The Indefinite Obscurely Described Effusively Vague President of the Television Political Drama

I’ve pretty well had it with TV dramas and their predictable, formulaic, antiseptic, generic piss-pot features.

I watched about ten minutes of the Netflix drama “The Diplomat”.   The first bad sign is also the most fatal: what political party does the President belong to?  The answer?  None.   Apparently, the biggest, most central, most essential dynamic of American politics is absent– like Barbie’s Ken’s penis– because the fucking makers of this show don’t want to offend the half of America that doesn’t like the other half’s political party.

Oh, the British prime-minister is identified as a Tory.  I presume that is so they can safely mock him.  But it makes it even more bizarre that Rayburn is not identified as a Democrat, which is obviously what the show’s creators intend Democrats to think.  Republicans will have to be content imagining that there could be an intelligent, ethical Republican president, and will be gratified to discover that Rayburn is not identified as otherwise in an obvious manner.  But everybody knows that an intelligent, rational, educated leader will be a Democrat or John McCain.

This has been a monumentally stupid component of American mass entertainment since the beginning of television time, right up to just before “The West Wing”, and immediately thereafter.  “The West Wing” brilliantly defied this convention and that’s why it is still regarded as one of the best Television dramas of all time (along with “The Wire”).

Go ahead and tell me if I missed anything.  Keri Russell, using her most anguished constipated oh-I-suffer-so face, plays Kate Wyler, a spunky but smart and competent American diplomat who doesn’t get the respect she deserves even though she is clearly way smarter and spunkier than President Rayburn and his fat, bald Secretary of State Miguel Sandoval, who disapproves when (sigh) Kate “goes rogue to get the job done”.

Kate is not only an overly familiar trope; she is a cliche.  Hers is probably the most familiar trope in entertainment right now: the supposedly tough, roguish, smart, feisty female who shows up all the privileged white men.  The female fans go, “oh — I’m like her. I’m smart and capable and feisty– and smoking hot!– and I don’t get the respect and admiration I deserve!”  This is the media’s form of masturbation.  There will almost certainly be a scene in which she is dragged kicking and screaming to some big event in a fabulous gown and high heels.  Because if she willingly dressed in a fabulous gown and high heels she would be revealed as a vain, superficial, poseur.

Having just watched “State of Play” (the terrific BBC version; not the lame movie with Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren), my taste in political drama has been corrupted.  I’ve watched extensive patches of the contrived “The Americans” and the tediously suffocating “Homeland”.   But after watching “State of Play”, I allowed myself to expect reasonably credible story lines, and I expect characters to be a little less transparently self-serving and narcissistic.

There is no way that any politician or executive with the privilege that they wield would put up with a self-righteous little snit like Kate Wyler telling them they are wrong and they should listen to her and do what she tells them.  Nobody in a position of power will tolerate it.  It’s an affront to their self-respect and egos.  Even if she’s right, they won’t keep her around.  Actually, especially if she’s right.  And in “The Diplomat” aside from the usual defensively scripted token “error” (her only fault was she cared too much), Kate is going to be right all the time, and the men around her are going to be wrong over and over again, and yet they will thrash that dynamic at you over and over again because it is so fucking gratifying to the quasi-feminist audiences out there they will just eat it up.

Incidentally, in some later episodes of “The West Wing”, the writers had Toby and Leo arguing vigorously with President Bartlett and telling him he was doing something unethical or stupid.  These were the weakest episodes of the series and betrayed the fundamental intelligence of the first four years under Aaron Sorkin who understood that no President, no matter how competent,  would tolerate an underling lecturing him on ethics — at least, not for any longer than it would take to have them hand in their resignation.

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