Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Being Mary Jane & Scandal: Where are the Wives?

I'm a media junkie. I work in television news. I watch all types of television shows; the good, the bad, the ratchet and riot worthy. I love a great documentary, Nat Geo Wild is awesome, movies are a pre-requisite to a good afternoon nap taken before I surf news, culture, hair, and music blogs among others. On any given day you may catch me with four screens in my face at one time; computer, iPhone, iPad, and TV. I say all this to say that when a new show comes out, an album drops, or a trending topic on Twitter goes viral, I know.

When Scandal premiered with its seven episode season one way back when in April of 2012 I was all about the "It's handled," "Gladiator in a suit" life. Fast-forward 15 months to when BET's Being Mary Jane movie premiered and my jaw hit the floor with the sperm freezing ending. (If you haven't been watching this will probably be the first spoiler alert of many, for both shows, so if you need to catch up stop reading now.) Fast-forward another six months to present day and the first half of Scandal season three has come and gone (Gladiators are anciently awaiting the return of Pope & Associates and crew February 27) and BET is three episodes in to its smash hit drama Being Mary Jane. 

I'm totally jazzed about all the love Black women are getting on the small screen; especially with top silver screen actresses making the jump to keep us entertained. (Quiet as it's kept I heard Halle Berry is coming to primetime in some capacity this fall, but I digress.) But what's really bugging me is that of the two dramas featuring prominent Black actresses that has tongues wagging, the streets talking, and twitter trending all sorts of hashtags; the common denominator is the women are single, successful, stupid gorgeous, and SLEEPING WITH MARRIED MEN. It begs the question, "Is that all successful beautiful women can hope to aspire to? A few fleeting moment's with somebody else's man?" If it is I'm sooooo not about that life and Olivia Pope and Pauletta/Mary Jane Paul shouldn't be about that life either.

Full disclosure: Yes I feel some type away about these characters because I am married. I am somebody's wife. But beyond that as a Black woman I know we have other stories and issues to tell besides "The Plight." In a time when marriage is little more than a setup line to a joke about divorce all women deserve better than to watch reality skewed into made for TV drama plot lines.

While the single life has many positives, if it was for everyone to remain stagnant in then there wouldn't be so many women and men trying to escape the rat race of three dates plus good sex equals no relationship. #Noshade

Why then do media mavens like Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil exploit said rat race and desecrate what's left of the sanctity of marriage in the name of ratings, broadening fan bases, and scoring back to back network hits? Again #NoShade

I'm all about Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil, who works closely with her husband, film director Salim Akil, getting their coins, opening doors, busting through glass ceilings and telling all the Black women behind them to file on through, but do they have to do it with tired tropes that were archaic last decade? Neither Rhimes nor Akil are lacking in creativity, but what they are missing is a counterpoint to the side chick love fest.

Case in point: Mara Brock Akil is the creative genius behind UPN/The CW's Girlfriends that ran for eight seasons before it was abruptly cancelled without fans ever getting to see Joan get married. (Yes I'm still mad.) On Girlfriends Toni cheated on Greg and Maya, William, and Joan all told her how wrong she was that culminated with William's dig half a season later of Toni "Chlamydia" Childs. (If you missed the episode Toni cheated with a doctor, contracted chlamydia and tried to blame her broke artist boyfriend for the infection.) William nearly cheated on Monica and while not all women will smack their men and then tell them to go finish the affair her anger and hurt were palpable. Maya had an emotional affair with Stan which all of her girlfriends told her to stop. She got caught, got divorced and had a few seasons of the single bitter blues before she remarried her ex-husband at his wedding that was supposed to be to someone else (Lena for fans of the show).

What these messy romantic situations on Girlfriends all have in common is that even when the adultery or near adultery or emotional only adultery occurred there was always a character there to say "Your ass is dead wrong." That element is missing from Scandal and Being Mary Jane. Sleeping with someone else's husband was highlighted with the question of "What is your end game?" on Scandal. Shouldn't the end game be to end the affair, give up dreams of being First Lady, and seriously date the other dude you had in your bed that just so happens to be your married ex-boyfriend's best friend? Meanwhile, Being Mary Jane brought the subject of sleeping with someone else's husband full circle with a woman to woman confrontation where there was no remorse, none, shown by the side chick for her actions even if it all occurred in her own ignorance. A quick quip by Mary Jane's brother that she needs to stop being an addict, or the producer Kara asking another single, successful, Black woman in a similar scenario "So you think it's okay to break up families?" is not enough to check the imbalance of immorality.

Why does Olivia Pope get to be the love of Fitz's life and where the white hat when Mellie can only deign to be the bitter and scornful wife of the man she gave up her career for, got raped for, and possibly birthed her husband's father's baby? Why does Mary Jane Paul get to have the glitz and glamour of a network news career and great sex where reciprocity is a requirement when Avery (labeled as just Wife in the IMDB cast of characters) can only look forward to a divorce, full custody of her children, and a lonely, dateless, sexless life because no one is going to want her with a stomach full of stretch marks her adulterating husband lied and told her were beautiful?

If the collective petitions for better programming on network and cable television were able to spawn the first Black female lead in 40 years, shouldn't there also be petitions for that leading lady and those after her to be more than some dude's side piece of forbidden booty. My husband always asks me why I watch the reality shows I watch (Real Housewives of Atlanta, Braxton Family Values, Tamar and Vince.) My answer, I like to see how the men and women in relationships, specifically marriages, relate to each other. It's a shame the realest thing Black women and fans of Scandal and Being Mary Jane get to see of marital bliss is I Dream of NeneTamar and Vince (and their bliss is questionable) and reruns of late 80s and early 90s sitcoms like The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince and Family Matters etc.

Women don't need to aspire to wife to feel validated or feel like they're winning (word to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) but shouldn't they at least aspire to being more than the late night creep? In a digital age where creativity is limitless shouldn't those at the forefront of bringing Black back to television have a responsibility to create the drama filled fantasy of beauty, brains, and banging husband to boot? Or have we become so cynical that no woman can have it all; not even in an hour of escapism TV?

It's easy to be dismissive and say if you don't like it turn the channel. But if you're young Black, beautiful, and successful, and female and looking to see your story reflected back to you during primetime what else can you watch? Deception starring Megan Goode was cancelled after one season.

Let's Discuss
1. Can marriage make a better story line than adultery? Why or Why Not?
2. What's so good about being the side chick that it's glamorized on television? 
3. Are Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil enhancing or hurting the dialogue surrounding Black women? 

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