Blog Post

A Falling House of Cards: Theorizing on the Medium and the Message

While watching David Fincher’s latest project House of Cards, a fantastic show that I highly recommend to those interested in political intrigue, I noticed that the show was based off of a book. Now this fact alone did not pique my interest, but in the credits it is stated that House of Cards is a “television show” adapted from a novel. This statement especially piqued my interest because House of Cards is not on television, but is a web series featured in large installments on Netflix (at least the American version, the British version first premiered on the BBC).

Later on in the week, as a sat in one of my classes, I began to think about what it means for something to be characterized as a television show if the show does not premier on television. From this initial question my mind kept rolling (it was a long day in class) and I thought about what it meant for any production to be characterized as a part of a particular medium if it is not being disseminated using that medium i.e. what is a book that’s not in print (e-book), what is a radio broadcast that’s not transmitted through the radio (podcast), etc. Thinking about Marshall McLuhan and that incredibly iconic statement “The Medium is the Message” I wondered, what was the relationship between the medium and the content in the digital/hypermedia age?

            Parlaying this discussion into my current interests, I am working on an Honors Thesis in which I have taken Vladimir Nabokov’s unfinished novel The Original of Laura and used it to create an interactive version of the novel. In presenting this text the question that I posed to myself was, taking the Hypertext Nabokov (which is a series of annotated videos on YouTube that a reader can traverse) and the Print Nabokov (a book that contains a series of index cards that a reader can take out and read in any combination), are these two texts the same? Is a print book and an electronic narrative, with the same content, the same entity if and when they are presented using two different mediums? Is the internet or digital media some type of super medium that transcends other mediums with its ability to create simulated reproductions of other media while entirely remediating the content of that media by giving it a new form?

            Currently I don’t really have the answers to that question, to be honest I haven’t even finished my honors thesis, but I can propose my theories on the subject and maybe the rest of the community can add to my thoughts for some real collaborative learning. In my opinion and through the eyes of Baudrillard, we are in a time period in which the medium has entered into the realm of simulacrum through the use of the internet. As the title sequence of House of Cards indicates, the internet does not only simulate and reproduce other media, but it actually presents media as part of itself. When I watch a show online I rarely think, this is a web series, but I do feel that I am watching a television show that just happens to be online despite the fact that there is no televised referent for that show. I can read a book online and while that book still carries aspects of the print medium, those details have been immersed into the digital so seamlessly that flipping a page on an e-reader is akin to flipping the page of a book.

Going back to McLuhan, I have this conception that there is no longer a one to one relationship between the medium and the message when it comes to studying the internet. As a medium, the internet has many mediums embedded within it in the same way that a simulation of reality is embedded within simulacra. Thinking towards the future, it will be interesting to see the ways in which the internet breaks away and forms its own reality outside of the other forms of media.


1 comment

I think you've hit on many of the complexities of this new age of the Internet as the medium - or NOT as the medium. In the context of House of Cards in particular, two things spring to mind:

1. I actually do watch it on TV, by streaming Netflix from my WiiU. Even though it's not broadcast on a traditional TV channel, I still consider myself to be watching a TV show on my TV... so there are actually multiple viewer experiences and perspectives in play.

2. It's interesting to see how the TV format is adapted by Fincher for House of Cards, to take advantage of the fact that Netflix isn't a traditional viewing experience. For instance, the closing scene of episode 1 transitions immediately into the opening scene of episode 2 --- because people tend to binge-watch TV shows on Netflix. (This is also why the entire season was released at once.) So, even though this non-TV TV show isn't a radical departure from the traditional format, they are taking liberties and playing with presentation in small ways that could become big in the future.

I'll keep an eye out for posts about your project - it sound interesting!