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SCANDAL: THE ROMANTICIZATION OF ABUSIVE/DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS (Updated Version)

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Here you can find some of my brief thoughts and earlier blog posts. Most of my writing is now available under the "Published Pieces" tab.

SCANDAL: THE ROMANTICIZATION OF ABUSIVE/DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS (Updated Version)

Anna Nti-Asare

Let me start by saying, I’m a big fan of Scandal and an even bigger fan of Olivia Pope - I love her outfits, her intelligence, and her strength. However, after this last season I find myself feeling really disappointed in her and the show as a whole. Season 4 came with some bad writing and acting for all of the characters (mainly Abby and Quinn), some pretty lame plot twists, and worst of all: example after example of abusive/dysfunctional romantic relationships.

First, there’s Huck and Quinn – In episode 2 of this season we’re presented with a scene filled with sexual tension between them. Quinn reminds Huck of the time he pulled her teeth out as an act of torture (she was the enemy at that point, but they’ve hooked up many times since then). He responds by saying: “I pulled your teeth out because you couldn't mind your own business. You can never mind your own business, Quinn. And if I had to do it all again to teach you that one valuable lesson, I would.” This leads them to almost kiss before they get interrupted. Right… because remembering torture is something that leads to kissing? Okay.

Next we have Quinn and Charlie – In episode 3 we witness their creepy reunion as Jake commissions Quinn for the night to retrieve information from Charlie. Jake tricks her into spending a night locked in a cage with a man who used to keep her trapped in their relationship. Charlie greets her by trying to kick and hurt Quinn. Now, while Shonda gives Quinn kickass dominance over Charlie as she avoids his attack, pinning him down instead, by the end of the night she ends up making out with her aggressor on the floor. You might think to yourself: “Okay, so Quinn just has issues,” and she does, but she’s not the only one.

Then we have the romance that the whole show revolves around, Olivia and Fitz – I’ve been sick of them and their background music since last season to be honest. Fitz often pursues Olivia and grabs her even when she asks him to stop, he also somehow feels that he owns her and cannot handle the idea of her being with another man. For instance, in episode 4 after telling Fitz that she left with Jake, Olivia tries touching him and Fitz responds by grabbing her arm violently and pushing her back. Fitz is an extremely aggressive individual and I often get scared watching his interactions with both Mellie and Olivia, but somehow the show still paints him as the victim, the “good guy,” and I really don’t think it is okay.

In episode 8 of the season we progress to blatant sexual violence when Cyrus discovers that his lover, a prostitute named Michael, has been using him to gain secret information on the president. In anger, Cyrus cancels his next date with Michael only to find him at his doorstep later on. Cyrus is obviously upset - he tells Michael to bend over and proceeds to forcefully penetrate him while pushing his face down. It is horrifying and disgusting to witness. There has been discussion on fan sites as to whether or not this qualifies as a rape scene since Michael agrees to have sex by bending over, but I believe it should be apparent to viewers that this is most definitely an example of forced and aggressive intercourse that Michael was not anticipating and did not agree to.  

The final example I want to discuss is the sex tape scandal with Fitz and Mellie’s daughter. In a dramatic scene where Fitz asks his daughter if she was raped, his daughter replies by what I at first considered a sexually empowered answer: “What they did to me? What about what I did to them?” but as the episode progressed I developed a discomfort with this as well. We later find out that his daughter is so intoxicated during the taping of the sex video that she cannot even remember who she slept with; meaning she was far too intoxicated to give consent. So how’s about we find other ways to empower these female characters that do not perpetuate rape culture?

The examples I’ve posed are only a few of the many - there are also weird things happening with Jake constantly saying, “I’m not your boyfriend, Olivia” and disrespecting her, or Fitz’s overall treatment towards Mellie (don’t even get me started on these two). So overall, I’m extremely disappointed in the last season and I hope that some of these plots begin to change. I mean, Columbus Short was fired for being abusive to his wife and even though his character is now dead, these episodes are pretty reminiscent of his actions.

It also concerns me that because these moments of tension are subplots to the larger narratives, they can often go overlooked and simply accepted, but they shouldn’t. While I am very aware that the whole show is messed up and that it isn’t meant to be reality, I believe viewers should be aware of the potential consequences of constantly seeing such dysfunctional relationships and coming to accept them in the show and maybe even in real life. I will say, however, that I’m still a fan of the show because I still believe Shonda Rhimes to be an incredible writer who often disrupts the norms and challenges her viewers, and I just think she could do a better job with this problematic pattern.