I was playing some cards and reading some online articles last night in the handy window between Match of the Day and bed, and one of those articles was about the government drive to modernise. It got me thinking: if the deck of cards had been designed in the modern day, how would it be different?
Clubs are the weapons in the deck, and a modern card deck would surely represent how warfare has moved on. War these days tends to be more tactically-based and politically-sensitive than it was in the days when large numbers of kilted men in chainmail would line up and hack at each other with claymores. A modern claymore is a type of anti-personnel mine activated by motion-sensors, but a card of war, while remaining no less visceral, would still need to remain somehow personal. The advent of Soviet-era small arms fire means that even the poorest revolutionaries have access to AK-47s, while modern armies are equipped with M-16s and similar. I would suggest that clubs would therefore become rifles in the modern deck.
If you believe Sting, the spades represent the swords of the soldiers, but I believe that there is an alternative, more subtle meaning. The old notion of breaking up swords at the end of war and melting them down to make plowshares, which are useful in peacetime, suggests that this suit is both an instrument of war and peace, or can be viewed as a resource (in the case of the old deck, the right to command labour) that you are fighting to attain. Depending on your viewpoint, spades would become column inches in the news media, or oil if you prefer the resource meaning.
Diamonds remain diamonds; thousands of conflict diamonds - those mined from areas where there is forced labour, civil war and great suffering - still make their way onto markets every year. Nonetheless, in the global climate that now exists, in our modern deck we might prefer a move to another more commonly-considered resource, the place that global financiers go to hide - gold. Failing that, the world's largest currency still remains a staple worldwide, so the dollar would be an appropriate alternative - but if you were remaking the deck a hundred years from now, the likely replacement would be the Chinese currency, the yuan.
Finally, modern politicians still think of the run-up to the ballot box as a battle to win hearts and minds - but while previously, people could get swept away with the urge to fight for their country or in democracies, could get away with voting for the candidate they chose with their gut, in the Information Age, it is becoming increasingly necessary to make clear, rational decisions on an informed basis, and now minds are arguably more important than hearts. Goodness knows how they would represent these on the cards...perhaps a tiny picture of a brain, maybe?
Jack or a knave, so a suitable alternative might be the Mogul, or baron, the influential individual at the top of his commercial profession with the links to lobby governments and more money than God.
The Queen represents an interesting challenge, as a modern deck would surely not be gender-specific. Nonetheless, the alternative would need to be strong enough to topple said moguls and change their minds through the application of irresistible public pressure, while still not being of government origin themselves. Time Magazine gave us the perfect suggestion - the Protestor - but for our purposes, I believe we can extend the definition to include any dissenter, campaigner or high-profile humanitarian.
The King has long since become a figurehead in a constitutional monarchy, and his place at the head of the table taken by the head minister of a democratically-elected government. The very top of the tree is therefore reserved for the prime or first Minister of state - though American decks would be likely to feature a President. And why not?
Finally, and most appropriately for a card which undercuts the poorest and trumps the richest, the Ace would be replaced by the Crisis. Financial, nuclear or any other - these are the moments in life that make heroes or villains of us all. The crisis would represent those things that are beyond anyone's control - and indeed, in some parts of the world, there are those that would doubtless argue that the Ace should represent a deity, as the only one with the power to topple Kings. The modern age however, cries out for a secular card.
What of individuals? It has been theorised that the picture cards in the deck represent genuine figures from history, so how about Rupert Murdoch as the Mogul of News Media? Aung San Suu Kyi as the Protestor of Minds? Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as the Minister of Gold? No doubt you will have ideas of your own...