This past episode was so intense that you could’ve missed all of the elements embedded in the scenes…rape culture, police brutality, media driven narratives, coded language/whistle politics, and grief.
As a writer, one thing I aim to do is allow my characters to mirror society without preaching to the choir. Shonda Rhimes achieves that feat.
You ever notice how there’s a double standard for men and women? Most of the burden and shame rests solely on the woman. Teenage pregnancy–the girl gets blamed! Owning your own sexuality is all fine and good unless you’re a woman and then you’re slut shamed. Right? I’m pretty tired of it.
Even for TV characters, there’re a lot of Olivia Pope critics. One repetitive comment I hear is that she is an adulterer. While she is in a mutual on/off again relationship with the POTUS, the commenters never say, “I don’t like that President. He’s an adulterer.” The shame lies solely on Olivia.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way…Olivia’s pretty badazz. She handles her cases with finesse and directs a rock star team of Gladiators.
I’m a little late, so I had to DVR last week’s episode. I play the episode and find that the entire world is shaming Olivia and digging deep into her past for being the mistress of the POTUS. Villianizing and of course, shaming her. A powerful thing that Shonda Rhimes does in this segment is what good writers do…mirror society for us to examine without the lens directly turned inward on ourselves. We’re free to see the world tear down this woman (and making the man be the victim). We’re the jury and judge as we witness the classic sweet Samson tricked by temptress, Delilah. Olivia can’t help herself and reads online comments about herself, and we learn how men want to punish her through their penis power–rape. And some want to murder her.
Let’s think about that…rape is a strong element to add to this drama. How many times we hear in the news that the victims of rape are put on the stand and felt much like the criminal? How many laws have been passed that stand up to rape culture instead of teaching women “how not to get raped”? Or as Olivia Pope puts it, “How come when a woman does something that people don’t like, the only way these men on the internet know how to express themselves is by threatening rape.” She speaks of the anonymous internet users who are angry that she was” born female and black.”
What’s so special about this? Shonda puts on blast what the media tends to down play and ignore. You don’t believe me? Google: rape culture men threatening rape online. Writer, Amanda Hess, wrote and article entitled “Why Women Aren’t Welcome Online.” She writes directly from her experience and the lack of help from authorities regarding these real and terrifying threats. Dig this:
“I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks…Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.”
This was only one of her many threats. With no real support from authorities.
SCANDAL l is suspenseful, engages my thoughts and challenges my views, unlike the dumb downed reality shows that have taken over. Moving on….
Flash to the President. To save himself from questioning his affair, he’s urged to make a deal. What do the republicans want? Legislative reform. For him to get rid of the Equal Pay bill and the Brandon Bill….Ahhh, the Brandon Bill. Remember the episode where the black teen was gunned down by the police officer and the father stood over his son’s body and wouldn’t let anyone take him. Yeah, deep episode. There she used his platform to highlight police brutality toward black lives. We’re able to examine how we feel about this subject through the lens of these characters.
Ohhhhhh, and did you hear what that republican advised the Prez? He urged the Prez “to choose a girl more palatable to the base” next time he cheated. What does “palatable” mean?
So, a new gladiator is hired and he flips the script. When a reporter remarked, “She’s usually so well spoken…” The new Gladiator stopped in his tracks and said “For a black woman…that’s what you want to say.” The character shows us how the media framed Olivia’s narrative as a home wrecker and angry black woman. Another stereotype or trope that women of color face.
Here’s something new…
“Coded language: dog whistle politics” Screech! What’s that? According to the Gladiators its:
“Sexism, racism, anti-semetism, misogyny…bigotry in the form of a language so coded that only the person that is targeted is insulted by it like a dog whistle.”
For example, “whistle politics” for highly educated and successful Olivia Pope: lucky, sassy, ambitious, well-spoken, well-mannered, articulate, shrill, calculating, over-confident, secretive, urban, hot-blooded, known to use thug politics, arrogant, a siren.
Wait? What’s wrong with ambitious, well-spoken, well-mannered, and articulate? Aren’t those compliments?
Yes, the average person. Yet, as Shondra Rhimes and her team of writer Gladiators allow the characters to define it for us by stating, “When women of color, like Ms. Pope, hears that kind of coded language they know exactly what you’re getting at.” In essence, it’s a form of micro-aggression.
And let us not forget Mellie and Cyrus…no one can understand the loss of a child. No one can tell a mother how to feel or how long to mourn when they have had to bury a child. Except, ol’ Cyrus. He totally dismisses Mellie’s loss of her child. He compares his commitment to the president as a relationship of father and son, however, Mellie’s child “is dead. You can bring him flowers and visit the grave.” Cyrus has the audacity to go on and say, “Yet my child, the President, is living and I can’t see him or shelter him. His delusion of his own needs or wants, or even shelfishness, causes him to….” Whatever the rest was, all I saw was the red in Mellie’s eyes. Mine were red, too, because I lost a brother and I know what my mom has gone through. It amazes me how people should define your healing process…what amazes me more is that Shonda has got me all teary eyed thinking about it!
Gosh…if only I can take a sip from Shonda’s creativity cup. What craft books is she reading? Can I get a list?!