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Monday, February 17, 2014

Claire Underwood on "House of Cards": Antihero, Villain or...Role Model?

Before you begin reading, know that I am not going to interrupt your House of Cards season 2 Netflix binge watch by spoiling any plot details in this post. So you can put your pitchforks down and throw up the peace sign. But I do want to talk about some some of the characterization on the show, specifically regarding the show's lead female Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). Earlier today I was having a passionate debate on Twitter about a recent Jezebel piece which suggested that she is "a Feminist Warrior Antihero." As it turns out, many feel like Claire is actually a villain, not an antihero. 

This is actually a discussion I've been meaning to write about on this blog for a while--antiheroes versus villains. I knew it would be a fascinating conversation since we all have their own interpretations on both terms. For those of you unfamiliar with House of Cards, Claire is the wife of politician Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey). While last season we saw a more subdued portrayal, a woman who was willing to do whatever it takes to get where she wanted to be, I think this season we see her work more aggressively so both she and Frank can get where they need to be. Her storyline was marginalized last season (it was good but didn't seem to flow as perfectly into the main theme), where I think this time around she is far more essential to not only the show but also Frank. I'd even go as far to say that this season without Claire, Frank is nothing.

That said, Claire must match Frank's ruthlessness and ambition toe to toe. Which means she comes off as a bitch, mostly because she's a woman and that's usually the default term to use for such "ruthless and ambitious" women. But to me she just seems, well, determined and...kind of my spirit animal (in my head, like when I'm dreaming)? She is more identifiable than not, and I think that while she is brash and doesn't wasn't time sugarcoating the inevitable she's also a bit of a hero. Some may even call her a role model (this part may be pushing it, but I'm sure I could find someone who's dying to create a line of Claire barbie dolls for little girls). 

My point is, Claire seems more like an antihero than a villain to me. While she is unethical at times, without a doubt an homage to the realities of inside political culture, she is within bounds and has compassion for others and honor for herself. Even those she is competing with (which is pretty much everyone), she demands they bring their A game to the table and give her a real challenge. There is no half-stepping or second guessing when it comes to Claire. She goes hard or not at all. 

She's not a likable character, which is to say she's not someone I would probably invite to my next movie night at home. But she's definitely someone I would want in my rolodex, someone who could give me free life coach sessions. Because whether you think of her as a hero, villain or antihero Claire is winning


37paddington said...

Interesting! I don't know how I feel about Claire. She definitely has more emotional depth and range than sociopathic Frank does, though she represses it in order to deal with her husband. I'm only on episode 5 of the second season, so I have to see where her character goes. I'm intrigued that at this point, it could go in any direction and be completely plausible, which I think is a testament to the writers and Robin Wright's acting.

Maria Magdalena Biela said...

Really, would you take "free life coach sessions" from a woman who acts like that in real life?

- She illegally cancels the health insurance of a former employee to deprive her of the medicine her foetus needs, using the maneuver as leverage in making her wrongful-termination lawsuit go away. Claire says, "I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that’s what’s required."
- She knows and does not object to the fact that her husband is sleeping with a 22-year-old reporter, partly in order to wield psychological control over her; she is fine with his plan to destroy the young reporter; and the show strongly implies that she looks the other way when her husband murders the reporter.
- An ambitious female assistant to the president is fired when Claire disingenuously implies to the first lady that she is having an affair with the president.
- Claire pretends to befriend the first lady and manipulates her into going to marriage counselling in order to facilitate her husband's downfall as president.
- While working on an anti-sexual assault bill, Claire pressures another woman who was raped by the same general—and who struggles with suicidal thoughts—to come forward, insisting the political pay-off will be worth the significant personal sacrifice. But later, after the younger woman comes forward and suffers, it turns out that continuing to push the bill would have a political cost for Claire, at which point she opportunistically drops the legislation.

If so, that means that indeed US of A is in deep trouble...I was never a fan of USA but after reading Candice Frederick's statement, I am thankful to live in Finland, Europe. You are scary, people of USA! If you consider, even hypothetically, that Claire Underwood-kind of women could advice you about life morality, life behaviour, then you really deserve what you get.

Daniel said...

Think antihero is a perfect description for the Underwood's. I am fascinated by Claire's character, I think those moments when she lets her guard down are really telling about what drives her.

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