Monday, May 27, 2013

"Scandal" Makes Me Uncomfortable

A friend recently waxed rhapsodic about how awesome the show Scandal is, so when it popped up on Netflix, I decided to give it a try.

The very first thing I noticed was that the show has an awesome cast. I mean, even before you know anything about them, the simple fact is that of the six main characters, half are people of color and half are women (two white women, a white man, a black woman, a black man, and a latin man). That's just ridiculously awesome. Consider Friends, which spent ten years convincing America that New York City is all white and half Jewish1.

But then over the course of a few episodes, I was made a little uncomfortable. In the first episode alone, "main" character Olivia Pope goes from being an awesome badass lawyer whose name makes New Girl Lawyer stop in her tracks and immediately accept a job to having women's intuition and being sexually assaulted in the oval office. Women's intuition? That just means, "Women aren't actually expert at anything, they just get lucky". And how on earth is President Rapist!Bill Clinton supposed to be a sympathetic character who's apparently still in the show in the second season? After that incident, how is he not the Big Bad that Olivia's supposed to realize was her greatest failure who she's supposed to drive out of office with her awesomeness? He continues his policy of sleazy harassment in the episodes that follow and Olivia continues her policy of putting up with it for some reason.

Then there's the problem that we don't seem to learn anything about Olivia. She has no family, no life, nothing but her job. Every episode seems to routinely fail to actually involve her as a character, and instead revolve around some white guy. In the first, the Greatest Hero Ever gets to come out as gay. In the second, Olivia totally saves the career of a potential Supreme Court Justice. At least by the third a white guy is allowed to be a villain, even as Olivia gets called a whore and is escorted from the White House because a white guy wants to save another white guy from the dangerous black woman.

Meanwhile, New Girl Lawyer gets to be totally excited and flustered about dating Pretty White Reporter Guy, with some help from Ambiguously Dressed Latin Guy (because women can't do things?). British Guy gets to propose to his fiance, and Castle's Ex-Wife gets totally upset about his having consorted with prostitutes because she's secretly in love with him. Three episodes in and her staff all get characterization, but Olivia's just a two-faced cipher. Outside the White House she's the unapproachable, unflappable awesomeness, but inside the White House she's The President's Whore, hence why the sexual assault was apparently not a problem.

Not wanting to base judgment of the show entirely on those three episodes, I did some digging. Apparently President Sleazetastic is still in office (and a Republican) and on the show through the second season, and we've met his entire family, even the in-laws, but still know nothing about Olivia Pope, the alleged main character.

So, yeah. The fact that network television has a show starring a black woman is a massive victory for feminism and antiracism, but the fact that she's not actually the main character is troubling. Also the fact, and I'm going to keep harping on this, that the Leader of the Free World (apparently he loves that title) gets to commit sexual assault and that's totally fine. I'm gonna call this two steps forward, one step back, and elect not to watch the show.

1 - In reality NYC is less than half white and less than one fifth Jewish. Wikipedia for the win.

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