Friday, December 6, 2013

Why I'm hooked on Olivia Pope

I’ve been thinking a lot about the appeal of the TV show Scandal. The first time I watched it I thought it was poorly written, much like a soap opera. The plot twists were so abrupt that I was getting whiplash from being jerked around so much, and it was insulting. Bleh. I’m not falling for this slop, I thought.

But then, so many of my friends were into it that I wondered if I was missing something. So, over the summer, I returned to it, and got caught up on Netflix. And, despite the plot that leaves me sighing, *oh, pa-leese*, I kept watching. Why? I got hooked on Olivia Pope. 

For starters, a woman who seems almost omnipotent, is way cool. Liv has the strength and determination to handle any crisis and she exudes a confidence that leads her clients to believe in her. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like Olivia Pope in your corner -- someone you could trust with any problem, knowing she’ll fix it for you, even when you make a royal mess of your life? Oh, yeah. No matter how much they’re paying her, it couldn’t be enough. She is a badass woman. I admire that because I’ve tried to be a badass woman from time to time, and I know how hard is to convince other people that you really are badass. Liv manages to pull it off in a way that I never could.

But the most interesting thing about Olivia Pope isn’t her superhuman power. What’s most interesting is that it’s a complete façade. Her life is all about making things appear acceptable when they are teetering on the rim of the toilet.  In particular, her personal life is a disaster. She’s in love with a man she can never have, and continues to live with the dream of marrying him some day, when she has to know better. Her father is a monster she can’t get away from, and pretty much everything in her life is a lie. Some of those lies she has participated in, but many of them have been thrust upon her. For someone who appears to be all-powerful in public life, in her private life, she has been victimized again and again and she's struggling to survive.

Liv is an exaggerated version of every woman, and I suspect every man, too. We work really hard at presenting a persona to the world in which we are completely in control. We know what we’re doing. We can take care of ourselves, and we’re up to taking care of other people, too. But, we’re like the proverbial duck, floating along on the surface of the lake, looking like we have it all together, while under the surface, we’re paddling like hell to keep up. Olivia Pope reminds me of how inauthentic our lives can be when we deny our own vulnerability, and how tragic this can be for us, and everyone around us.

But then, there’s something that redeems Liv. And that's the odd little family she’s formed. Although they're at least as flawed as she is, they provide her with all the protection she needs to keep from self-destructing. Where would she be without them? The same place they would be without her. Dead.

For me, the appeal of Scandal is the way it taps into something so true about us, despite its far-fetched story-line. It portrays a woman who works really hard to maintain an illusion of competence in the world, which is the antithesis of who she really is underneath it all. She is so good at convincing people of her superhuman powers, that they entrust her with their lives. The irony is that if they knew how messed up her own life was, they would never turn to her for help. And then,  she has the good fortune, or good sense, to surround herself with a community of people who understand who she really is, beneath the façade. They know her, they see her, they love her. And she trusts that they’ll always have her back. That's the ironic double-twist summersault to the irony of her life. Liv, the one who deceives the world to get people to trust her, only trusts the people in her own life who can see her authentic self. Oh, that's good stuff!

The very human themes of authenticity, vulnerability and trust are all there. That’s what keeps me tuning in.  Come to think of it, that’s also what’s kept me in the Church all these years. Yep, it's good stuff.

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