Glorifying Gladiators
The Falling Gladiator

Women Imitating “The Falling Gladiator”
Image by Smithsonian American Art Museum via Flickr/Creative Commons

Is entertainment always glorification?

I ponder this question almost every Thursday night as social media lights up with #gladiator hashtags and religious viewers—no, “religious” isn’t limited to Christian this time—admonish Scandal fans for devoting an hour of their God-given time to a show that glorifies adultery.

I say the religious people are overreacting, but they bring up a point worth considering: Is entertainment always glorification? I went back and forth on this and finally decided no. If yes, then Roots proclaims slavery’s excellence and Precious praises incest.

But in the case of Scandal, I think the answer is yes, bad behavior on display is bad behavior worshiped, but not for the sake of celebrating the bad behavior. While it’s true that probably 99 percent of Scandal fans yearn to see a married man leave his wife for his mistress, character Olivia Pope’s affair with the POTUS is more a cautionary tale than it is glorification. In case you hadn’t noticed, Olivia’s love life sucks. She always ends up wanted and allegedly loved but alone, whether it’s because President Grant never leaves his wife or because her father tries to have the other guy she was sleeping with killed. If she weighed at least 200 pounds and wore a bandana on her head, Olivia Pope would be Mammy, the black woman working tirelessly for the wellbeing of others without regard to her own happiness or self-care. And if she were ever fortunate (?) enough to become Fitz’s second wife, we would call her stupid for marrying a cheater. (Actually, he would be stupid, too, because he would be marrying someone who rigged a U.S. presidential election, but you get the point.)

Additionally, Scandal gives us people we love to hate. Who hasn’t cussed Fitz out in the privacy of her own Twitter feed? Who isn’t appalled by Cyrus’s monster deeds? Bad behavior on display lets us enjoy our moral high ground. It’s an hour when we can shake our heads, gasp, “I can’t believe he …!” or “Did she really just …?” and assure ourselves we’d never do that. The show lifts up affairs, deceit and unethical and immoral actions to help our self-righteousness.

A friend of mine who likes Scandal said it’s “sort of like gladiator fights… they didn’t SAY they glorified violence. They just did (for people’s entertainment).” Scandal’s gladiators are like Rome’s for another reason:


“In publicly witnessing such punishment, citizens were reassured that the proper social order has been restored and they, themselves, deterred from such actions. In this display, the games reaffirmed the moral and political order of things, and the death of criminals and wild animals, the real and symbolic re-establishment of a society under threat. In the arena, civilization triumphed over the wild and untamed, over the outlaw, the barbarian, the enemy.” (Author unknown, but this is the source.)


Shonda Rhimes is good. And that’s why I watch the show.

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