Is the Media Glorifying Mistresses?

May 22, 2013  |  

Source: ABC

ABC’s has definitely hit a goldmine with its smash success Scandal, Shonda Rhimes’ drama about a very married president of the United States and his mistress. ABC seems to be running with a theme here, with the debut of its new show “Mistresses” coming this summer. For some, this begs the question: are mistresses having the best season ever? Are shows like these glorifying the side chick?

“Scandal”’s success is undeniable. Throughout the season, it routinely crushed its competitors in viewership (save for CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory”/”Two and a Half Men” hour), and it has absolutely captivated Twitter audiences. It has been estimated that each new episode of “Scandal” had viewers sending out 2,000 tweets per minute. The season finale won 571,353 tweets, and the entire season saw 4.3 million. There is unquestionable appeal — but what is it? Why do people love “Scandal”? How can anyone champion a show that revolves around someone immoral enough to sleep with a married man?

If, in considering this show, all you focus on is the extra-marital relationship, then of course it will seem that that is all the appeal. But there’s so much more at work. For starters, it’s safe to say that people like “Scandal” because, as NPR’s new Codeswitch blog points out, people really like Kerry Washington. She’s a dynamo in her role as the fast-talking, impossibly intuitive problem solver with killer peacoat game and a furious gait. Everyone loves a no-nonsense character, and Olivia is definitely having none of your mess. …Unless, of course, that mess is coming from her married boyfriend. We’ll talk about that more later.

It’s rare to see a hit show with a powerful, headstrong, intelligent black woman as its central character who is not also dripping with some sort of historical stereotype, and that, too, makes it easy to tune in and find yourself rooting for someone your grandmother would label a homewrecker. The show is multicultural without being about race, which is also refreshing, and it’s a completely ridiculous-over-the-top show that is easy to get lost in. These factors, I’d argue, weigh heavier than wanting to see a man divorce his wife to marry his mistress.

Back to that whole married boyfriend thing, though — it would be crazy not to think that the troubled relationship between Olivia and President Fitz isn’t a reason that people get enrapt in the show, because it totally is. But not, necessarily because people are universally rooting for their relationship. Some are, sure, but it’s a really screwed up relationship. Fitz is controlling, borderline abusive and manipulative; Olivia is delusional and on a fast track to star on an episode of “Iyanla Fix My Life.” Her affair is not a glamorous one. She is not a kept woman, continuously adored, showered with gifts, and eventually rewarded for her patience with the man of her dreams. There is nothing glorious about her affair. If anything, it’s a cautionary tale against being the side chick. This show is messy, honey, and people love a train wreck.

“Life is not a romance novel,” Cyrus growls to Olivia in the season finale. And that’s exactly it. This story is compelling because it is uncomfortable and dramatic, not just because there’s a woman sleeping with a married man. Pointing to ABC’s upcoming show “Mistresses” as proof that mistresses are indeed being glorified is folly, too; with Scandal’s success, it’s no wonder that they’d try to keep the momentum going.

Shows about infidelity are nothing new; from your grandmother’s soap operas to “Desperate Housewives,” people have been cheating on primetime TV for decades. This is just the current flavor of the month. Watching shows like “Scandal” and “Mistresses” are not immoral; going out and cheating is what’s immoral. Television is an escape, a realm we enter to watch people do outlandish things that we would not or could not do. For one hour once a week, we walk on the wild side and do all the things our parents told us never to do — and it’s fun.

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  • Renne Edwards

    Sadly…this type of secret “taboo” behavior is becoming acceptable as many other types of bad behavior that is being written into law as a civil right.

    • Zan

      I assume that you’re speaking of gay marriage…a faithful gay relationship is not to be compared to adultery. No one is being hurt by two men and/or two women being allowed to be married.

      • Renne Edwards

        Sorry, but you assumed wrong. There was a discussion on the AM radio station that I listen to of where a British newspaper article explained that there are people lobbying for pedophiles to be labeled as a mental ill, so that those individuals don’t get jail time. THIS BLEW MY MIND! SMMFH!!!

  • I_am_a_Gladiator/Scandalista

    Like the author said, the thing with Scandal was that even though she was the “side/main-piece” this position was not glorified. Infact the entire series it was frowned upon by everyone in the show and it was only one side to the series not the center of thw whole thing. This new show they have “Mistresses” seems like a bit much.

  • bigdede

    OMG, I can’t even believe this is a question. Is the media glorifying this. The media has been portraying mistresses since the first talking movie!! It’s a part of entertainment. It’s a soap stable. Primetime dramas always have some women trying to take away another woman’s man. JR Ewing kept a mistress. If anyone saw the show Mistress on BBC America, you will see none of these women were happy. Their lives were a wreck trying to find momentary happiness. So watch a show before harping on it. This is so stupid to me. When Melrose Place was out and Michael had like 3 mistress per month, no one was saying the media was glorifying it. I guess because on Scandal and this new show Mistress, there is a Black woman starring in it, it’s a big deal now, SMH

  • lanegresse

    Yes they ARE! FYI “media” is plural!

    • Zan

      In this context, “media” is singular, or all inclusive.

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  • md

    I love watching women who love this show falling over themselves, trying to justify and defend the indefensible! They feel the need to do so because they know it tells some very ugly truth about the modern day black women morality and desperation! It also shows their hypocracy, they hamer black men for been dogs and lusting after white women; then they turn around and idealise some white man’s Bed Wench! This writer seem to be saying we are not influenced by popular culture…yeah right !
    i’m pretty sure that if the scandal president was black, black women’d not be as interested in the show.

    Make it a white man and this revamped ‘super woman’ is suddenly a ‘complex character’. it is just that black women perform one of their historical roles been a Bed Wench and of course covering that little ‘scandal’ up. further, the show’s success among black women speaks to the anxieties that some black women feel about having to find – or make – their own ‘obama’ like michelle did rather than compete with michelle, or obama’s white mother; and more destructive to fantasize en masse about the white man they wish they had. Rimes knows black women’s psyche and insecurities and is presenting their secret longings to them in a way that can ‘guiltlessly’ enjoy. oh and the antagonism validation.The proof that the show is good is because black men are mad about it.

    • hollyw

      *sighhh* another Black man who (surprise!) hates Scandal lol smh…GET OVER IT!

    • mac

      “I love watching women who love this show falling over themselves, trying to justify and defend the indefensible!”

      Trying to shut up that guilty conscience. Once you feel the need to say
      “it’s just TV”, that’s an indication you know you don’t need to be
      watching that show.

      And if Fitz was a Black man and Olivia was a
      white woman? All these same Black women defending this show would’ve
      been crying foul and drawing up petitions trying to get it off the air.

      not telling anybody not to watch the show, that’s your prerogative.
      Just stop lying to yourselves, and denying what you’re indirectly

  • getyourlife

    I absolutely love Scandal, it’s one of my favorite shows on currently. I don’t like the mistress plot however. I think the show would be fine without it. It actually bothers me that Olivia Pope is so strong and independent in everything but her love life. I want to believe that was done to show that even powerful women are vulnerable, but I could be wrong. I do feel like the “mistress” thing is becoming more prominent to the point that people are really trying to make it acceptable. I believe that the decline of the family unit and morals attribute to the decline of society. Hopefully things will change.

    • rainydaze80

      …”Olivia Pope is so strong and independent in everything but her love life[…]” I think that’s the character conflict that keeps people tuned in. I’ve never watched the show, but what is more intringuing to me is the character Olivia Pope and the fact that she is a powerful black woman in Washington. The only reason I know about the relationship dynamic is because of facebook and twitter.

  • Clara

    Yeah they are. But hardly anybody in this country and/or world has morals and values anymore. So nobody bats an eyelash to it. It’s the sad sad truth and it’s only gonna get worse. Sn: scandal is my ish.
    Unrelated topic, am I super duper late in realizing that shows mainly cast light women and dark men to rep the Afro American community. Where are my darker skin sisters?

    • YaY

      I didn’t even notice the awfully beige cast. You know the girls are going to drag and not watch. Lol. I’m really happy for Shonda and Kerri’s success, but I don’t care for the mistress plot. I never caught the show consistently, but many people tell me that’s not even the most exciting part of the show. I really wonder what propelled Shonda to make such a brilliant character a mistress. Didn’t she goto film school? Did she not take a class in black film and see the stereotypes plaguing black actors in film? Being from D.C., I have seen too many stories of Kerri -like characters in government – smart, well educated, ranking women – whose lives are crippled once it’s revealed they are having an affair with a government leader. Men almost never suffer as badly as women in these situations. I like Kerri Washington’s character, but the mistress part is notrelatable.