House of Cards. Digital image. CNBC. 17 Feb 2014. Web. 31 May 2017. (

He is manipulative and controlling. He is selfish and won’t stop at anything for power—and, yes, he is also a murderer. Politician Frank Underwood, of “House of Cards,” is all of these things, but people keep tuning him in on Netflix to watch what he will do next as President Underwood.

Underwood shows no mercy for anybody, and he is a liar and a manipulator extraordinaire. But, why are people so interested in his character? Episode after episode, viewers watch what he is up to and root for his presidency despite the fact that he only obtained that title by being deceitful.

Actor Kevin Spacey plays Frank Underwood and received a Golden Globe Award for best actor on a television series drama for the role. That is because Spacey is able to make Underwood a “real,” believable—and sympathetic—character. It is not easy to make somebody like Underwood a person people cheer for, but he does it well.

Though Underwood’s path to power was illegal, he is a forceful leader. He is the type of person who can break into Washington and get things done. An example of a president who was hated and loved is President Lyndon B. Johnson. He made policies in Vietnam that generated hate, but he passed many bills regarding civil rights during his term as president that garnered him praise.

The following are some of the reasons people sometimes root for the bad guy.

  • Many of the “bad guy” characters have families and issues that people can relate to. They worry about some of the same concerns that we do. While we might not be a mobster like Tony Soprano, of “The Sopranos,” we work, have families and experience stress and anxiety from time to time. Walter White, of “Breaking Bad,” was a regular guy just like a million other men. He needed to take care of his family. He faced a diagnosis of cancer and the fact that he wouldn’t be around to take care of his family. He broke every rule, but people sympathized with him. In a way, many people enjoy the temptation of living like there are no rules—living on the edge—but they can do it through the characters who play the bad guys on the shows in the comfort of their living rooms.
  • Underwood shows that self-motivation can take you far. On his way to the White House, he strategies everything and takes care of the details to get to his goals. There is nothing he leaves out, as he completes every task on a schedule to be able to achieve his mission.
  • Underwood is able to ask for help when he needs it. He has trusted people who do his “work” for him.
  • Everybody has stress, and Underwood is no exception. He is able to relieve some of it through playing video games, as well as with exercise.
  • Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that people need to confront and understand their hidden nature or “shadow selves” to find new strengths. If people dwelled on the worst parts of themselves, it would be unhealthy. Instead, people can watch somebody like Bruce Wayne create his Dark Knight character and call a war on crime.
  • Sigmund Freud thought of human nature as basically antisocial, biologically driven to get what we want when we want it. He thought humans were born to be bad. As a person develops his ego (self-control) and superego (conscience), Freudian followers say that people want lots of selfish things and would love to be villains.
  • Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that people who had not met their most basic needs had difficulty maturing. Without food, people are most likely to feel insecure. Without love and friendship, people will not be able to build confidence. People who concentrate on what they do not have may enjoy “living through the lives” of others who have more than they do. Many people fantasize about getting what they want in both good and bad ways, so they are satisfied.
  • People enjoy the freedoms that the ‘bad guy” characters have. Superman can’t be arrested unless a policeman has a pair of kryptonite handcuffs hanging around.
  • Super villains are not constrained by the rules, and they can do anything that happens to cross their minds. They make being a villain feel freeing.
  • By watching television shows and movies that portray the evil characters, people are able to face their fears. Fiction can help people feel like they have knowledge about the evil characters without having to go to the places where mobsters congregate and the bad guys lurk in seedy, dark alleys. Watching a mobster wielding a gun at somebody on television is as close as most people get to the “dark side,” which is quite alright with them.

Bad Guys in Movies

Al Pacino played Tony Montana in “Scarface.”

A Cuban refugee with nothing but the raggedy shirt on his back, he winds up as a multi-millionaire drug boss. He gets his green card by killing the enemy of the mob boss, Frank Lopez. He moves up to the top of the ladder in the drug world, but his cocaine use pushes people away, makes him paranoid and leaves him as lonely as he has ever been. The lowest point of many in his life is when he kills his best friend for sleeping with his sister, although he was unaware that they had married the day before. Then, assassins come to his estate, and Tony tries to fight them all off to the desperate end, but he is killed. People root for Tony from the beginning and want him to come out on top. They want him to watch him mend his life and correct his wrongs.

The Dark Knight’s The Joker is a villain, and people loved him.

The Joker played by the late Heath Ledger is given an offer by the masters of the criminal underworld to kill Batman. The evil Joker killed Batman’s girlfriend and disfigured District Attorney Harvey Dent. People loved watching The Joker, hearing what he had to say and discovering how he looked at the world.

King Kong is really a “loveable Teddy bear” of an ape, and people feel sorry for him.

He is taken away from his home and shot at while he tries in earnest to protect the woman he cherishes. When he climbs the Empire State Building, he is shot by planes, falls and dies. People cheer for him, because he is just an innocent ape that is thrown into bad situations. They dislike the film crew for how they treated him.