Scandal and Philosophy

By William Irwin


I’ve just finished binge-watching 3 seasons of Scandal. It’s the most addictive show I’ve seen in a long time, even more addictive than House of Cards. But whereas House of Cards is perfect for an “and Philosophy” book, Scandal is not. At least, I don’t think it is. House of Cards is outrageous, but it seems sombre and realistic compared to Scandal. J. Edward Hackett is currently editing House of Cards and Philosophy, and he has received some terrific submissions on Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche as well as on topics such as race, democracy, and justice. It’s hard to imagine making serious connections to topics such as these with Scandal. After all, it’s more of a soap opera than a political drama. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. If you think Scandal and Philosophy would work, please leave a comment here or send me an e-mail.

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2 thoughts on “Scandal and Philosophy

  1. Hello, I know this is an older post but I am still glad I found it. Before I give my lengthy response, some background information. I have a Masters Degree in Political Science which I recently acquired. I have undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and Religious Studies. I am in no way an expert on any academic field, but I am a lover of Politics and Philosophy and an enthusiast of tv political dramas. Scandal is my favorite because it provides the right balance of reality and the absurd, which in Washington is often one and the same. I think Scandal would be an excellent candidate for a “…and Philosophy” book and I was actually disappointed when I found out one had not been done yet (same thing with the West Wing).

    I will not pretend I could write such a book myself, but I could attempt to make a case that a book could exist based on the content of Scandal itself. The potential is there to assess some interesting ethical dilemmas while applying various theories in race and gender studies, political theory, psychological theory, and sociological theories. It said in the description that you recently finished season 3. Season 3 begins with a dialogue between Olivia and Rowan where Rowan (her father) informs her that she had to be “…twice as good to get half of what they have” addressing issues of racial disparities and upward mobility. Race is addressed often in Scandal without actually using any buzzwords, and applying Kimberle Crenshaw’s unique perspective on critical race theory, particularly Olivia’s intersectionalized experience being not only black, but a woman in an environment like Washington.

    Like House of Cards, Scandal takes Machiavellianism to another level, particularly with the characters of Rowan and Cyrus. I have often argued that Rowan is the true Machiavellian, while Cyrus is more of a Classical Realist (proof of that is Olivia being his student, who happens to have a copy of Henry Kissinger’s ‘Diplomacy’ on her bookshelf). One could argue that Olivia and Cyrus operate in the political realm as classical realists in how they see human nature, somewhat along the lines of the Morgenthau realism that Kissinger espoused. Cyrus makes points like “were we ever people, or did serving at the pleasure of the president help shed our pesky skins and reveal the true monsters that we really are?” Not to mention that Cyrus has a habit of talking up people like some are normal and some are meant to be great. This is not a Machiavellian concept, but in my view, an expression of the Platonian concept of the “Philosopher King” or the “Benevolent Statesman”. Scandal brings up some dilemmas right out of Plato’s Republic.

    Scandal has enough ethical dilemmas regarding murder and death, going so far to explore the psychology of professional killers and the struggles they face. For instance, is Huck really responsible for himself if the US government programmed him to enjoy killing on an almost erotic level? It’s not really Huck, because we learn in season 4 that Charlie has similar kinks when it comes to his spying job. Same eventually happens with Quinn the more she becomes a spy.

    Non-traditional relationships are a hallmark of Scandal, and the examination of love and romance on a theoretical level has existed for a long time in Western and Non-Western traditions. Scandal in the end is all about love, and that terrible love that never dies. Everything seems to instead die for love, which almost goes against the Realist nature of the Scandal universe. This again poses another dilemma that is prevalent in Scandal, and that is whether Scandal shows us a world where love can conquer the inner demon in human nature, or is love often the greatest weapon someone can use against you?

    I will stop here for now, even though I only started to scratch the surface of my thoughts on this. For instance, I have thought about writing an entire book just about B6-13, and how Rowan is basically giving a lesson on how to apply Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ in the Scandal universe. I hope that I made a semi-convincing case and if you need me to make a more convincing one I could.

    Thank you for your time and I look forward to your response.

    • Enjoyed your comments about SCANDAL. I agree
      this show yields rich psychological, philosophical, and ethical insights. Now that the series is wrapping up, perhaps some “gladiator” will take up the challenge.

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