Now that I’m sure most of us have seen at least the first episode of the second season of House of Cards, can we talk about the Cathedral Heights metro scene? Don’t worry, I’m not offering any spoilers here other than the fact that the scene was not filmed anywhere in the DC metro system. There is a Cathedral Heights in DC, but unfortunately there is no metro station nearby (Maybe there could be. TWH?). But that wasn’t the only way you could tell. The distinctive interiors of the metro system were absent and there were definitely people standing on the left side of the escalator without any fear of reprisal.
I know that there are only about 600,000 people living in the District of Columbia, and that maybe there are a million other people scattered around the country and the world who would pick up on that discrepancy. But as someone who has grown to love this city, it bothered me.
Unfortunately, the majority of the show isn’t filmed in DC. Oh yes, it’s made to look that way. But you’re looking at Baltimore. It’s actually quite fitting though that a show about Washington is cloaked in a facade. As anyone who lives in the District knows, there’s a difference between Washington and DC. DC is where life happens, where things don’t look the way that you see it in the media. In the District there are families, farmers markets, an untold number of bearded hipsters, yoga teachers, coffee places, and pretentious bars. There are schools, hospitals, and parks. There is also rampant poverty, homelessness, inequality, and seemingly unchecked gentrification. Just like any other city.
But DC never gets to be in the movies. Washington does. I just wish that so much of it wasn’t filmed in Baltimore.
When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with Murphy Brown. Now, I don’t really have the space or time to analyze all the ways that makes me a weirdo, but it did influence me in one extremely important way: it made me want to live in Washington, DC one day. The Washington that “Murph”and her crazy FYI friends inhabited seemed like home for the bookish, ambitious, burgeoning feminist I was at eight years old. I wanted the Georgetown rowhouse, the media job, the pub. For the record, I did not and still do not want the single motherhood (not that theres anything wrong with that). As a kid I didn’t know or care that the show was filmed in Los Angeles. It was enough to make Washington a romantic prospect for a young New Yorker.
Speaking of New York, I love seeing my home city in all of the movies and television shows. The iconic skyline, the shots of the park, and graffiti-covered buildings are images that scream New York that you can see if you visit the citywhich I think for tourists is half the fun. Even those of us from Queens were thrilled when Flight of the Conchords was filmed in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Brooklyn (outer boroughs unite!).
And when I moved to DC, I can’t deny that I got a thrill from seeing the Capitol outside my backyard or wandering past historic and iconic places just going about my daily life. If I wasn’t going to live in Manhattan, well then I might as well live in another world-famous place.
The thing about living in DC, though, is that you realize quickly that all the monuments and memorials are just thatlife isn’t lived on the Mall. It’s not even lived exclusively in Georgetown or Dupont Circle. The city is so much larger and more vibrant than that. I live and work in two neighborhoods that look nothing like the DC in House of Cards or even The West Wing. Sometimes I forget I’m even in a city, because life here feels like a neighborhood or a small town. And I’m only two miles from the White House.
The sad thing about all of this is that I don’t think people want to view DC through a lens that isn’t politics, policy, or power. I think it makes it much easier to dismiss and bash what goes on here if real people and lives aren’t involved. The people who live and work in the city don’t stop existing once they leave their jobswhether they’re working in a huge office on the Hill or cleaning it. We are not characters in a spy film or a political drama.
As a New Yorker this is a new experience for me. Sure, people have their misguided ideas about New York City. Some will only see it as a den of iniquity, even though thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, it’s a very clean and green den of iniquity now. Some will only see it through the lens of Wall Street and money, or the New York Times, MTV, Vogue, and other media. Some will only see it through Bryant Park and Soho fashion, and some will only see it through a camera lens showing off all the iconic parts of the city. But I never once felt like where I lived held only one narrative.
I hate that DC can’t seem to transcend Washington’s narrative.
There will probably never be a sitcom set in Columbia Heights, exploring the life and times of a young rowhouse-dwelling Millennial in the District. There will probably never be a drama set in Brookland, following a young family trying to make it in the cityor an older family watching their city change. And the parts of the city that we all like to pretend don’t exist will only ever appear in television or movies as where not to live.
Scratch that. They’ll probably still use Baltimore.