These are heady days for the online on-demand entertainment service Netflix. The company’s stock recently surged 22% after a strong earnings report and news that it signed up 2 million new subscribers in the first quarter of the year. The company’s success has largely been credited to its move into original content -- particularly its political drama “House of Cards.”
With David Fincher on the creative team, the show follows the political trials and travails of mercenary Democratic House whip Frank Underwood and his equally mercenary wife Claire. Is the story a morality study on the price of extreme hubris? Of ethical cowardice? Of unrestrained ambition?
But after watching all 13 episodes, one can’t help but get the feeling that this is also a show about product placement. A total of 2 million new subscribers is all well and good, but is that enough to cover “House of Cards’” reported $100-million price tag?
In its show credits, “House of Cards” offers no disclosures of any product placement it may benefit from -- noting only that logos for products like Sony’s Playstation Vita were “used with permission.” A Netflix spokesperson says its company had no product placement deals in place. A spokesperson for “House of Cards” production company Media Rights Capital said the company does not comment on any element of production.
What if there is no product placement? Could the show’s brand-happyiness simply be Fincherian subtext?
Nonetheless, here are 10 of our favorite subtextual life lessons gleaned from a season of watching “House of Cards.”
Not only should you consider this a spoiler alert, but note that none of the following will make any sense unless you’ve watched the entire first season of the show.
1. Smart spunky women and artsy types use iPhones. Powerful men need a Blackberry.
They’re smart, they’re sexy, they can break a big story at the touch of a button. They’re the women of “House of Cards” and virtually all of them have iPhones on their person at all times. Reporter Zoe Barnes gets her powerful male boss fired with a tweet from her iPhone. Claire, meanwhile, arranges illicit rendezvous with lovers and lobbyists. Don’t mess with these women when they have an iPhone present. You won’t like the results.
To be a man, on the other hand -- a real man, anyway -- you’re going to need a Blackberry. Like Gogol’s lost nose, being without your Blackberry for even a moment is the virtual equivalent of castration.
At season’s close, Frank makes the tragic mistake of leaving his Blackberry behind for a few precious moments of nuptial bliss with his wife Claire. While he’s out, a huge story breaks that threatens his ascension to the vice presidency.
Peter Russo, meanwhile, alienates his constituents, struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, and is generally incompetent. But his real kiss of death is throwing his Blackberry out the window of his car. He was killed shortly thereafter, and deserved everything he had coming to him.
Blackberry: glue it your body or die horribly.
2. Mutually satisfying sex is impossible without a brand name mobile device somewhere in the immediate vicinity of your person.
Reporter Zoe Barnes, played by the lovely Kate Mara, has six on-screen sexual encounters (or implied sexual encounters) throughout the season. A mobile phone was present for four of them – and by present, we actually mean involved, sometimes intimately. Naturally, she had a blast, and/or an emotionally fulfilling time.
Barnes’ two encounters with no phone? Let’s just say she was displeased.
3. The couple that smokes together, stays together.
Yes, your iPhone/Blackberry bestows you with extraordinary sexual prowess. But sex is such shallow and ephemeral relational bellwether. The true hallmark of a stable relationship is cigarettes. Of course all relationships have their ups and downs. But that’s nothing sharing a nightly cigarette together out your bay window won’t fix.
Whether he’s off sleeping with journalists or sacrificing his colleagues’ careers to further his own ambitions, Frank always returns home to share a nightly cigarette with his wife Claire. Sure, she may have the occasional fling with an artsy iPhone user. But artsy iPhone users don’t smoke with her, so she always comes home.
Also of note, some worthy advice from Frank: “Never slap a man while he’s chewing tobacco!”
4. Pork: not only is it the other white meat, it’s the meat of billionaires and political power players.
Want to be vice president? Better “break bacon” with the president’s billionaire best friend. Need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight for an amorphous nonprofit? Better have a whole load of pork ribs handy.
Franks favorite BBQ chef Freddy appears in seven of the show’s 13 episodes. Is he a narrative device that allows Frank to stay in touch with the little people? A humanizing element? Does he at least of offer the occasional nugget of folksy wisdom to keep Frank slightly grounded?
He makes ribs. Delicious pork ribs.
Speaking of which -- Riiiiiibs! OOOOhhhh weeeee! Put some pork products in front of Kevin Spacey and he sure does light up like a candle. The human mouth doesn’t even contain as many teeth as Spacey seems to be showing. Give Spacey the Emmy and give one to his pork ribs for best supporting actor.
5. Cadillac: Drive as drunk as you want! This thing practically parks itself.
Peter Russo’s drunk parallel parking jobs are truly a thing of beauty to behold. It’s worth going to the 24:30 mark of episode 11 to see for yourself. With all the booze he’s been pounding, he should be running over fire hydrants. Instead he’s a perfect six inches away from the curb.
6. Honey Bunches of Oats is the breakfast of political champions.
Tired after a tough morning of political shenanigans? Come home for a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats. Just don’t eat too much. It’s so energizing you’ll go nuts and throw your bowl around the room.
7. Pizza Hut: Culinary Jezebel.
Yes, House majority leader David Rasmussen is incompetent and lazy. But it’s not his fault! The congressional cafeteria serves “such good pizza” the man can’t concentrate – leaving him prone and unguarded for strikes by pork-eating sharks like Frank Underwood. You can add Pizza Hut, alongside cocaine and prostitutes, to the list of the D.C. establishment’s guiltiest pleasures.
8. Rich people use Sony products.
And they do so with no explanation. Despite his incredible workload, Frank inexplicably finds time to play video games on his Playstation Vita. Claire has an iPhone, but when she needs to get somewhere fast, she prefers her Sony onboard navigational system.
Sony: just because.
9. Glenlivet: the drink of choice when trying to fool high-end prostitutes into thinking you have money to blow.
10. You don’t need talent to capture that perfect moment, and the affections of sexy bohemians, just a Canon Eos.
A sharp mind, a steely gaze, and an iPhone somewhere on her person, all serve Claire well and help her to navigate the tortuous world of politics. The Canon Eos, though, is how she really gets the bohos to fall for her.
Three seconds with an Eos in her hand in Episode 11 is all it takes to capture a shot worthy of Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl.”
“I’m amazed how well you got her in focus,” her lover declares, shortly before retiring to bed together.
Did they take the Eos with them? I think we all know the answer to that.