The latest chapter of You Were Always on My Mind got me thinking – presumably Mike has to rejoin the team at some point, and I could actually see Leon getting accused of sexual misconduct by loads of women as a way to get Leon out and Mike back in. Not a funny situation, but could see them trying to make it funny but Selina not wanting to fire him (but knowing she has to) because he's better than Mike…
You know, I’ve been wondering how Veep could manage the current discourse around sexual harassment without turning into a car crash, and this might serve as a way to do it. It would allow them to keep the focus on Selina’s boundless self-absorption without turning her into an actual monster.
But at the same time…
Here’s the thing. The current conversation around sexual harassment and assault is almost purgative – some truly horrendous things have come out, not just in the US, but in countries all over the world. A major theatre director and a comic in Ireland have been exposed – politicians in the U.K. – media personalities all over the place.
And one of the things that is sometimes in danger of getting lost in these conversations – particularly because of how horrifying some of the revelations are (I’m still not over Matt Lauer’s secret door lock) – is how much it is a SYSTEMIC problem. The scale of the violence that has been enacted ought to point to that, and yet people have a seemingly irresistible tendency to narrow the focus down to individual behaviours. (If anyone’s interested, Rebecca Traister has been really good on this very point).
I mention this because I think it has some bearing on how Veep OUGHT to handle this subject – which is not to say that I think they will handle it in this way.
Veep has always used the sexually predatory environment of politics primarily for jokes. It shows us Selina being subjected to ongoing disrespect, precisely BECAUSE she’s a beautiful woman, and Amy being leered at by almost every man in the cast, whose sexual obsessions with her play a role in shaping her professional life whether she likes it or not.
Think how EXHAUSTING it must be to be Amy, and have to fend off sexualised attention from Jonah or Furlong or Leon or Andrew every single day. That Dan is one of the better men in her life in this regard (he is AWFUL, but he seems to have at least basic respect for her boundaries) is a pretty appalling indictment of the lot of them.
And yet…the show never really puts us in Amy or Selina’s perspectives when it comes to this stuff. DAN gets more lines condemning sexual assault than they do (though there are reasons for that). Think of the Helsinki-episode (and episode I love) – when Selina complains about “the axis of dick” it’s hilarious, and yet…
Is the show really engaging with the truth that Selina CANNOT ever speak publicly about sexually assaulted, because male politicians would use it to destroy her? Could Hillary Clinton ever have talked about such a thing?
Because, sure, the show engages with sexual harassment on a surface level. But it also shows Dan encouraging Jeff Kane to proposition Amy sexually – with no regard to the fact that Jeff Kane is someone Amy has to work with, someone who has political power, and therefore not someone she can turn down lightly.
Now maybe, maybe we’re all supposed to find the prospect of Amy cutting Jeff Kane off at the knees entertaining in the way Dan does. And yet, I can’t think of a better illustration of the structures of power and privilege that allow sexual harassment to perpetuate itself. To Dan it’s funny – entertainment – but to Amy there is at least the theoretical possibility that it could seriously damage her career.
What’s worse is…Dan not realising what he’s doing I could accept. But I’m not sure the SHOW realises what they showed in that scene. I feel like the show has had its cake and eaten it with regards to sexual harassment all through the series; they’ve used it to add an extra taboo ‘zing’ to jokes, but they’ve never seriously engaged with it as a subject.
But Jonah, you might say. However, the thing with Jonah and Teddy is…no two ways about it, because it’s happening to man, it is inherently distanced from the reality of how these things happen. Purposefully so, I think.
Unlike Game of Thrones, I suspect the Veep writers are at least aware that a substantial chunk of their audience will have direct experience of sexual harassment and assault. And depicting the reality of that and remaining comedic would be…challenging, to say the least. Having it happen to Jonah – who is stunningly unsympathetic at the best of times, and who has committed endless harassment himself – means they avoid triggering, say, a quarter of their audience.
And at one time, I understood that. But more and more as the discussions of sexual misconduct spread, I think it’s not good enough. Because, it’s not ‘misconduct’ – misconduct is a soft term for widespread criminality. These people are serial rapists and abusers, and they have maintained their ability to rape and abuse through mafia-like abuse of power. #MeToo signifies a mass act of violence that has been and is still being inflicted on women all over the world.
I guess I’m in a real “Fuck the Patriarchy” mood, and I don’t want the reality of what has been happening, the crimes that have been committed, to be obscured any more. I want people to be forced to look at it head on and acknowledge the POISON that widespread sexual violence spreads across society. I want an acknowledgement that it isn’t funny, it isn’t ‘banter,’ it is a monstrous act of brutality.
The nudge-nudge wink-wink attitude Veep has always taken to sexual violence just isn’t going to work any more, in other words. But I admit, I don’t know how they take it on in an even vaguely serious manner without a kind of car crash with reality. And while your approach would work, and would fit the tone of how the series has approached the subject in the past, I can’t help but feel that it’s not good enough.
I think Veep can – and if it can, ought to – be better than that.