It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the recent backlash against ABC’s hit show Scandal starring Kerry Washington. I am, admittedly, biased. Olivia Pope gives me New Age Kerry Fever, the updated version of the “Carrie Fever” Jay-Z alluded to on “03 Bonnie & Clyde,” a then-timely reference to women’s obsession with Sarah Jessica Parker from HBOs Sex and the City. And I’m far from alone. Last Thursday’s highly anticipated mid-season return drew in a record 2.8 million viewers — that’s a 17 percent ratings jump, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
I love the show and schedule parts of my social life around being home (or in someone else’s home) to watch and Tweet it every Thursday night. I was born too late to be part of the “TV event” era like, say, the 83 million people who tuned in to the 1980-81 season of Dallas to find out who shot JR. So all my friends and followers collectively watching and commenting on one show at the same time is as close as it gets for me.
As with anything that becomes quickly popular, a backlash is imminent, and Scandal’s time apparently has come. Writing for CBS Atlanta, Mo Ivory summed up the show’s main character as “no different than Joseline from Love & Hip Hop Atlanta or Kim from The Real Housewives of Atlanta — she just has more expensive clothes, a higher paying job and tighter security. She is no breath of fresh air, nuanced or complicated, and definitely not a rarity in black female representation.” Ivory is clearly no fan of Pope’s affair with the married (and white) United States of America President or her shady back-room dealings to manipulate or intimidate whoever is necessary to get her way.
At The Root, Kellee Terrell, who also has Kerry Fever, was defending Black women viewers who have been called “hypocrites” for liking the show. “Because Pope's behavior is deemed questionable and problematic — much of what makes up current award-winning roles — all of a sudden an indictment is handed down on our collective character for consuming these images. Meanwhile, no one else has to live up to that same high moral standard. What gives?” Terrell wondered.
Finally, on Clutch, Kirsten West Savali noticed the “acerbic comments that would come across my Facebook timeline and Twitter feed [and] the Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson jokes that” some Black men made while their counterparts were enjoying the show.
I’ve already admitted my bias for Scandal, so it’s no surprise I just don’t get the loathing of it. I guess if all I focused on was the affair between Pope and the President and let that outshine Pope’s role as an intelligent, high-powered and enviably well-dressed D.C. powerhouse, my feathers would be ruffled too.
That said, Ivory makes a point. I don’t see Pope as she does, of course, but there’s no denying Pope is — or, er, was, if you’re up to date on the show — involved in a love triangle with a married man. It is quite the scandal indeed, but isn’t that in keeping with the show’s title and premise? I didn’t expect piety and morality. Doesn’t Pope get a hall pass for being a fictional character as opposed to a reality star whose scandalous life if presented as, well, the real life of a real woman?
I’d also argue the majority of women — myself included — like the show in spite of Pope’s affair, not because of it. I don’t want Pope to sneak around; I actually want the President to leave his wife and be with her so they can live happily ever after (which is never going to happen). And that doesn’t mean I’m a hypocrite for not wanting my will-be husband (or your husband) to leave me (or you) for another woman; it means I’m really engrossed in the lives of characters on a fictional TV show. It’s the same as how reading 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t mean I want to be a dominatrix, or enjoying The Godfather doesn’t mean I support the mob. It does mean I like my fiction with sexy and well-told storylines — and I tune into Scandal religiously because it has both.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk