HBO's Veep, Postfeminism, and Political Humor
by Emanuelle Wessels — Augsburg College
August 23, 2012 – 00:00
Veep is not the first fictional program featuring a woman in the White House. It is, however, the first comedic one. The satirical show stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President of the United States, and derives much of its humor from disempowering its egotistical and power-hungry title character. A running joke involves Selina Meyer’s largely unmet desire for recognition, encapsulated in her daily query to her secretary: “did the President call?” The answer is always no. In a symbolic moment, Meyer is humiliated when, at a fundraiser for her doomed Clean Jobs Commission bill, a cornstarch spoon melts in her coffee, and slumps, flaccid, against the cup. Laughing at Selina’s failures is permissible because she is so personally flawed—an individualistic focus conducive to postfeminist ideology. In the season finale, Meyer cries during an interview, ostensibly frustrated that her “24/7” career interferes with her parenting. This missed opportunity to address the recently discussed impossibility of women in top political positions to find balance instead only reveals Meyer’s cynical ambition: she forgets her daughter, obsessed with playing the moment for political gain.
Veep reassures viewers that a woman can hold power if she is rendered nonthreatening by ineffectuality and a hyper-feminine aesthetic. Although Louis-Dreyfus distanced herself from Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, political women noted for their professional failings, personal foibles and conventionally feminine attractiveness, they nonetheless inform Veep’s intelligibility. Expecting robust social commentary from a television comedy is unrealistic, but Veep calls attention to how its satire of the political machine lampoons-without any attention to gender and power- a woman who has broken what Hillary Clinton has called the “highest, hardest glass ceiling." When threats to womens’ rights are a cornerstone of the upcoming election, women hold only 17% of U.S. Congressional seats, and woman has yet to win the White House, perhaps entertainment at the expense of a character who has power warrants a critical look.
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