Tag Archives: Kerry Washington

Quick Thoughts on HBO’s Confirmation

This past weekend, I had the chance to watch HBO’s Confirmation. It’s a dramatized version of Clarence Thomas’ confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States. I probably shouldn’t be wading into an issue like this, especially without a fully formulated opinion, but I wanted to put proverbial pen to pad to work out some of the things that came to mind during (and immediately following) my viewing of the film.

The first, and probably most important thing that came to mind was the undue hardship that society places onto the victims of sexual assault. I can’t imagine what it was like for Anita Hill (or her friend and family) to have to experience what she experienced, especially given that she was approached, rather than her seeking out someone to tell her story. This seems wrong. It’s unjust. Victims of sexual assault shouldn’t have to weigh the potential consequences to their lives should they come forward. It shouldn’t be part of the equation — at all. Just the fact that they’ve experienced sexual assault first hand is enough trauma for one lifetime and then to put them through the media circus… that doesn’t sound like justice to me.

Of course, most sexual assaults aren’t escalated to a high-profile nature like that of Thomas/Hill’s. That doesn’t make them any less painful or any less difficult for the victims to come forward in their communities. In fact, some might argue that it’s harder in these kinds of instances because there might not be the kind of support (i.e. skilled lawyers, etc.) for the cases that aren’t high-profile.

The second thing that came to mind was the timing of the confirmation hearing. It took place in the fall of 2011. About six months later, there were the Los Angeles riots. And about two short years after that, the OJ Simpson trial. I’m sure there were other key events that took place (as an elementary school student, I wasn’t really interested in national/world news, mainly whether or not the Blue Jays or the Leafs won). Any of these events taken on their own seem like touchstone moments for a country grappling with race relations, but then to have three like this grouped so closely together…

Some may quibble with my inclusion of the confirmation hearing with the LA riots and the Simpson trial, but to my mind, there’s a thread that links all three. I mean, I can’t know this for sure, but I bet that most people would agree that if Anita Hill were white, Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing may have gone very differently.

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I want to circle back to my point in the beginning. Injustice. It seems that there’s a perversion of justice when someone who has suffered harm has to then consider suffering more harm in the pursuit of justice. That’s not right. Given the structure of the justice system in the US, I don’t know what the solution would be, so that there’s protection for the victim, but that the accused is able to face their accuser. It seems like this is an area ripe for innovation.

The Sunk Cost Trap on TV: Fitzgerald Grant and Olivia Pope

A few months ago on the popular TV series “Scandal,” the fictional President of the United States fell into the sunk cost trap:

We have to get Olivia back, not just because I love her, not just because having her out there is a threat to national security. There are soldiers who are never coming home because I tried to get her back. Someone’s father, someone’s husband. I have killed so many mothers’ sons trying to get her back. The flags placed on the coffins where they lay are there because they had the courage to give their lives and I did not have the courage to give Liv’s, so she has to come back because their sacrifice damn well has to mean something. They cannot have died for nothing. They cannot have gone to their death for no other reason than I asked them to.

If you’ll remember from my post about the sunk cost trap a couple of years ago:

The United States has invested much in attempting to achieve its objectives. In addition to the many millions of dollars that have been spent, many thousands of lives have been lost, and an even greater number of lives have been irreparably damaged. If the United States withdraws from Vietnam without achieving its objectives, then all of these undeniably significant sacrifices would be wasted.

Do you see the parallels?

Now, I totally get why the writers of Scandal couldn’t have the fictional President of the United States not continue to try and rescue Olivia Pope (how could there be a show without Olivia?), but I wish they didn’t have to write it in this way. In actuality, based on what he’s saying, it sounds like he’s come to the realization that sending more troops to war is a bad idea, so right there — right at the point — is when he should stop sending troops to war. Right then, he has the knowledge that continuing down the same path is the wrong thing to do, so he should stop. His rationalization for continuing is the sunk cost trap.

The thing that worries me is that by having things play out like this, it’s almost affirming that what the President is doing is the “right” thing or that it is the only choice he has. Certainly, there are plenty of other courses of actions he could have chose (many that probably wouldn’t make for good TV). Most people probably won’t find themselves in a situation where they’re forced to continue a war (or start a war, for that matter) for dubious reasons (or any reason, for that matter), but seeing stuff like this on TV, in a way, gives people an idea of how they can do things. I’d much rather popular entertainment actually err on the side of educating viewers, if it’s going to incorporate lessons of this nature.

I can already hear you yelling at me that this doesn’t make for good TV or entertainment (I know, I alluded to that earlier), but can’t we find a way to blend effective decision-making with entertainment, so that while we’re being entertained, we’re also learning something, too?

How Our Culture Failed Women in 2013

I’ve written before about my affinity for the documentary Miss Representation and its “brother” film that’s coming out in a few weeks The Mask You Live In. Well, a few weeks ago, the organization responsible for those movies put out a wonderful — well, in some ways — video detailing the ways in which the media has failed women in 2013. At first, it lists some of the great achievements that women have had this year and then… the video turns a bit sour.

We see a time lapse of a woman being airbrushed on the cover of a magazine, very sexist advertising (magazine and commercial), oversexed music videos, movies, tv shows, and then it turns to how the media cover some news events. There are — seemingly — ignorant men (mostly) patronizing women either in person or talking about women in patronizing ways. However, there are some really powerful moments. There’s a segment from Rachel Maddow where she’s discussing how women can have all of these ticks in the boxes and still get talked to in a negative way. There’s also — and this is my favourite — a video from this past summer when the Texas legislature was trying to ram a bill through that severely limited the rights of women regarding abortion.

I realize that for some, this can be an issue that incites a lot of passion in one direction or the other, but my preference for the video has nothing to do with that issue and everything to do with this woman, this strong and powerful woman, standing up for herself and for women to what is a room and a profession dominated by men. I remember when the now famous Wendy Davis filibuster was first starting to take shape in June and I remember turning on the stream sometime in the evening and having it running in the background. And then as they got closer to the end when things were really getting interesting. I remember trying to understand some of the wonky ways that procedure was being applied and then I remember Leticia Van de Putte…

It was one of the most powerful things I’d ever seen live. And if I recall correctly, I think these words were enough to motivate the gallery (the visitors sitting up above watching) to make noise until the clock ran out and the filibuster worked. Again, I want to make it clear that I’m not arguing in favour or against the merits of the filibuster, but just to draw your attention to that moment when Leticia Van de Putte said those words and the crowd erupted. I wish it weren’t, but it seems an apt metaphor for so much of how the world works today.

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On a slightly happier (?) and stranger point, in an edition of The Economist from late last year, someone pointed out that Angela Merkel, the Chancellor (kind of like a President or Prime Minister) of Germany, appointed a female defence minister. And not only was this defense minster going to be a woman, but also that she is a gynecologist, entered politics at age 42, and has 7 children.

I think it’s great that Germany has appointed a female defence minister, but I wish that it weren’t news that Germany appointed a female defense minister. I look forward to the time in my life where the fact that someone’s been appointed to high political office or has been crowned the CEO of a big corporation and happens to also be a female is not newsworthy.

Note: You’ll notice that I made the title of this post about “our culture” and not “the media” and that’s because I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to pin the failure all on the media. There’s a feedback loop between our culture and the media. Yes, the media could certainly end that feedback loop, but so could the culture. In a way, everyone deserves a bit of the blame.