Parallel Washingtons come together – a delicious confluence
There are times when fact and fiction gloriously intertwine. For me, one of those times is this week.
My wife and I are usually one step behind in our adoption of personal technology. I held on to my old text-and-talk Nokia handset long after IPhones and Blackberries started wiping out the mobile Neanderthals. We got into satellite TV pretty early, but stubbornly resisted on-demand long after Breaking Bad and other Netflix staples became meat and drink for our offspring. They didn’t see the need for TV when they could lounge in bed with their favourite box sets on their IPads.
Then our elder daughter gave us a kick up the technological backside by giving us an Amazon Firestick and a Netflix subscription for Christmas. We sat looking at the package for a while, until younger daughter’s intended, who knows about these things, set the whole thing up on our TV.
It would be wrong to say that on-demand TV has changed our lives, or opened up a new world. After all, a TV show is a TV show. But it did put in place the first piece of this week’s delicious confluence.
That piece, praise be, is the American version of House of Cards. So far, we’ve seen eight episodes of Series One. It took about twenty minutes of the first episode to forget about Francis Urquhart, the anti-hero of the original 1990 British drama. Frank Underwood, the manipulative House majority whip, is more than a match for his predecessor.
What better time than now to watch Kevin Spacey’s character blackmailing, using and abusing his way to power, creating fake stories and cynically undermining the rule of law? Can Underwood’s machinations be worse than the conniving, plotting and squirming that must currently be going on in the corridors of the White House?
And when, as it surely must, the story of Donald Trump’s tenure – brief or otherwise – is turned into a movie or TV series, who better to make it than the team who created House of Cards?
There are two other tributaries running into our great river of narrative. In the UK, we’re into the latest series of Homeland. Carrie Mathison has got herself into yet another pickle. Her erstwhile colleague Peter Flynn, his body and mind all but destroyed by the poison gas administered by a bunch of terrorists in Germany, has discovered a conspiracy involving a shadowy private company that operates out of a large and anonymous building in DC. These guys, it seems, have acted as agents provocateurs in order to whip up a storm of paranoia about – guess what? The threat to America posed by Islamist terrorism.
A bomb goes off in New York. A young Muslim is duly blamed. But he’s a patsy, it seems. And amid the frenzy, the President-elect, a woman who doesn’t buy into this threat nonsense, is whisked away into a secret location “for her own safety”. To her it feels like a kidnap. To us it looks like a coup. And to cap it all, at the end of this week’s episode, an FBI agent who’s investigating the bombing gets whacked by an operative from the shadowy company.
All of which happens during the week when we learn, courtesy of Wikileaks, that the CIA can do all kinds of magic hacking tricks that allow them to watch us munching Maltesers while we’re watching Homeland. And also when we stumbled upon an old story about a windowless concrete skyscraper in Manhattan called the AT&T Long Lines Building. Apparently it’s home to a secret National Security Agency surveillance base. Not so secret now, I guess.
Shadowy companies, shadowy buildings, conspiracies, the Deep State, Iran, North Korea, Islamist terrorism – you name it, you’ll find it in Homeland. Poor Carrie and the hapless Flynn are stuck in the middle of it all.
But hold on. Are these not critical components of the real-life drama playing out in Washington right now? With the added bonus, of course, of a President so deranged that he makes Carrie look as normal as an accountant. Not even the makers of Homeland anticipated that little twist.
Still, nobody’s been whacked yet, at least not in DC. Elsewhere, though, Russian diplomats and intelligence officials seem to be dropping like flies. Nothing to do with the Steele dossier on Trump’s links with Russia – heart attacks can happen to anyone, can’t they? And I must say that I’ve never in any of my frequent visits to Kuala Lumpur airport spotted any young ladies with white handkerchiefs ready to clean the faces of passing North Koreans.
All in all, in my household we’re having a whale of a time watching fiction and fact, real life and fantasy, flowing into a soupy river of doubt and incredulity.
It would be even more fun if it wasn’t for the underlying realities: that people are being rounded up, deported, insulted and excluded, that mosques and Jewish graveyards are being desecrated, and a that a lunatic who spends hours watching inane TV shows and sends poisonous tweets at three in the morning is now in charge of the asylum. If the madness was confined to Washington, we wouldn’t need Homeland and House of Cards to keep us amused. The greatest reality show on earth beats everything else.
If you’re a Brit, and a political junkie like me, you might think that the Brexit entertainment would be a welcome alternative to all the stuff going on across the pond. There have been times when I and many others have have seen Trump and Brexit as intertwined abominations. Now I’m coming to see that the differences are as significant as the similarities. Brexit is a slow, muddy river of depression, whereas Trump is a manic white-water ride.
Or, to use a different analogy, Trump may well be a supernova, flaming out in a gigantic explosion that will light up the sky. My country, on the other hand, seems to be a dying star, slowly degrading. This year: Brexit. In 2018: Scottish independence. Any time soon: renewed conflict in Northern Ireland. No longer united, no longer great. Our politicians are the opposite of Trump – risk-averse and predictable. They are boring us into submission.
Nobody is likely to make Brexit: the Movie. It wouldn’t sell. But Trump? Now there’s a story. Or rather multiple stories, or even alternative stories.
The drama in Washington will continue to unfold over the coming months. For us, it will run alongside the rest of Homeland and several more series of House of Cards. I can’t wait.
Will Trump’s world really turn out to be even more gruesome than those of Carrie Mathison and Frank Underwood?
You might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.