Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

The Campaign and the Political Shrew

The Campaign - now showing.

It was never going to be Wag the Dog. Or Primary Colors. Or Ides of March. Or The Contender.

It was never going to be great, hell, I was doubting it would even be good. My suspicions were sadly, confirmed.

In brief, The Campaign is a moderately entertaining comedy that’s not particularly political, not particularly funny and would be thoroughly forgettable if not for one small detail: The Political Shrew.

Rarely discussed but a staple of both popular culture and media innuendo, the Political Shrew is the woman behind the man. Not just a wife however, she is the brains, the brawn, the bitch and the puppeteer behind the candidate.

If it’ll get her man the top job, she’ll be knee deep in the muck and the mire and she’ll play it dirtier than the dirtiest political henchman.

In The Campaign, the Shrew is Rose (Katherine LaNasa), wife of incumbent congressman Cam (Will Ferrell). Turning a blind - if withering - eye to his infidelities: her sights are fixed firmly on that “second lady” spot.

I’ve recently finished watching the first season of Scandal. A great show offering its own Shrew: episode after episode, Mellie (Bellamy Young) is shown as far more committed to the top job than her POTUS husband (Tony Goldwyn).

ABC’s Scandal.

Mellie faked a miscarriage to seduce voter sympathy and went so far as organising “play dates” for her cad of a husband. She was born to be the First Lady and everything else was just background music.

Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin and Elizabeth Edwards and Anne Sinclair and Silda Spitzer. The pollie hubby strayed and she stayed and each faced scrutiny.

Amidst the public speculations was that each betrayed wife each liked their role just a little too much. That they gauged that a spot of feminine forbearance was a teeny price to pay for retaining The Lifestyle.

On the surface, it’s effortless to read Rose and Mellie as diabolical and misogynist caricatures. That such stereotypes are offered because they serve as witchy excuses to why their husband’s life - why any cheating man’s life - is so damn hard that solace simply has to be taken in a new vagina.

But it’s not the only way to read the Shrew archetype.

Rose and Mellie - and in real life Hillary too - were always presented as the smart one, the one with the political nous, the true political wonk.

Such characters are perpetually framed as negative because smart, political savvy women are threatening and powerful and they damn well can’t get to be likeable too.

Mind you, is there anything actually all that bad about these women doing the math?

Men are rarely called calculating; it’s a word doled out to women. For men it’s being rational, for women it’s a character indictment.

It takes two to be in what appears to be a bad marriage. If both parties are staying, both are presumably getting something out of it (else one is not only bad at maths but very bloody stupid).

The Campaign gave me a good hour or so to ponder the big questions. Another worth posing is whether the political wife as Grand Manipulator is a more egregious stereotype than the male politician as Oversexed Hapless Muppet?

Found this article useful? A tax-deductible gift of $30/month helps deliver knowledge-based, ethical journalism.