Research draft Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood

Villains are everywhere in today's media, from movies to TV shows to books. Fictional Villains usually appear to be the main antagonist to the beloved protagonist. Some examples I have seen for myself include the Joker to Batman, Jafar to Aladdin, or Captain Hook to Peter Pan.

Every fictional villain looks to take down their arch nemesis with similar qualities and characteristics across all platforms that may include greed, lack of empathy, intelligence, an overall evil goal, etc. There are many people out there who get labeled as a villain and are seen by the media to be evil. These people often are political figures who may be Corrupt or very unfavorable. I see many examples in our history with people like Richard Nixon or a more specific example, Huey Long. Now when it comes to House of Cards, Frank Underwood is the spotlight of the fictional series. He is not the protagonist however, a couple episodes in and the audience quickly learns that he is Ruthless and Manipulates people for his own political interest. There is no evident series long protagonist like most fictional villains have to face, which I found very interesting. I decided to dive in deeper to examine what makes Frank Underwood a villain and how he does it.

A little background on Frank Underwood, he was first elected to public office when he was just 25 years old in 1984 as a member of the South Carolina State Senate. He then worked his way up by getting elected in 1990 as a U.S. Representative from South Carolina's 5th congressional district. He served 12 terms working his way all the way up to House Majority Whip in 2005 for the National Democratic Party. (House Of Cards Wikia biography) He is now at the top of congress within his party. What is quickly learned is that he is not done, he is obsessed with Power, like every other villain.

The defining characteristics I see in Frank Underwood includes Power, Manipulation, Decisiveness, and Ruthless. I will guide along the story line of House of Cards from Frank's perspective labeling his devious actions with his defining characteristics and breaking down his Decisive thinking behind every move. I also want to mention that every move he makes is very thought out and methodical, never missing a step in his planning, Frank makes sure he ways out all the options for the smartest plan of action that will get him the power he wants. I could go through all the specific details behind every move but it would take a novel, instead I will focus heavily detailed on the first two seasons as he works his way up to Power.

As Beau Willimon starts off House of Cards, Frank Underwood is presented as a a normal politician. Right off the start a bone is thrown and hungry dog will chase. Frank, being the dog, has his eyes on Secretary of State, a spot higher up in power on the presidents cabinet that just opened up. The current president, Garrett Walker, must choose a replacement and previously promised to elect Frank. He went on to be influenced to pick Michael Kern instead which began the fiery Ruthless rampage of Frank Underwood. He knows at this point he has no chance to fill this position so he takes matters into his own hands in order to get someone he wants in that seat and throw Michael Kern under the bus. “A villain must, on the other hand, be endowed with a motivational dimension. They must have the ability to transform the world around by exercising their will.” Frank exercises his will by Manipulating congressman Peter Russo who was an editor on Kern's old college paper. They agreed to a deal where in exchange for a chance at Governor of Pennsylvania, Russo would change the author of a conservative piece on foreign affairs regarding Pakistan to Michael Kern's name. Once it gets leaked to the media, President Walker has no choice but to choose someone else due to the current political stance of the Democratic party in the Middle East.

Peter Russo

It would be extremely illegal for Frank to leak anything which is an important step in his Corrupt plan. He meets a young reporter, Zoe Barnes, trying to find her way in her career and will do anything for a story. He proceeds to have a secret affair for mutual benefits, She gets top headline stories for her paper while Frank gets to leak whatever he wants to Manipulate the media. With this asset Frank can now destroy anyone's image without getting any blood on his hands.

Frank Underwood is always using his Power to negotiate deals, like he did with Russo to destroy Kern. He offered Russo a chance to become Governor of his home state, Pennsylvania. He made sure that when Catherine Durant would get the vacant Secretary of State position that if he ever needed any favors she would be loyal to him. She stayed loyal by helping get President Walker out of office. Loyalty always came in to play on one side of the deal, the only thing that can be broken after a deal was made. Frank wasn't scared to break loyalty to others, he knew who he needs and everyone else is worthless. He promised Jackie Sharpe a spot on his ticket as running mate, but by the time that came around she was long gone out of Franks changing Decisive plans. For every great villain they feed off loyalty of the people under them. Adolf Hitler had one of the strongest presence of loyalty ever seen in the World, but what happens when people break loyalty, or even just fail their leader? Frank is as Ruthless as Hitler when it comes to loyalty. Hitler once brilliantly order a destruction of a bridge that was crucial to supplying the American army with troops and goods, but after his army failed to do so, "A furious Hitler ordered the execution of the eight Army officers who had bungled the bridge's defense." (The History Place: Defeat of Hitler) Historians say that this started a do-or-die phase for German troops where if they failed or made a mistake it was punishable by death. This seems very extreme, but in reality it is not. A leader must be Ruthless and Decisive in all cases and must stay consistent in their actions, any inconsistencies will result in doubt seeping through any loyalty to the leader.

I witnessed three people go against Frank and his devious plans, the first was Peter Russo, an unimportant alcoholic and drug abusing pawn, as Frank might put it. After promising to go sober Russo got back into bad habits, showing he was weak, cracking under pressure, something Frank does not do nor even thinks about when he ponders. "There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that's only suffering. I have no patience for useless things. Moments like this require someone who will act. Who will do the unpleasant thing, the necessary thing. There, no more pain." (Season 1, Wikia) Frank breaks the fourth wall as he breaks a dogs neck whom is slowly dying from being struck by a car to let the audience know he has no time for useless pain and will Ruthlessly act when no one will. After Russo defies Frank's trust too many times by going against his words in just the littlest ways, Frank decides to act. He stages Russo's death as a suicide when Russo was too drunk to realize what was going on. An asset that quickly turned to a Liability, as any great villain knows that liability must be terminated, just like those army officials failed Hitler.

Drifting away from murder, I will soon return to the two other disloyal fools who betrayed Frank as well. but first, Frank while dealing with all this drama, has his eyes still set on Power. Although he truly wanted Russo to succeed at Governor, like any great villain Frank had a back up plan of using "one man's tragedy is another man's treasure." (Wikia, Season 3) Jim Matthews, an unhappy Vice President and originally from Pennsylvania, was helping Russo with his campaign when he unexpectedly committed suicide. Frank was now Decisive, he quickly changed plans without the audience even knowing. “They must have some sort of reactive and adaptive intelligence, so that they can choose alternative ways of reaching their goals, defend their interests, and fight back.” (Villains and Villainy, 7) His rise to Power would be challenged with unbreakable boundaries in front of him, but what if he created openings in the positions he wanted. Jim Matthews was now a top candidate with Frank's help to step down from Vice President where he was unhappy and go back to Governor, the golden years of his political career. Frank has now Manipulated the second highest position in the White House to step down. He can not just take the open position nor volunteer as President Walker would realize Frank's intentions in this whole situation and would expose his Corrupt qualities. So Frank and White House Chief of Staff, and second most loyal servant to Frank, Linda Vasquez created a list of VP candidates for President Walker to pick from, however the list was full of incompetent candidates that they knew he would never pick. Walker would then get frustrated under the pressure to pick a new VP. when the time was right and pressure at its peak, Linda would then mention Frank's name after he exited the room. The seed was planted, trap set, bait laid out, and President Walker took it. This plan was brilliant on so many levels and took a gamble on the psychological level of President Walker.

I want to take a step back and look at where we are, the first season has concluded with Frank Underwood, Now Vice President, a murderer, and Corrupt politician.

Now that Frank has moved his way up to being Vice President he must break ties with Zoe Barnes, agreeing to erase all prior meetings and conversations as well as they agree to go their separate ways in their careers. After seeing everyone he Manipulated, If i were Zoe Barnes i would be grateful to be away from him. This was her chance to get out of what was a very illegal and dangerous affair. Just like any other time the reporter of course does not stop there, they always want "the full story". After seeing Frank gain more Power and advance himself coincidentally right after Russo's death she knew something was up regarding the fact she already knew how Corrupt he was. She started digging, finding pieces of information that led one to another, continued digging, and started questioning Frank. Frank told precisely and clear, stop digging or else. How many times in media does the villain one of their enemies off and it comes back to bite them? I mean how many times in a typical movie does the villain have the protagonist caught and right when they are about to kill them, something happens, explodes, etc. and the protagonist escapes to fight another day. That is how I felt when seeing Frank let her off after threatening him with releasing this information.

House of Cards is the greatest show to feature a villain ever, why? because the villain actually wins sometimes, Zoe keeps digging and for God knows why she decides to meet him in the subway. Dark, gloomy, no cameras they meet by some technical equipment and right as they are about to walk away Frank pushes her unexpectedly into the tracks where suddenly at the same time a train comes and demolishes her. Ruthless

The second person to disobey Frank's loyalty. It is clear at this point he will stop at nothing to get Power. In his short time at Vice President, there is a four way, season and a half long, back and forth, political war. Yes, war is the best way to describe it as everyone is going behind each others back trying to ensure the best for themselves. the biggest battle is Frank vs Tusk, President Walker's closest friend. after twist after twist, long dragged out episodes of scheming it was like watching Frank Underwood vs. Frank Underwood in the way they both thought and acted the same. In the end Frank won by creating so much distrust in Tusk that Walker refused to trust either of them. Throughout this there was illegal money being sent to the Republicans by Tusk. The entire thing opened up to a federal investigation and with Walker being in the middle of it there was no situation in which he came out well. He was forced to resign as Congress, with the help of Frank's Manipulation of course, was ready to impeach him. Now President, Frank with an overwhelming amount of disapproval on polls had to now plan for reelection and public support.

Throughout the election Frank is losing to the Republican candidate, Will Conway. It is found out to be that Conway is using Pollyhop, equivalent to Google, to monitor what his target voters want. This way he can just appeal to what everyone wants in order to gain votes. This is called data-mining, which is currently being exploited in recent elections. It is not illegal and "13 million dollars was spent between the two campaigns in 2012." (Political Data, Chideya) This is culturally significant as it is a gray area in politics. "The modern-day corruption of American elections is bigger than partisan politics because many corrupt techniques recognize no partisan boundaries." (Dirty Little Secrets, Sabato) As of now Chideya, who has covered every election since 1996 and has attended Harvard's institute of politics and New York University's Journalism Institute, believes that even if one is not tuned into politics, the politics may already be tuned into that person. Robert Dahl, Political Science Professor at Yale and founder of the Pluralists theory, claims there are five election-criteria. One of which is "elected officials must be chosen and removed in free,fair, and frequent elections." (Election Fraud, Alvarez) With this controversial data-mining are elections truly free and fair? As House of Cards release new seasons, they follow along very well with current politics and may warn us about our culture if changes are not made.

Although Frank Underwood is a fictional character, his actions and events throughout the show correlate indirectly with other cases in history. Summarizing the illegal activities involving Tusk and Feng, they used an Indian casino to redirect funds from the Democrats to the Republicans, while staying in the dark the whole time. There was actually a case where Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist at the time, Used Indian casino pay offs to create fake christian groups to urge voters to contact their representatives in order to create an anti-gambling vote. "Lobbyist Jack Abramoff used money from a Mississippi tribal client to set up bogus Christian anti-gambling groups." (PSALTF, Grimaldi) He paid 4 million dollars through various organizations to Ralph Reed who set up anti-gambling campaigns, which ironically that money came from casino-rich Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Politics! (PSALTF, Grimaldi)

Frank Underwood's character can actually be dated back to Shakespeare's time. Just as Kevin Spacey confirms, Frank Underwood and Shakespeare's villain Richard III are connected. As James R. Keller, English Professor and chair of the Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy at Mississippi University for Women, would compare it "Underwood’s deceit, his dissembling, his intricate machinations, his self-gratification, and mostly his direct address to the audience are indicative of the early modern stage villain." (The Vice, Keller)

Huey Long, Governor of Louisiana 1928-1932, has many little similarities to Frank that I found interesting. First off Long was labeled a villain by most especially the wealthy as he was a radical Democrat. Long had such a high level of confidence that he wrote a book about his presidency before he was elected, just like how Frank tried to have a book written about him in order to help his reelection process. Long created a public works program called Share Our Wealth where he, "wanted the government to confiscate the wealth of the nation's rich and privileged." (Social Security History) Frank created a public works program called America Works where anyone qualified could walk up and sign up for a job. Both programs helped support from beneficiaries but failed because of funding.

Works Cited

Alvarez, R. Michael., et al. Election Fraud. Washington D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2008.

Chideya, Farai. “Political Data Is Everywhere - But What Does It All Mean?” The Intercept, 17 July 2015, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

“Frank Underwood.” House of Cards Wiki, Wikia, Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

Gavin, Phillip. “The History Place - Defeat of Hitler: Enter the Bunker.” The History Place - Defeat of Hitler: Enter the Bunker, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Keller, James R. "The Vice In Vice President: House Of Cards And The Morality Tradition." Journal of Popular Film & Television 43.3 (2015): 111-120. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Sabato, Larry J. Dirty Little Secret: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics. New York, NY, Times Books, 1996.

Schmidt, Susan, and James V Grimaldi. “Panel Says Abramoff Laundered Tribal Funds.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 June 2005, dyn/content/article/2005/06/22/AR2005062200921.html. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

“Social Security.” Social Security History, Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

Villains and Villainy. New York, US: Editions Rodopi, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 20 February 2017.

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