Mind Matters — Why House of Cards? Why Now?

Knock, knock, who’s there? Why it’s Kevin Spacey playing Frank Underwood as the ruthless politician in House of Cards. Whenever he gets his way, or figures he will, Underwood raps his knuckles on whatever hard surface is at hand. Does Satan do this in the underworld? As a psychologist, I wonder why this TV series has so obsessed our psyches. Are we all that jaded and cynical that we believe evil should win against all odds?

Underwood and his wife, in their conniving—he even to the point of murder—are consummate sociopaths or psychopaths. Both terms have become interchangeable in many circles for the anti-social personality disorder in which the person so defined lacks conscience, guilt, or shame. Machiavellian to the max, this individual uses any means to his or her ends. There are white collar sociopaths who walk among us, beautiful, handsome, charming, and affable on the outside, exploitive and unconscionable on the inside. They can be heads of corporations, or climbing the ladder to success. They can even by psychologists, sad to say.

I have met them in my office, but the sociopath most like Underwood I ever met was my supervisor when I worked in a methadone clinic. Wanting me to be fired, he sabotaged my charts. His ultimate goal was to oust the director and acquire his position. Just as in House of Cards, no one caught on to his sick game—except me. If it hadn’t been for the wise counsel of the psychologist I was seeing, I would have thought I was losing my mind. It was my therapist who kept me grounded and reminded me that the supervisor was a sociopathic manipulator. I tried to explain the situation to the director and other staff, but all were in denial of the truth that I saw. So I quit. Six months later, the director called me and acknowledged that everything I said was true and would I like my job back. The supervisor had been fired, but I did not return.

The plot thickens with more stories about this man’s sociopathy. Like Underwood, he always landed on his feet, no matter how heinous his actions. And like Underwood, he had all the people around him hoodwinked.

What disturbs me, however, is why, in House of Cards, everyone that speaks truth to power gets, if not murdered, muzzled. And why is there no one who can sniff out a sociopath when they see one? And why are we so enamored with evil so unfettered?

Hopefully, fiction here does not portray the facts of our nation. Yet, while we view House of Cards with fervor, we as a country are also being mesmerized by “reality” shows that have little to do with real life. Are these our bread and circus moments to lull us into indifference?

“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men,” said Plato. So—let us begin to see the sociopaths in our midst no matter that they smile so charmingly. When you hear “Knock, knock”—really question, “Who’s there?”