Playing Politics

So this blog. I am adding my voice to the pantheon of television and film criticism. I am not qualified, per se. But I do watch a lot of television, put thought into my opinions, and color that with my experience as a former lobbyist, DC neighbor to powerful people, and observer of people. I may be a little cynical, definitely snarky, and quite apologetic of the will of the story tellers, and this will color my writing. I will focus on media with overt political overtones and settings, because that is where I have unique insight. So here. We. Go!

In his review of the March 27 episode of Scandal, entitled “Mama Said Knock You Out,” AV Club Critic Ryan McGee said that the characters demonstrate: “that adults are basically children whose dreams have been erased by delusions.” This line struck an immediate chord with me. Of course! This is why the pettiness of young(er) adulthood makes us all think that we’re just stuck in high school or on the playground. And Washington, probably more than any town in the country, is just high school with real money and serious power.

Lobbyists often get a bad rap from average Americans. People who do not know what they do – and barely pay attention to politics beyond sound bites and stump speeches – see only the Jack Abramoff and Karl Rove types who wield money like a king’s sword, taking the livelihoods of people who disagree with them and annointing those who agree. The big bad “special interests” that take all our GD money and line their fat cat pockets. While this is true for some, lobbyists’ real purpose – and weapons – are more subtle. They work in information.

Scandal – at least in the first season and a half – was particularly adept at showing the weapons of political power players. Beltway warriors use their history with people, public perceptions of a story (spin), and specific expertise. They are educators standing up for what they believe in – or at least the good of actual constituents. Lobbyists and political operators do everything they can for the constituents, using their experience, connections, and to right wrongs. What Olivia Pope wields well – and totally accurately – is political capital. People owe her favors all over town. Favors are something you hoard, cashing in only for something you really need. Tickets to an event, votes, face time with a lawmaker – they aren’t as intense as Scandal favors, but our President wouldn’t be able to get away with murdering a Supreme Court justice either. Scandal is a fantasy soapy version of what really happens in Washington, right down to the petty whims and rivalries of the players. And the pretty and well connected people are the ones who get what they want. Just like OPA.

But then again, I am a disillusioned child who once had a dream of joining this particular club.


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