Veep and Selina Meyer’s Legacy

Categories: Representation
09/06/2019
Tags:

*Spoiler alerts, so catch up*

It’s hard to believe that Veep’s seventh and final season ended four months ago, with its finale airing on May 12, and I’m still cancelling plans to watch it on Sunday nights. 

Veep was a show about politics. There are plenty, and rightfully so, since politics provides great content for both entertainment and exploration. The West Wing led viewers to invest in Josh and Donna, but it also allowed them to question the morality of the death penalty in an early episode. Scandal did the same with manufactured, ridiculous-yet-plausible crises and the ethics of election rigging. House of Cards had foreign relations and the corrupting influence of power. Shows about politics let us look at our own world through a lens, one that might let us be more honest about our current situation. 

So what did Veep contribute to both entertainment and exploration? It was funny. Rip-roaringly so, to the extent that I can’t count how many times throughout the show’s run I had to pause it to catch my breath. It’s meant to be, of course, with expertly written running gags and gaffes. Kyle Smith of National Review said that “the edge and viciousness of the satire in Veep places it in a special category of political comedy.”

Part of that amazing satire is poking fun at the sheer atrociousness of nearly every character in the show. Selina Meyer, the titular vice president at the beginning of the show, isn’t spared from this mocking treatment. Case in point: in season 7, episode 1, Selina is reviewing a speech she’s about to give and asks her press secretary, Leon, “I’m still not sure about this part, where I say, ‘I want to be president of all Americans.’ I mean—do I? All of them?” Leon suggests they change the phrase to be ‘real Americans’. Selina’s response: “Oh yeah, that’s good. And we can figure out what I mean later.” 

This mentality of “do whatever is politically expedient and deal with the repercussions later” is pervasive throughout the show, leading to lots of repercussions later. One of those repercussions rears its head in season 4, after a major data breach comes from Selina’s presidential campaign team. The campaign staff must testify in an investigation on the Hill about who caused it—however, it’s impossible to know since it could have been anyone. They eventually decide to scapegoat Bill Ericsson, the campaign’s communications director who goes to jail. 

The series finale sees this mentality of “do whatever is politically expedient” to its heartbreaking extreme, when Selina scapegoats her personal aide Gary, the one and only person who has stuck by her side faithfully despite her truly awful treatment of him. He goes to jail for financial impropriety and foreign election interference, though he did nothing of the sort, because Selina sacrifices him for her own political gain. 

It’s a wonder, then, that Selina survived so long in the world of Veep. Or maybe it’s not. Failing upwards is generally understood to be the ability to advance in your career despite demonstrating mediocre talent, and it can be seen in business, sports, Hollywood, and tech, all industries that are traditionally male-dominated at the top. Politics, too, is a field where failing upwards is common—but only for men. 

Politics, too, is a field where failing upwards is common—but only for men. 

Just look at Donald Trump, who had to file for bankruptcy for his companies not once, not twice, but four times and still became President. Meanwhile, women like Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, who have a demonstrated history of actually succeeding upwards, the way it should be, must constantly and consistently prove that their qualifications, experiences, and skills are valid. 

In contrast to the real world, the world of Veep is one where anyone can fail upwards, regardless of gender. Selina makes it to the top, to the presidency, for about a term and a half. Her legacy is that she freed Tibet (through a series of back-room deals) and she outlawed same-sex marriage (which her lesbian daughter and her daughter-in-law revile her for)… Hey, I never said I’d vote for her! It’s not pretty or perfect by any means, and it cements the fact that Selina really didn’t deserve to be president, despite her insistence throughout the series that it’s her right. 

But imagine a world where a woman presidential candidate doesn’t have to prove her electability, a coded term that signals a race and gender preference and refers to who can win but is based on who has won; doesn’t have to constantly tiptoe around the fact that she is a strong woman; doesn’t have to worry that she’s actually overqualified. In fact, imagine a world where a woman can just be mediocre and still get elected. It’s a refreshing take away from the real-life races where white, cishet men are simply assumed to be good, “winning” candidates and everyone else has to demonstrate that they can win, too. 

In fact, imagine a world where a woman can just be mediocre and still get elected.

Now, I’m not saying that we should accept mediocre candidates who fail upwards—quite the opposite. We need to hold everyone to a higher standard, not just women and other traditionally underrepresented minorities. We need to eliminate the double standard that says that white cishet men can be just that and win. Selina Meyer gave us a look into a world where that double standard doesn’t exist—to the detriment of everyone. It’d be great if we could live in a world where that double standard of electability and failing upwards doesn’t exist—for the benefit of everyone. 

Serena Saunders is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, where she majors in public policy and minors in history and rhetoric. She is simultaneously earning her Master in Public Policy degree. She currently interns at Pay Our Interns and works as Development Director at Everyday Canvassing. Previously, she has interned for Platform, the UMD A. James Clark School of Engineering, Running Start, CLIA and MaryPIRG. She is passionate about improving our democracy through increasing political representation of underrepresented groups and expanding the right to vote.