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Since the flickering blue box started its insidious trickle into every room in every household, television impact on viewers has become a major concern. Postman (10) argues that the passive manner in which viewers interact with the medium has resulted to conclusions that televisions affect intellectual growth. Renzetti and Curran (151) notes that the average American on any given day spends approximately 33% of their leisure time watching television. This time is more than that average Americans spend on leisure activities including reading (6%), socializing (7%), and engaging in outdoor activities (2%). However, considering the fact television exposes viewers to all types of images, major concerns have raised with some scholars such as Dorr (5) arguing viewing is replacing cerebral pursuits.
Nevertheless, the power of television has grown in stature with the invention of new communication technologies. Television is shaping viewers perceptions and views of social reality by presenting only some aspects of reality and by continuation repetition of images and messages. It can be argued that the content and role of televisions over the years has changed significantly, playing important influential role in supporting patriarchal culture and gender stereotypes by constructing new meanings and images be establishing agendas for public opinion through selective views and themes. This paper delves in understanding patriarchy in television shows by focusing on the television show –Scandal.
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So far, my favorite television show is Scandal, a political drama based solely on the life of a government fixer, Judy Smith and that is why I analyzed it. The television show premiered April 5, 2012 to more than 7.33 million viewers (numbers at 2012) and ever since, the show has seen tremendous growth in the number of viewers. The plotline follows Olivia Pope, Washington DC fixer (Kerry Washington, an African American actress) and her group of gladiators in suits as they try as possible to make the issues and challenges of high profile individuals in the society disappear. One such profile is for none other than the president of the United States whom Olivia Pope was his campaign manager. In season one, it is revealed that on the campaign trail, Pope turned out to be the president’s candidate secret mistress. This also becomes the center of the drama in the following seasons.
In this show, Olivia Pope is portrayed as a contemporary day symbol of female empowerment and feminism because she challenges the preconceived stereotypes of women and African Americans. Pope runs an incredibly lucrative business (Pope and Associates) and she is not afraid to lie or tell the truth to win. To her, winning is at the center of the business. Pope believes her job is her high priority. In the name of justice, she sometimes breaks the law, but only when the law does not favor what is right. Pope’s mantra is protecting her clients no matter the cost, and that said, she never apologizes, not even to the president. In the minds of the people, the show has been placed on a pedestal of female empowerment particularly because it showcases women in high levels of power and control within their relationship and careers.
Scandal is revolutionary for its vulnerable, raw, sensual, intelligent, and diverse lead characters such as Olivia Pope (Bibel 1). Other feminists’ issues such as combating rape, abortion, and homosexuality are also frequently presented and discussed on the show. Scandal promotes a robust feminist agenda towards equality, regardless of sex, race, or sexual orientation. However, regardless, our modern societies are still run on patriarchal precedent. Both patriarchy and feminism have their set of rules by which their followers wish to abide. Culture masks most of these rules, as each side tries to promote its own agendas. Society most of the time is unaware it is being bombarded with understated messages. However, show like Scandal a very strong feminist ideology which is cleverly written into the characters, their dialogue, and the conditions in which they find themselves.
Regardless of the advances of female-empowerment the women in the show have made, Scandal contains a lot of anti-women, patriarchal, themes that calls into question their feminist validity. The drama appears progressive on the surface. Olivia Pope is an African American woman, who is strong, independent and in power with a breaking point and soft side. Besides, it is very rare to have such an assorted cast, fighting together for a mutual cause on mainstream television. However, even though an African American woman is at the center of the show, the ingredients that make up the television show are the typical Hollywood suspects –action, sex, violation, and violence. As a matter of fact, aside from the fact a black woman, Olivia Pope, saves the day, there is practically no change from the normative patriarchal Hollywood recipe.
For instance, in season one episode 1 to 4, Pope embodies several patriarchal and feminism themes. Pope’s British playboy assistant, Stephen Finch, anticipates marrying an innocent woman who exemplifies the innocent virgin theme, but he is torn between thoughts because this will mean he will have to stop having sexual exchanges with other women. His uncertainty is patriarchal because the patriarchy would assert that a man’s wants are more than one woman could handle (Haskell 28). The fact that Olivia Pope is a “talking woman” portrays the feminist theme. Haskell (25) notes that women become more intelligent and independent if they are given more opportunities to speak. Pope exudes wit, intelligence, and sophistication as she talks to kidnappers to accept a ransom. Additionally, she exemplifies the feminine class of the 20s and 30s with her perfect curls, her style, and stylish white peacoat.
On the other hand, Huck tells Perkins to stop crying when he finds her crying in the bathroom because “Olivia does not believe in crying”. Just like crying, emotional vulnerability in this case is portrayed as a woman trait. In this case, Olivia Pope character is indicated as patriarchal as it scorns Perkins for behaving like a woman. In episode 2 of season 1, Olivia presence is portrayed as destructive to Grant’s authority, position, and power. Hakell (91) argues that Pope’s love, regardless of how much or little it is, will probably bring Grant’s downfall. This kind of character unfortunately is patriarchal in nature. In episode 3, to attain information from a reporter, Perkins tries to use her womanly wiles. But two men immediately points out her sham and tells her to untie her hair and take her jacket off as she should be incapable of attracting attention without a man’s help. However, even with the help of Huck, her date also sees her sham. This act is patriarchal because it ploys out Perkin’s attempt to reach “sex goddess” status.
We can do it today.
I chose to study and review the television show Scandal because I enjoy watching it. Reviewing the data from the show, I found that the show supports both feminism and patriarchal. I loved the fast wittiness of the dialogue, the dynamic characters, and all the plot twists. Even though I do believe in feminism and female empowerment, I still do appreciate patriarchal art. Gender roles and sexuality are largely portrayed in this show, with quotations been directed to them. For instance, when Huck states, Olivia does not like it when we cry like a woman”. At season five, Pope gets an abortion which is casually depicted on television. Even though this does not seem out of option for many people, many Christians have vehemently opposed to it.
- Bibel, S. “Thursday final ratings: ‘The Blacklist’, ‘Scandal’, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ & ‘The Big Bang Theory’ adjusted up; ‘The Vampire Diaries’ adjusted down”. TV by the Numbers. 2015. Web. 2017.
- Dorr, A. Television and children: A special medium for a special audience. 1986. Beverly Hills: Sage. Print. 2017
- Haskell, M. From reverence to rape: The treatment of women in the movies. 1987. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
- Postman, N. The disappearance of childhood. 1982. New York: Delacorte Press. Print. 2017
- Renzetti, C. M & Curran, D. J. Women, Men, and Society.