally you may find your suspension of disbelief in peril, in fact, on the verge of Hindenburging, but the characterization is superb, complex, including Frank’s ruthless, insecure, profoundly unhappy wife Claire and his doppleganger of a mistress Zoe; even his chief of staff comes off as an authentic human being.
The series is strong, tasty, addictive, and capable of knocking you smack dab flat on your ass, like Jefferson’s Reserve, a great small batch bourbon that I wish I had some of right now.