I have been watching two very different shows lately: Empire and House of Cards.
One show is set in a world of white power – politicians in DC are plotting against each other, only interested in influence and money. All you see is ties, crown molding, conversations in dark luxury cars, and fake smiles.
The other show is set in the world of an African-American bootstraps success story – R&B and hip hop stars are doing anything for fame and money. All you see is amazing clothes, expensive parties, and threats thrown across hallways with platinum records framed on the walls.
So today I am at work, and I’m working (I swear) – and all of a sudden, it hit me – Lucius Lyon and Francis Underwood are very similar characters. They are murderers, liars, and manipulative men who are obsessed with power.
Since I still have a sociology brain from grad school, I immediately thought – what does this say about masculinity? Here are two main characters of two of the most popular shows out right now – and both men are despicable, but successful. Is that what it takes to be a successful man? To sell part of your soul? According to mainstream media, it is becoming quite a pattern.
The president in Scandal had to do it (don’t tell me anything! I’m so behind!), Jamal in Empire is doing it… they come to a crossroads where, up until this point, they were a good guy. And then another evil dude in their life has shown them that they have to do “whatever it takes” to “make it” and they cave. They hold a man over a balcony, or kill someone, or whatever – just to keep their success.
The women, meanwhile, are doing some of the same things, but they seem to keep their relateable-ness and they still seem to have a conscience. We root for them. Zoe in House of Cards is annoying and she bugs the shit out of me – but she seems to still have a trace of humanity, and you don’t put her in the same category as Underwood (and don’t tell me anything! I’m only on the first season! Maybe I should have caught up before writing this… ah, well.) Cookie on Empire (WHO IS THE BEST CHARACTER EVER ON TELEVISION) does some intense stuff, but you like her. You feel bad for her. If she kills a dude who is coming after her or beats up her son for a sec, you are okay with it. Why? I have no idea.
But these main characters – Lucius and Underwood – they just have too many parallels. Narcissists who throw their loved ones under the bus to achieve their goals. Where is the main male character whose conscience is clean and is still successful? Who has a loving and healthy family life?
I just think it is interesting that there is this message: whether you started out as a good guy, or were the devil to begin with, you will have to do some evil shit to be successful (like, history books and household names successful).
Where did this come from? What do you think?
Side note: I like House of Cards. But I wish I liked it more. House of Cards is like vegetables and Empire is like ice cream. I know House of Cards is quality television that has all this good stuff like amazing subtleties in character development and production… but I get a little bored. What can I say – I like the flashy, Glee-y, R&Btastic tastiness of Empire. But now that season one is over I have a sugar hang over. COME BACK TO ME.
Check out this great article about diversity in Hollywood – so well written! Shows like Empire and Scandal are finally proving that we like seeing non-white people on TV! Deal with it.
I hope you have a great weekend! I am off to Cambria with Anthony to celebrate our two year anniversary. <3 Hope you all find time to relax!