A weekly digest of varied conversational musings on day-to-day life, society & whatever the world throws our way.

Posts tagged ‘Scandal’

Daddy Issues

Daddy Issues PicSo, I’m a big fan of Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal. (I’ve written about the show before). I wouldn’t describe myself as obsessive exactly, but let’s just say, I haven’t missed an episode. If you haven’t watched the show before, in sum the story is as follows: the show focuses on Olivia Pope, an African-American ‘fixer’ and owner of Olivia Pope and Associates, a crisis management firm that gets important people out of trouble. Olivia used to serve as the White House Communications Director for the Republican (and married) President of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant, with whom she has had an on again/off again relationship. Their relationship is something of a star-crossed lovers, unfortunate timing given that you’re a sitting president and married kind of variety. Typical, right? It isn’t The West Wing, but it’s a fun political thriller with some light elements of soap opera thrown in to make the hearts of its many female viewers swoon.

While Scandal stories can sometimes – deliciously – stand on the precipice of plausibility, many aspects of the show are grounded in tropes that are identifiable to its audience. There are these little nuggets of truth, quotes that characters sometimes say under their breathe, sometimes in an offhanded way, but other times, purposely directed in such a way that you become more alert as you watch the show.

For me, it’s these little nuggets of truth that bring me back each week and keep me interested in how the show will progress. For example, this season, we learn more about Olivia’s backstory, particularly about her relationship with her father; a relationship made acrimonious when Olivia learns that her father doesn’t, in fact, work as a curator at the Smithsonian, but who orders the assassinations of enemies of America because he’s the head of a secret black ops agency. It is, obviously, an everyday run of the mill father-daughter relationship.

So, while that storyline is a bit on the outlandish side, there are zingers that come out of the mouth of Olivia’s father that serve to ground the show and that add weight to their fractious relationship.

In contrast to the unfortunate depictions of absentee African-American fathers, Olivia’s dad has always been around. Perhaps too much. He’s been strict and rigorous in the manner in which he has raised his daughter, a girl without a mother from the age of 12. He reprimands his adult daughter like she’s a wayward teen, and delivers a message that will be familiar to many in the Scandal audience. As he chastises her, he says, “You have to be twice as good as them to have half of what they have”. It’s a statement that many ethnic minorities or immigrants have heard from their parents – parents pushing their children to work hard, knowing firsthand that their difference (ethnic background, accent, skin colour) could act as barriers to their success. The statement alone is enough to tell the audience that Olivia was pushed (hard) towards excellence and to being above average.

So, even when the show veers on the unthinkable, it still manages to anchor itself in reality.

I know I’ll be coming back for more.

Signing off,

Y.

Cover Girls

This post can also be found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yaahemaa-obiriyeboah/cover-girls_b_3562660.html

This past week there has been a fair amount of coverage regarding the appearance of women of colour in high fashion print ads, as well as on magazine covers. For the first time in 19 years, Prada is using a black woman in its ad campaign, Malaika Firth, a Kenyan-born, U.K.-raised model. And in recent days, Vanity Fair unveiled its cover, featuring Scandal and Django Unchained (and African-American) actress Kerry Washington, to much fanfare.

Some might ask why so much attention is being paid to these latest events and why they’re considered to be so culturally significant. The reality is that it’s rare to see many people of colour in print ads or on the cover of magazines. In fact, it seems as though the use of ethnic models on the runways or catwalk shows of high and haute couture fashion houses is even declining as more and more designers have become less interested in models with personality, or whose appearance may ‘detract’ from the clothing. Instead, they have been favouring the generic (read: white) models, so that the focus is purely on the clothing. In my view it’s a specious argument, but logic doesn’t always seem to prevail in fashion.

Today, it is still a big deal to have a person of colour on the front page of a mainstream magazine. Of course, you’ll see ethnics on the covers of niche magazines or in targeted advertising — those directed to a particular ethnic community — but it is infrequent in high fashion magazines, such as Vogue.

The lack of diversity is a problem that plagues all ethnicities. Blacks and hispanics in North America seem to fare better than other ethnic groups, but overall ethnics lack prominence in fashion campaigns and entertainment culture.

While in the grand scheme most of our attention should be focused on issues of greater importance — such as literacy among ethnic minority school children, high school and university graduation rates, and ethnic representation in institutions such as the judiciary and government — we can’t disregard the fact that fashion and entertainment are multibillion dollar industries, and industries that often play significant roles in our day-to-day lives. They determine what products we buy, which movies we see, how we dress and come to create our personal style, and they also influence how we see ourselves.

For a model or actress to be featured on the cover of a magazine suggests that they’ve achieved cultural importance and popularity; and, perhaps, more significantly, that they wield economic power and are highly influential. The elegantly dressed actress or model informs our concepts of beauty and elegance and shapes what we covet or desire to be. Magazines (i.e. the editors behind the covers), whether they’re absolutely right or not, are authorities and arbiters of popular culture. They tell us what, or who is beautiful and iconic. They tell us who we should emulate and to whom we should aspire to be. They inform our conventional ideas. So often if something is not explicitly stated or shown, it’s as though it doesn’t exist. And if particular groups of people are not visible for all to see, in arenas that embody our cultural standards, it suggests that they are seen as inferior, unimportant, or, dare I say, not attractive enough.

Recently, Kerry Washington stated that she hoped to soon live in a “post-racist world”- and perhaps it would be a world where diversity in the media was the norm because it reflects actual society. Here’s hoping that Malaika and Kerry’s moments are not blips on the radar, but that we will see them, and other minorities, on a regular basis as cover girls.

Signing off,

Y.

Does it matter?

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I’ve been sitting on this blog post for awhile, partly because I wasn’t quite sure how to approach writing about this issue – concerned perhaps that my own job might create some sort of conflict of interest – but also because I often like to write my pieces after gaining some perspective on an issue.

As of late, there seems to be an increase, or a cumulation of public figures (elected and unelected) who seem to be abusing their positions and the power that comes with it. Well, perhaps it’s not that there are more individuals who are abusing their positions of privilege – it has been an issue from time in memorial and will continue to be a problem – but with the 24 hour news cycle and multitude of web and social media outlets, it seems as though the problem has grown by leaps and bounds. And what a problem it is.

I won’t name the individuals who’ve been at the forefront of the news cycles – any one of us could name more individuals,  past and present, than we have fingers and toes whose indiscretions have come to light. Some of these individuals may or may have not done their actual day jobs well, but their personal lives are, or were in shambles and as a result this caused their professional worlds to crash and burn.

It begs the question, does the personal life of a public figure, particularly that of a political office holder, matter? One of the more famous quotes attributed to former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau is the following: “There’s no room for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” While he was referring to the decriminalization of homosexuality while speaking in the House of Commons, one could use the quote as a jumping off point to question whether the private lives of public figures should even be our concern.

There are some areas that should absolutely be off limits, for example, underage children of politicians should not be targeted by the media, but, whether or not it is fair, a politician (and his or her family) is going to be subject to extra scrutiny and greater expectations with respect to how they conduct their life. The personal is political. Some may say that if a politician cheats on their spouse, for example,  then it’s a private matter; but if that infidelity creates a situation where that politician can be bribed, swayed to do shady things, or ignore the will of those who put him or her into office, then that private conduct does matter.

Whether they want it not, public figures need to come to terms with the fact that their lives are public. Once they accept the challenge, and step on a podium and profess to represent “the people” and act as a standard bearer for what they believe to be good, fair, and true, in accordance with the ethos of their political party and/or faith or personal convictions, then they throw the door wide open. They invite us to hold them to account and to measure their actions against their words.

A key word in “public office” is public. If you’re not prepared to live your life in the spotlight, if you’re not prepared to live your life with integrity in and out of the office then – plain and simple – you shouldn’t run. Perhaps it’s harsh, but the reality, whether you want it or not is this: what you do behind closed doors….matters.

Signing off,

Y.

You Must Be Olivia Pope

I’ve noticed a few discernible differences in season two of Shonda Rhimes’ television show Scandal. For those who have not been watching the drama, Scandal features, as its main protagonist, a woman named Olivia Pope who works as a ‘fixer’ in Washington, D.C. When the big names are in trouble (be they elected officials or CEOs of companies) they run to Olivia to sort out their problems and to handle the media and publicity machine. In addition to being a ‘fixer’, Olivia is also involved in a sordid romantic relationship with the president of the United States, who she helped -through fairly nefarious means – to win the presidential election.

942656195_7eb2b77d2e_oWhile the wheeling and dealing and fast-talking and fast-walking that are the staples of the show are fascinating in and of themselves, what’s most striking about the show is how race is simultaneously discussed and not discussed at all.

Olivia Pope – based on a real life figure, Judy Smith, a former press aide in the George Bush administration- has managed to reach, interact with, and influence individuals at the highest echelons of power. She manages to do this not only as a woman, and sartorially elegant in designer wear, but also as a person of colour. To be a woman of colour and to have achieved the success necessary to play with and push the big wigs, she must be good – extremely, terrifically exceptional that is. While season one made no direct mentions of Olivia’s race (although it should be said, given the visual medium that is television, her race is obvious for all to see), season two has dipped its toes in the bucket of American colour politics on a few occasions.

In “Happy Birthday, Mister President” a flashback episode, we witness the complexities of being ‘the other woman’, particularly complex when Olivia Pope, ‘the other woman’, or mistress, is black and her partner in matrimonial crime is the Republican president of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant, who happens to be white. Olivia, in a fit of frustration with their act of creeping around, declares to Fitz that she’s” feeling a little Sally Hemmings-Thomas Jefferson” about their situation. It’s a seemingly one-off line, but there is so much richness, history, and truth behind her comments. As the mistress – even one who is described as the love of Fitz’s life – she cannot occupy the main stage of her lover’s life. Her name will never be found indelibly etched beside his in the history books when the president’s life is accounted for – his wife will hold that spot. Unlike Sally, Olivia is not legislatively or socially enslaved – she lives in a different historical context. But, while she may have significant economic and political power, at the end of the day she’s not so different from Sally. She’s just one in a long series of black women in the tangled history of the United States, involved with a white man who holds most of the power and who can never really be hers.

The fact that Fitz is a white Republican makes the Olivia-Fitz relationship especially captivating and serves as a ripe foundation from which to build storylines for the show. Fitz, in the aftermath of surviving an assassination attempt, seems to ‘see the light’ and feels invincible and declares that he wants to divorce his (white), pregnant wife, in order to pursue his relationship with Olivia. In response, his chief of staff, Cyrus Beene, states, “‘Liv is a lovely, smart woman… but she’s not exactly a hue that most of your Republican constituents would be happy about.” Hmmm. Le plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

The latest episode “Top of the Hour”, deals deftly with the topic of race without so much as a word. It touches on the judgments and assumptions many of us make about who we see as naturally filling powerful roles. Olivia comes to the rescue of a female CEO, arriving at this woman’s home with a few members of her entourage: Abby (a pretty redhead) and Harrison (the black male lawyer in Olivia’s company). The CEO has never heard of or seen Olivia Pope before. She immediately walks up to Abby and says, “You must be Olivia Pope”. Before she can shake Abby’s hand, however, the real Olivia interjects, shakes her hand and says, “I’m Olivia Pope”, while Abby and Harrison give each other knowing looks in the background.

No one dwells on the moment, because it’s time to get to the work at hand. But it is truly priceless.

Signing off.

Y.