For many long-time Scandal fans it’s a true mystery why a woman as powerful, intelligent, and beautiful as Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) would waste her time being in love with a man like Fitzgerald Grant III (Tony Goldwyn), a petulant man-baby president who generally whines more than he actually governs. Despite this fact, every single person around Fitz is consistently talking about how he’s destined for greatness and could be a true revolutionary. With only a few hours of Scandal left — the series will end with this season’s 18th episode — the ABC drama finally had to explain what it is that drags far more qualified people than Fitz into his orbit and keeps them for so very long. The answer, according to Thursday night’s “Day 101,” boils down to white male privilege.
As even the most casual Scandal viewer could predict, Fitzgerald Grant’s entrance into “civilian” life goes terribly. He doesn’t know how to use his debit card, his groceries are over $350, and he can’t roast a chicken. And that’s just when it comes to his kitchen behavior. When Marcus Walker (Cornelius Smith Jr.), brought on to the Grant Foundation as Fitz’s so-called collaborator, gets fed up with having to hang out with someone as baffling unaware and selfish as Fitz, he calls Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young), his own ex and Fitz’s ex-wife. Mellie perfectly explains why, exactly, Marcus shouldn’t abandon the irritating 44th Scandal-world president.
The problem with Fitz is the stages of knowing him, which sound an awful lot like trying to fit into a culture that doesn’t actually want you. Stage one: “He made you feel like you could conquer the world with him,” Mellie explains. As a Black man, maybe Marcus couldn’t change the world protesting in the poorer neighborhoods of Washington D.C. But, if the activist left his cultural trappings behind for assimilation into the rarified air of the White House, he would be able to create real change, right? Stage two: “You realize he is exactly what he was raised to be, entitled, selfish, unmotivated. You wonder why you’re with him and where your own life went.”
Obviously Fitz is allowed to be this way thanks to his many, many levels of privilege. Not only is he white, he’s also a handsome, rich, straight man from California, who comes from a long line of handsome, rich, straight men from California. Of course he’s allowed be be all of his worst qualities, since that’s what his privilege has given him. A Black man like Marcus — or a Black woman like Liv, or a white woman like Mellie — doesn’t have these luxuries. So, instead, they end up spending humongous chunks of their lives dedicated to make a societal top dog like Fitz even better. As Mellie explains of stage three: “You realize he has something you don’t … It’s magic. The world responds to it. You’ll try, but you’ll never be able to learn it for yourself.”
That “magic” isn’t something ineffable intrinsic quality — it’s just the reality that Fitz is a handsome, rich, straight white man. That’s why all of the people who have truly given their lives to supporting Fitz aren’t all of those things. This list isn’t limited to Liv, Mellie, and Marcus, with their intersecting levels of social privilege and handicaps. We’re also talking about newly-minted vice president Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry), who may be well-off and white and a man, but he’s also a much older gay man who was in the closet for decades of his life. Fitz's former chief of staff Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield) is also white, but she’s a woman and a domestic abuse survivor.
Over the last seven seasons all five of these people have realized standing in the sun, to speak in Scandal terms, of Fitz is the way to achieve their dreams. Fitz's sometimes-BFF-usual-romantic rival Jake Ballard (Scott Foley) — an extremely handsome, tall, straight, financially stable, powerful white man in his own right — is far less enamored with Fitz than anyone else I've mentioned. This a subtly very pointed statement on appeasing privilege.
All of Fitz’s privilege explains why he doesn’t even realize how terrible he is. He doesn’t notice he starts treating his “partner” Marcus like a glorified valet, demanding the Black man gets his Scotch when he asks and low-key requiring him to keep track of his cufflinks. Yet, Fitz still says, “I like doing things myself,” without a hint of wry irony. Fitz truly believes he’s doing things “himself” as a Black person is actually cleaning up behind him. This why Fitz doesn’t believe Olivia, his king-maker, his support system, and the trail-blazing, much-derided, “First Girlfriend,” deserves a wing in his library. Instead, he turns the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign into “just another home-wrecking Black ho,” as Marcus says; something men like Fitz have been doing to Black women for centuries in America. Something, someone like Fitz has the luxury to not even think about.
Right now, we’re talking about how men use their social cache to manipulate the people around them more than ever. The disturbing predatory behavior of a powerful man like Harvey Weinstein is only one part of the equation holding up a very specific type of patriarchy up on its pedestal. It’s necessary to point how the boundless power and complete obviousness of someone like Fitz, who is at heart a good person without a purposefully malicious bone in his body, is also a problem for real-life people like Liv, Marcus, and Mellie. These are the people who have to shoulder the burden of Fitz being the person with the unattainable “magic,” even with all of his very clear failings.
Scandal only has so much time left, so an episode with about 10 seconds of Olivia Pope — and those 10 seconds are from a scene we already saw last week, mind you — really needs to say something to warrant its existence. It's safe to say we all needed to witness the quiet politics of “Day 101.”
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