Why are religious conservatives watching ABC's Scandal?

Anissa Ford's picture

Why are people watching Scandal on ABC?

Every Thursday night my Facebook feed is flooded with messages about Scandal, the ABC primetime show with Kerry Washington created by Shonda Rhimes.

My Facebook feed commentators are mostly women, conservative, Christian, professional, married, single and African American. In season one, their fascination was Olivia's swagger, her wit, her intelligence and skill. Typically, bosses in crime drama television with swagger like Olivia Pope's are white and Latino men. Pope's swiftly cool demeanor runs a similar second to CSI Miami's investigative boss Lieutenant Horatio Caine.

Olivia sees the potential damage in a political crisis. She cleans it up before it becomes a complete mess. She typically doles these favors out to powerful white men.

And when she misses and consequently cleans up for a guy with dirty hands, no one is the wiser except the character who got over on her. Like the scorned and bitter Maryland Governor who lost the presidential election and recently got away with offing his wife's younger, buffer, romantic liaison.

Like Horatio, and even James Edward Olmos's Miami Vice character Capt. Castillo, Olivia's threatening after she's been burned. Olivia's henchmen are people like the people we know: smart (Harrison), witty (Abby) , ditzy (Quinn), loyal and a little crazy (Huck). Like every male boss in a crime drama series, Olivia's romantic life is off limits to her subordinates.

Still, as alluring as Kerry Washington is, I wouldn't tune in. The very title Scandal gave me Last King of Scotland vibes. Forrest Whitaker won an Oscar for his portrayal of Idi Amin and Kerry Washington played one of Amin's wives. She fell madly in love with another man, a doctor. The result of that interracial liaison was death for her and torture for him. And during that feel good romance a baby was made, but never born.

Sure enough, Scandal's second season focuses on Pope's honestly raw, emotional, yet adulterous tangles with an equally, if not more, smitten U.S. President. This occurs via flashbacks after what is so far a failed attempt on his life. The cliffhanger is not knowing whether the President recovers. Or why he was targeted at a birthday gala that his exceptionally social wife suddenly didn't want him to attend.

Far and wide many black women are opposed to interracial dating and interracial relationships. Even when it's clear that white men are their most eligible partners (when factoring in simple data like equitable income and education). So I laughed out loud when I saw this picture that mocks women who love Scandal, yet scorn adultery, particularly in the form of philandering white male politicians.

Far and wide, the Black Church remains opposed to homosexuality and gay marriage. Yet, a homosexual marriage drives Scandal's other romantic story line. Pocket gay is a term used to described gay men who keep the lives of fabulous women in check. Cyrus is the married gay spouse and President's right hand man. He is also Olivia's go to guy when she's hit rock bottom.

When this drama becomes a little far fetched and even borrowed, like six ex-assassins with brand new wonderful lives all stuck in one room with gun's pointed at each other's heads, there's relief. 70s funk music like Parliament Funkadelic turns the mood light, like a corny scene in Pulp Fiction.

When Rufus and Chaka Khan plays in the background, it lends automatic intensity to an otherwise sleepy love scene. Edison's a nice guy, but a little stiff for a workaholic like Olivia.

All in all Scandal is the soap opera drama that keeps scripted television around in the age of reality television. It's a wonder Kerry Washington, a total Hollywood starlet, took the role, but as the series progresses, it's a clear fit for her. Pope's already busted her lover with a line that hurt, "This whole thing is feeling Sally Jefferson Hemmingsish" she said. What's more, Washington is reviving a slave role this Christmas in Tarantino's Django Unchained.

Scandal won't air tonight, (CMAs) but promises to return December 27. (Coincidentally (or not) two days after Django premieres.)

If the romance, the drama and the measures taken to avoid scandals aren't the total appeal here, the up close and personal lives of political power players are. Scandal features an unhappily married president and we've seen this guy's dilemma in daytime, primetime and Lifetime's soap opera drama. But, unlike the legions of real life politicians who are caught up in scandals and meaningless affairs with women who mean very little, the romance in Scandal between the President and Olivia is serious business. These are the affairs of the heart that leave humans lonely and cold when separated.

In fact, this romance is so serious, some Scandal fans think the President should drop FLOTUS.

Take Home Message:

Scandal scoots stereotypes of minority communities aside, specifically typecast African Americans and gays.

Network television has tried, and failed, repeatedly to bring African American characters as leading men and women in primetime, but hasn't been successful until now. Scandal's Olivia Pope is not much different from the women on my Facebook feed who watch her show Thursday nights. They are professional, conservative, idealistic, realistic, and at the end of a very long, hard fought day, hopeless romantics.

There is, perhaps, a redeeming quality in this primetime drama that prompts otherwise really conservative Christian folk to rally for a relationship that by all accounts is viscerally wrong and unfair to two innocent parties: an unborn child and that child's mother who is also the leader of the free world's wife.

Love isn't always fair because people can't control who they love. People fall in an out of love and, unfortunately, in and out of marriage. Christians have long been called to reconsider their biblical beliefs on divorce. Let Republicans like Newt Gingrich tell it, and divorce isn't but so wrong in the eyes of God.

Today, Christians are repeatedly called to reconsider their biblical beliefs about homosexuality. It may be ironic, but it is far from coincidental, that the happily married couple in this show can't legally adopt children in a number of states in the U.S. simply because they are gay.

The writing and work on Scandal throws down today's newer social and political issues, and moreover presents those issues to an audience that in real life doesn't believe immorality and immoral behaviors contain shades of gray.

If television and media are the primary influences of a community's thinking, Scandal is sure to reshape a conservative African American culture's values on homosexuality, divorce, and interracial dating and marriages between white men and black women.

photo credit: ABC/Scandal

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