Modern cinema took off with two stares into camera: Harriet Andersson challenged the audience to judge her for her new affair in Summer with Monika (Bergman, 1953), and Jean Seberg did the same thing seven years later in À bout de souffle (Godard), probably a direct quotation of the previous film, when in its last shot she pretended to be something she was not. The look at the camera was thus established as a breach in form, the characters acknowledge their own performative act, related also to a subversion of the social and genre conventions, both women betray their lovers. Cinema would never be the same again, self-consciousness and reflexivity would become the main features of contemporary cinema, from films about the essence of cinema and acting (Persona) to studies of the generic and the thin barrier between reality and fiction disappearing in our current society (Synecdoche New York). Viewer, actor and character converge into one single entity.
This past year television has given us other three important looks into camera (besides mockumentaries). Unlike those in cinema, these three gazes do not offer a rupture in the medium but a dialogue with the audience, a mirror image. Television is the entertainment form relegated to our homes, and its images, and, most of all, the images that look at us, reflect our own nature. Therefore, this device does not announce a change in the medium, it announces our own changes.
When we watched Peggy and Don (and Roger, Cooper, and the Francis…), the impossible unusual families Peggy had longed for in the previous episode, watching television, Mad Men showed us us. They were not amazed by Neil Armstrong’s achievement, they were looking straight into the audience, we looked at them and they stared back at us. Viewer and viewée coincided but their looks did not pierce the screen, as in cinema, but both looks, ours and characters’, mirrored each other, we were looking at the two sides of the same screen. We understood that at the center of Mad Men were these flawed, selfish, consumerist characters, the same characters forty years later we also find on our side of the screen.
Abed Nadir finally looked at the camera in which was supposed to be the last episode of Community. He is a clear symptom of modernity, unable to differentiate reality and fiction because there is no line that separates them anymore. We live in a fictionalized reality where the overflow of information of the online era, in the form of social networks, smartphones…, has conquered reality, there is no communication, there are only representations of communication. It is not a coincidence that many Community episodes are based on spoofs of other popular culture products, their fictional reality is continuously being refictionalized. Abed looks at us with a complicit gaze, he is the most disconnected character of all, he is the one that looks more like us, he is our clear reflection.
Frank Underwood is not a person, is not a character, he’s a an addition of a series of concepts: ambition, hypercapitalism, power at any price, excess… Claire and he are, as many have already suggested, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, two sides of the same coin but, unlike the Shakespearian couple, they do not represent the same character because they are not a character, they are a personification of a symptom. House of Cards is not the story of the rise to power of Frank Underwood, it is the story of these hypermodern values crawling into the power institutions. The monster look at us with a fuck you in his eyes as his takes office. Frank is a warning to the world, and his victory, our defeat.
Three looks at the camera, three stares into our eyes, three pictures of our current world.