A Nation of Children

Its power and influence on human beings was perhaps best exemplified by Kant’s famous statement about enlightenment, which he defined as “the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority.” We are less interested in the latter part of this quotation in this short analysis of what power is today and how American television depicts and promotes it.

Being in a state of mental minority is the ultimate description of early childhood — that often frustrating period that becomes more positively nuanced as one gets older. Children complain often of being forced to live according to rules they did not make themselves, and follow schedules and behaviors they do not agree with or understand. While normally adults actually cry out of sadness, children cry out of frustration and at times out of real anger. However, when children lose one or both parents, whom they usually transfer their frustration to, they become alarmed and begin to feel lost, and carry with them traumas that are difficult to overcome successfully in adulthood. All this, because the state of mental minority [the child] is forced to live in also carries with it the perception of truly being in a state of minority, of being powerless and therefore needing protection.

This is the magic of power: repeating to yourself that you are weak until you end up believing it. One of the most significant and widespread systems that perpetuates power is the manipulation of information, often justified through the need to “protect” the public and therefore, actually justified through a policy of consciously keeping the public in a non-adult state. In this power system, the adult is the power structure itself, as well as its representatives, and the more they protect us, the more we feel frustrated but not independent — on the contrary, we feel insecure and in need of protection.

In contrast to every other nation in the world, America shows power behind-the-scenes to the whole country, clearly and in primetime. Since Aaron Sorkin’s master work, “The West Wing,” came out in 1999, a series of fictional shows started portraying life inside the White House and the president living there, who is always being defined as the “most powerful man in the world,” “leader of the greatest nation on earth,” and “leader of the free world,” as if these were established and indisputable truths.

Even though they differ quite a bit in qualities and characteristics, “The West Wing,” “House of Cards” and “Scandal” share a fundamental thing: a constant struggle so that certain pieces of information never reach the public. For its own good. And they also share something else: In each of these series, it’s never really the U.S. president who makes decisions, but a series of people who surround him and who most often keep him in the dark about how things really are, thus implicitly revealing that the most childlike among the children is the president himself. In a “Scandal” episode — the soap opera that is the work of the capable Shonda Rhimes, also the author of the most watched crypto-soap on the planet, “Grey’s Anatomy” — the chief of staff tells the president that he is not the one who should lead and make decisions: The president should only make television appearances, have a stable family that appears happy, and good credibility ratings. Besides, it makes a lot of sense using a child to address other children because experience shows that they are more likely to willingly follow the orders of one of their equals than those of an adult.

The horrifying depiction of power in the most excellent “House of Cards” only reinforces this image of power: a series of backstage machinations, completely hidden from the public and leading to important decisions and appointments to public institutions that should instead be contingent only on the vote of the electorate.

We must still ask one question: How is it possible that a public exposed to this face of power does not rebel against the reality of being treated like a child? The answer is simple: In the end, these series serve to reinforce in the public the notion that it is powerless, defenseless and should not — and cannot — do anything about that power.

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