The Moment I Realized Whisky Tango Foxtrot means WTF: The Forced Collision of Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel to Create a New Representation of Black Women in the Media.

Oppositional Gaze Blog

Scandal: indulged by million’s of viewers in America and worldwide. The show is full of scandal, hence the title, including sex, lies, power and the American republic. Reviewed by ABC, avid fans are enticed through the voyeurism behind watching what shapes the perfect image of public figures in today’s society especially the images of celebrities, public figures, and presidents. The show relays the life of the epitome of public relations professional, Olivia Pope, who can fix any situation of a public figure presented to her while maintaining her class, sophistication, and love affair with the President of the United States. However, Olivia’s main goal throughout the show is to maintain the American republic and the image it represents to the public, which is in direct correlation with maintaining the president who is the ultimate patriarch of the country. I believe Olivia Pope represents the three figures of Black women in media for the purpose of maintaining the audience and popularity of the show, rather than presenting Olivia as motivation for woman of color that young and old viewers alike can relate to as leader and professional in her field.

As a leading African American woman on a primetime T.V show, Olivia is the three   representations, according to Bell Hooks, in media of black women wrapped in one character. Unfortunately, the Black women population has not been able to associate themselves with these representations. Bell Hooks in her article titled “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” states, “ Conventional representations of black women have done violence to the image. Responding to this assault, many black women spectators shut out the image, looked the other way, accorded cinema no importance in their lives” (Hooks, 120).  As we may remember these women are the mammy figure, Sapphire and Jezebel all of which black women take comfort in performing an oppositional gaze. Olivia is the constant caring individual who looks out for the President of the United States and her clients (Mammy), the matriarch who takes care of everything in the household or in Olivia’s case the republic. The republic is a constant reminder of the man’s world Olivia works in, and as a consequence the only way she appears to succeed is through force, which are attributed to negative stereotypes of powerful women. Relevant to the image of Sapphire, Olivia could appear “bitchy” or “stubborn” in the way she handles her cases and gets her way within the republic. Finally, the last image Olivia Pope presents is Jezebel. Through her affair with the President, and her never-ending sexual appetite through multiple sexual partners, the view of Jezebel as a promiscuous black female is portrayed. These characteristics of Olivia Pope are hard for black women to relate too. Today,   women of color are forced to take an oppositional gaze because many do not have families or are taking care of others, have strong sexual desires, and are considered “bitchy”.

Although the images of Olivia are represented in all episodes of Scandal, particularly all three are evident in season 2, episode14 titled “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” which I found out means WTF, I had a moment when that happened. The episode’s plot surrounds the recent evidence that Olivia Pope, along with the President’s wife (Mellie) and Chief of Staff (Cyrus) among contributors, rigged the election in order for the President (Fitz) to win. Through manipulating the balloting procedure, some murders, arrests, and many more forms of scandal the President was elected and took office. However, a year after the President and the some attorneys within the United States Justice System discovered what happened Olivia Pope comes in to fix the problem, per usual.  Olivia’s begins a quest for solving the problem and protecting the United State’s republic from deceit. However, the show highlights a series of emotional validations for the President and how hurt he is by Olivia’s lack of care for the situation (Sapphire), the obvious sexual tension resulting from the lack of trust between Olivia and Fitz (Jezebel), and the restoration of the view of Olivia as “an angel” the mammy figure who is there to comfort and fix the situation.

Olivia is constantly fixing problems within the America’s republic; however, a particular scene in episode 14 completely projects her as a seductress, an angel, and a bitch all in one. The christening of the Chief of Staff’s baby, whose godparents conveniently are Olivia and the President, brings together the couple in the midst of mistrust and hurt. As Olivia walks into the church, she is glorified as an angel walking through the church doors glowing with streams of light.

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The President’s male gaze meets her as she is walking, representing hope their relationship problems will one day see the light.

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Then, after the ceremony Olivia and the President speedily walk out of the luncheon only to meet in the hallway. The sexual tension is growing, and once it becomes unbearable for the viewers the president snatches Olivia and pulls her into a closet only to be received by a slap, and a look of disgust. However, Olivia decides otherwise and consents to the sexual encounter, which is graphically displayed.

Olivia Pope’s character should represent more than a mistress, whose second job is to fix the problems that occur in the republic and with the President, which she only gets done through force and often in immoral ways. Developing Olivia as an individual, not associated with the three main figures of black women in mainstream media, is missing throughout the show and the episode. I believe the reason for this is because the viewers of the show’s personal sense of comfort have not changed from the time Mammy or Sapphire were developed. For the show to continue writers are forced to adhere to this view: “ The made for television images of Black women by refusing to portray them as having a natural connection to sexuality, serving Whites as local domestics, or acting as domineering or restraining forces within the Black family” ( Hollinger, 198). Especially in the particular scene, it should have stressed the importance of becoming a godparent and what figure Olivia will play in the child’s life. Also, Olivia’s reaction to slap the President represents her anger and her initial feeling of not wanting to have sex. However, because of the drama of the show, the white male gaze, and the extreme sexuality of Olivia, the sexual encounter occurs which viewers take pleasure in watching.

Olivia fulfills all three images of black women in the media in hopes of her being a “new representation”, or a new figure for women of color to relate: “She seamlessly switches between each in ways that would lead us to believe she transcends them.  In this way, Scandal very subtly tricks us into celebrating these images as opposed to being critical of them and demanding better” (Maxwell). The way the character of Olivia Pope switches between the three representations of black women in the media does not give her a uniqueness, or a new representation of a black woman in today’s media culture. The constant switching of characteristics within Olivia force viewers to look on the surface of the situation and take comfort in the drama unfolding throughout the episode, rather than taking pride in her ability to solve problems or becoming a pivotal leader within her profession.

I used an oppositional gaze to connect to Olivia Pope through her characteristics and willingness to help others. Although I am a woman of color, it was hard for me to connect with her through the color of our skin because it is never acknowledged or praised. Instead of connecting directly through outward appearances, I connect with her through her characteristics of a woman domineering in her field of work through education, teamwork, expertise, and professionalism when not dealing with the President. Further, I have done research on the real person Olivia’s character is based on, Judy Smith, who is a figure I can relate to on the physically and characteristically. Judy is a law school graduate, owning two public relations firms within the United States, and working with a range of clientele while maintaining her professional standards. Ms. Smith is a woman of color myself and others can aspire to be like because she is an individual with personal values and morals that are evident in her work. Further, in the show Olivia does inspire me to take command of a room, which she does repeatedly in the episode, and show loyalty toward her work and her mission. When I become a lawyer, I hope to maintain some of these characteristics and apply them in my professional life. Although, I do have to admit I take pleasure in the scandals of the show and surprisingly have never missed an episode.

Maxwell online article:

Maxwell, Brandon. “Olivia Pope and the Scandal of Representation – The Feminist Wire.” The Feminist Wire. N.p., 07 Feb. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://thefeministwire.com/2013/02/olivia-pope-and-the-scandal-of-representation/&gt;.

Still Images of Olivia and the President:Season 2, Episode 14. Digital image.

Season 2, Episode 14. Digital image. Netflix. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/70197057?trkid=13462100&gt;.

Gifs:

Gifs of Season 2, Episode 14. Digital image. Awesomely Luvvie. N.p., 15 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2013/02/whiskey-tango-foxtrot-scandal-episode-14-recap.html&gt;.

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