My Scandalous Fantasy
by QICHEN ZHANG
creator Shonda Rimes
Contrary to popular belief, I know people aren't really concerned with who's going to win on Tuesday. No, the million-dollar question is much more relevant to the general American public: who was the brilliant genius at ABC who cast Tony Goldwyn as the President of the United States, and how much of a bonus is this person getting?
Scandal is one of those shows that would be ridiculous in any other historical context other than right now. Only during an awfully polarized and a mind-numbingly exhausting presidential campaign year could ratings for a glorified soap opera about the White House post-West Wing perform decently (it's just been signed on for a second year). Revolving around a — wait for it — scandal and a lascivious affair between the POTUS Fitzgerald Grant and his campaign crisis manager Olivia Pope, the show mashes together this strange political fantasy that somehow criss-crosses the British royal family's high-profile and inconvenient adulterous tendencies with the blue-blood backstabbing found in Americana, Republicana, Brooks Brothera stereotypes. Basically, all the things that I am afraid of admitting I secretly enjoy via choice, given the natural-born liberties that this free country guarantees me. So sue me.
Innocent or guilty pleasure notwithstanding, I consider myself a relatively informed if not arrogant citizen. But I will also admit that I'm one of those media and pop culture consumers that corporate marketers and "strategy consultants" love to capitalize on. I'll shamelessly believe not only anything Hollywood shoves in my face but also anything that gently wafts in my direction.
My inability to distinguish fact from fiction makes turning on the TV amazing and turning it off devastating. Even more so if it's any form of historical or political fiction. Took me three attempts to figure out why Downton Abbey was not returning any pins on Google Maps. (Sounds real enough, doesn't it?) I was equally distressed after realizing Julia Louis-Dreyfus did not win — nor run, for that matter — for political office. (Would've been a hilarious administration.) And to this day, I'm still living in a fantasy world in which Rob Lowe ruled this nation instead of Pawnee, Indiana.
Scandal provides the same level of political make-believe as The West Wing did, but to a greater and more sex-driven extent. As gratuitously and physically provocative as I am making this show appear, though, somehow, it accomplishes this weird gratification of my primetime guilty pleasure with actual, unexpected finesse. Some detractors may say that it's just due to the visible fact that Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn make a ridiculously attractive on-screen couple. But am I that superficial, if not culturally crass? Well. Let's just say I wouldn't take an oath on it.
Sincerely attempting to put Tony Goldwyn's silver fox virtues aside, I would say that my affinity for the show is based on elements more substantial. Pleasantly surprised by Scandal's relative nonpartisanship, I spent the first half watching the show's premiere wondering whether the writers were depicting a Democrat or a Republican administration. Ultimately, Olivia Pope's Goyard bag and the First Lady Mellie's bulging pearls told me what I wanted to know.
The fashion clues, however, did not deter me from tuning in the next week. In indulging in Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn's steamy (and pretty damn good) hotel sex scene, I was also pandering to another political fantasy — that I wouldn't have to suffer through more commercial breaks listening to robotic female voice harping about "China's cheating" and how Obama encouraged it. Or hearing more from Democratic PACs shake their verbal fists at Romney hoping to raise middle-class taxes so all of his rich friends could buy their wives Goyard bags and bulging pearls.
With Scandal, I am happily and necessarily commiserating with other American viewers that we have had to withstand months of nasty and very public verbal abuse from the two most upstanding men our country supposedly has to offer. Literally, I haven't been this wound up since watching Tracy self-implode in Election, and at least that was fiction.
To some, sticking my head in the sand may be seen as cowardly. But if ABC is offering me a fictional POTUS who they created to be "earnest, but overly idealistic" AND is a Tony Goldwyn-lookalike AND who goes by Fitz during off hours? Well. Consider me checked into this Hotel Fantasy for the unforeseeable future with the biggest "Do Not Disturb" sign hanging on the door.
See you after November 6… or maybe not.
Qichen Zhang is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Cambridge. She last wrote in these pages about Up All Night. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her website here.
"Black Sonar" - Born Gold (mp3)
"Fires of Disappearing" - Born Gold (mp3)