Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Brilliant Insight of Veep

Television has been revolutionized in the past decade by innovative new adult dramas like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, among others.  However, some genres still needed shaking up, especially shows taking place in a political setting.  For years I have failed to ever see a film or television show about politics that rang true in any way.

There are people who stand by The West Wing, but it bears as much resemblance to the reality of politics as I do to Ethel Merman.  None of the politicians in the show, especially the saintly president Bartlett, appear to be motivated by anything other than their ideals.  There are ridiculous soap opera plots, like the kidnapping of the president's daughter, the president being incapacitated, etc.  The West Wing echoes older visions of Washington, like Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where good-hearted pols fight and win against entrenched interests and unscrupulous opponents.  The characters of West Wing are fundamentally good people with the public's interest in mind and the whole enterprise just drips with sugary-sweet sentiment.  Whenever I tried to watch this show, I laughed my ass off.

A more recent show that I find to be equally laughable is House of Cards.  It takes a completely different approach showing a Washington full of back-stabbing and intrigue.  In this version, our politicians are not dewey-eyed do-gooders, but malicious power-mad manipulators.  This version of American politics is just as silly. It turns all of our half-assed, idiotic political leaders into criminal masterminds.

Our political class is not made up of super-villains nor knights in shining armor.  As far as I can tell, it is full of narcissistic, venal, short-sighted, and incompetent careerists. I recently read Mark Leibovich's alternately funny and infuriating new book This Town, which pulls back the curtain behind the world of Washington insiders.  The political class, which includes journalists, flacks, hacks, lobbyists and operatives as much as it does politicians themselves, comes across as ridiculously egotistical and disconnected from the rest of America.  Just imagine an entire world full of the Type A brown-noser who got elected class president at your school.  Washington is neither the font of virtue we sometimes see portrayed on the screen, nor is it a land of malicious puppet-masters.  No, it's a colony of self-centered, bumbling assholes.

While the situations in Veep aren't exactly true to life, it really nails the ethos of Washington's political class, and its priorities.   Selena Meyer's staff frets over what kind of frozen yogurt to buy at a photo-op, so as to send the right message.  The liason to the president is an insufferable turd, but his proximity to higher power means that others must curry favor with him.  Any attempt at passing legislation gets shredded by special interets, and at the end of the day, Meyer is more worried about how the failure of her pet initiatives hurts her image than anything else.  Nobody seems to care at all about the public good; keeping donors happy and maintaining a high media profile are far more important.  With a thoroughly useless and inept Congress constantly threatening to shut down the government or hold the debt ceiling hostage, Veep is definitely a sign of the times, and a funny one at that.

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