I must admit that I first tuned into Scandal because of Kerry Washington. Seeing a Black woman in a mainstream television role as the protagonist is a rare thing today. We are most often shunted to the side when we do appear at all. The character of Olivia Pope is often the smartest one in the room, she is aggressive when need be, and is comfortable with herself and her sexuality. To me, that makes for a great portrayal and I would much rather watch something like that, than a Black woman play the maid (yes, I’m talking about The Help)
Last week’s episode featured an extensive scene in which Huck, played by Guillermo Díaz, was tortured to gain information about the shooter of President Fitzgerald Grant, played by Tony Goldwyn. It was a difficult scene to watch.
The Parents Television Council has raised an objection to the violence portrayed in that episode.
“For nearly three minutes, viewers were subjected to graphic and disturbing scenes of a man struggling to breathe while being waterboarded, his nose being broken and his face beaten into a bloody mess, blood spattering on the walls, and being kicked and beaten into submission.”
“The brutal nature of that scene, which was rated as appropriate for a 14-year-old child, refutes statements made by an industry claiming to be responsible and concerned about societal violence,” the organization released in a statement last Monday.
“It is sickening just how quickly the entertainment industry was able to move past the tragedy of Newtown and get back to business as usual,” expressed Tim Winter, PTC president. (source)
There is an argument to be made about a correlation between the proliferation of gun violence in the media and overall societal violence; however, it is worth noting that as violent and difficult as this scene was to watch, no guns were involved. The invoking of the Sandy Hook shooting was clearly attempt to draw sympathy to their cause, though in actuality, it works to make their argument illogical. Their argument would have been much served had they chosen a section from a television show,, in which gun violence was glorified.
Waterboarding was a tactic engaged in to gain information from detainees and it was justified repeatedly for a time by the U.S. government. Of course they referred to it as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but the truth of the matter is that during the Bush Administration, torture was used to gain information. Cheney still emphatically claims that waterboarding is not torture.
“Another key point that needs to be made was that the techniques that
we used were all previously used on Americans,” Cheney went on. “All of
them were used in training for a lot of our own specialists in the
military. So there wasn’t any technique that we used on any al Qaeda
individual that hadn’t been used on our own troops first, just to give
you some idea whether or not we were ‘torturing’ the people we
What I find interesting about this, is that the depiction of an act which the state willfully engaged in for years, for the supposed benefit of the U.S. population is too graphic to depict on television and yet we know that this was the reality for many detainees. We know that waterboarding was the least of what they endured in the name of U.S. foreign policy.
It’s easy when you can’t see what is happening or what has happened to sanitize the truth. This episode wasn’t meant to sugar coat torture or suggest that it is harmless. Had it not been for David Rosen, a character played by Joshua Malina, the torture would have continued. Unlike what actually happened, the character of Rosen was not there to speak up for the rule of law and the detainees. No such intervention existed for the real Al Qaeda members. In many ways, just his addition to this scene made it for more palatable than the real life experience.
There is a difference between gratuitous violence and relaying an accurate experience of CIA interrogation methods. These are two separate and unrelated events that the PTC is willfully ignoring in order to push their agenda. They also seem to forget that no one strapped them to a chair and forced them to watch that particular episode of Scandal. At any time, they were free to change the channel and ban their children from watching it. What they are seeking to do is to dictate what others are allowed the freedom to watch and as a grown ass woman, I am capable of censoring for myself.
It is interesting to me that Django and Scandal have recently been centered out for their use of violence and yet there is silence about the recent episodes of Hawaii Five-O, Homeland, Arrow and American Horror Story, which have been very violent. American Horror Story in particular has repeatedly shown violent rape, and murder this season. What both Django and Scandal have in common, is that they both star Black actors, while the other series which I mentioned do not. It is not an accident that these vehicles have been centered out for attack because people of colour and Blacks in particular, are seen as violent or contributing to violence, even though it is White masculinity which has been responsible for recent mass shootings.
What people often choose to focus on as problematic is rarely free of some sort of privilege or desire to control the narrative. In the case of the critique of Scandal, I firmly believe that both were actively at play. It is further worth noting that though a conversation needs to be had about violence in the media, everyday the media depicts and supports homophobia, sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, etc., either actively or passively and there is largely silence about this, though it impacts the lives of millions of marginalized people. If we’re going to focus on the impact of the media, we need to do so critically, without hysterical suppositions devoid of even the most basic logic.