Unpopular Opinions: ’Veep’ Edition

reblog/comment with your unpopular opinions.

I have to do some severe mental gymnastics to like the “food in buckets” speech. The performance carries it, but even with the semi-distinct timeline between Veep and real world history a lot of terrible things have happened in/to/because of America in the mean time between then and the fictional Meyer presidency. I also really hate that Amy seems to believe that Selina’s failures would prevent other women presidents because it says she really believe that male is the default. (In real life I hated when people said that Obama would be the only black POTUS for more or less the same reason, but I hope that 45 is the last white male POTUS for at least 244 years. Also that by then we really are in post racial society.)

Some of the ways they misread the cynicism of real America are painful, ie. I would love a VP or POTUS Laura Montez, because her closest real world analog is fucking terrifying.

Andrea Martin is underrated.

I think the “food in buckets” speech works, but it rests on assumptions about the character that have never been made explicit. As in, Amy’s intense anger (and all the accompanying hyperbole) only makes sense if you assume she has a passionate commitment to electing a woman to the highest office in the land at long goddamn last, which…I think elements of that have always been there in Chlumsky’s performance, (see her reaction to Selina’s FGM speech, for instance), but the writing has never really committed to the idea that Amy has more incipient idealism than Mike or Ben. (It would have made a lot sense to bring it up as a motivation in season 3 – just WHY did Amy want to be Campaign Manager so badly, why did she go all out and sabotage Dan – but it’s never even eluded to, and Amy’s reasons appear to be entirely personal).

It’s a bit of an inside/outside problem. Because within the world of Veep, a woman had been a serious contender for the Presidency, and has actually been elected as Vice-President, so Amy’s concern that Selina will set women back for centuries seems slightly misplaced, but at the time the speech was written neither of those things were true in the real world – there’d never even been a female nominee. And I feel like Amy’s speech is more emotionally reflective of the latter situation. Even in Europe, I know a lot of women who have been flat out ENRAGED at the way Hillary Clinton was treated, and if you picture that anger being directed AT a woman, for seeming to torpedo HERSELF…I think it would look a lot like Amy’s speech.

Upon further reflection, I heard that David Mandel said in a DVD commentary that Amy and Gary have very similar relationships to Selina, though in opposite direction. (Naturally they don’t see value in what the other does. Gary is also into the ways Selina is dependent on him and Amy isn’t.) (Also this is why I think that both of them have to leave Selina for the show’s conclusion.) So even though this was under Iannucci’s time, I’m starting to think this was more about showing how invested & how much faith she had in Selina more than her idealism or what she thinks of politics.

But real world comparisons get into a situation where the refusal to identify the parties gets kind of messes things up. The question of will there be another female president thing is probably more influence by the partisan divide than Veep can admit.  Of potential female leaders of countries, Hillary Clinton was unusual by being liberal. Liberal women are more likely to be seen as disruptive, less likely reach higher office than conservatives ones, so frequently the first woman elected to head a country is a conservative one.  As they are conservative, they’re unlikely to be promoting legislation that encourages more women to run for office. (Before Theresa May became Prime Minister I heard someone blame Margaret Thatcher era legislation for why there hadn’t been a woman PM since, but I’m unclear on the details. I’ve also definitely read people bemoan how bad for women Christina Fernández de Kirchner was, but since she only left office about three years ago, I can’t comment on the long term affect of potential female candidates. I also just don’t know Argentina’s political scene. Everything is in such motion these days that I cannot predict how Park Geun-hye’s arrest will affect other women in South Korean politics.)

That said, when Clinton lost the presidency there were also a lot of first term female members of congress, and on the Democratic side, the number of women candidates is increasing. (Less so with Republican women. While I find Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins often frustrating, I think the way they were treated by their own party last year might have acted as a deterrent to conservative women considering entering politics.) We have the highest number of women senators we’ve ever had and while the number is still pretty bad (22 not even a quarter of the Senate, though rumor has it it may become 23 before the November elections) there are all those women running. 

I saw that comment from Mandel as well, and I must admit it irritated me.  Not because I think it’s necessarily untrue, as much as…it’s part of his tendency to strip the political motivation out of everything, which I find wearing.  As in, Amy is angry with Selina because she has slavish emotional attachment to her, and Tom James plays out his shenanigans in the Senate because he felt rejected, and Selina freed Tibet because it would make her look good in the polls, and so on and on and on. For people who are supposedly purely interested in power, very few of Mandel’s characters seem to want power for its own sake.  (Maybe Dan?)

The intertwining of the personal and political motives was one of the things I think Iannucci was much better at balancing.  He allowed Selina to genuinely care about something like Clean Jobs or saving the students in Kazakhstan (I think – I can’t remember) or the Families First Bill, while being willing to throw them overboard if necessary.  That Selina would have been thrilled to save Tibet for its own sake…while being fully aware of how politically advantageous doing so would be – Iannucci allowed both emotions to exist simultaneously, even if they appeared contradictory.

So I can’t help but think that stripping out any political motive from Amy’s rant makes it much less interesting, dramatically – it flattens her character out.   (Gary’s always been a much more one-note (albeit exquisitely played) character than Amy, so it doesn’t have the same effect on him).  

And I have my doubts that we were ever supposed to interpret it that way – Amy blowing up at Selina has a much more intense and prolonged impact on the story than when Dan or Gary did.  Their problems were resolved in an episode, but Selina’s still feeling the sting of Amy’s anger five, six episodes later.

Amy’s comment that Selina would prevent there being any future female Presidents clearly hurt, because Selina can still quote it, word for word, almost six months later.  I don’t think it would have had that kind of impact, on both sides of the argument, if either of them thought Amy didn’t really mean what she said.

I do agree about the failure to identify political parties causing dramatic problems though.  The show has resolutely stuck to its “both sides are as bad as each other,” and that can’t help but feel like a dramatic…fudge at times – in retrospect, I think they walked a very careful line in The Choice in acknowledging that the party did have a basic position that it would not compromise, while allowing all the politicians to dance around the issue in every possible way.  

The perfect ending may well be for the show to somehow acknowledge that political difference and why it matters…but I have my doubts that they’ll ever go there.