Clinton Nabs the Pretend Vile Women Endorsement

Watching US political ads, every appeal feels more surreal.

By Shannon Rupp 17 Mar 2016 |

Shannon Rupp was a Tyee contributing editor. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at) 

Hillary Clinton just ran an ad in which she likened herself to a trio of fictional characters who are famous for having the ethical sense of your average pit viper.

Watching it, you might not get the allusions if you don't tune in on Thursdays to catch Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder -- a trio of soaps created by Shonda Rhimes and her company Shondaland. Now we have Rhimes and the actresses who bring her disreputable characters to life endorsing Hillary as being just like one of them: "a brilliant, complex, over-qualified, get-it-done woman."

They forgot to mention the characters are also liars, adulterers, and murders.

Has anyone on the Clinton campaign bus seen these shows? I realize they're busy, but Grey's Anatomy was just renewed for its 13th year, so presumably, somebody is acquainted with Meredith Grey's proclivities, which include falsifying medical test data for personal gain.

The other two "get-it-done" women are worse. Scandal's Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington (who can lay a claim to the most exquisite wardrobe on television) is a political fixer who murders, tortures, and manipulates people professionally. A real go-getter, she also makes time for an affair with the married president.

Over on How To Get Away with Murder, law professor Annelise Keating's cleverly named criminal defence class turns out to be more than marketing. Viola Davis sells the corrupt character made complex by her enthusiasm for a range of crimes where a lesser actress may not.

Hillary Clinton ad: Endorsed by the 'flawed' power women of Shondaland.

The ad asking us to see Hillary Clinton and think of Olivia Pope & Co. isn't subtle in the way it conflates the woman who would-be-president with characters who are brilliant psychopaths.

"I make television filled with the kinds of characters I imagine we all can be," Rhimes says, opening the spot.

You want us to all be malignant narcissists?

"Strong," says Viola Davis/Annelise.

"But flawed," says Ellen Pompeo/Meredith.

There's a euphemism. Okay. Let's call the things you do "flawed."

"Our characters are on television," says Kerry Washington/Olivia.

"But the real world has Hillary Clinton," Rhimes chimes in.

What? Wait. Did you really just compare the woman you want for president with a trio of self-serving sociopaths who stop at nothing to get what they want?

Apparently, the answer is yes.

"That's why I'm with Hillary," says Rhimes, and each actress echoes her, blurring the lines between reality and Shondaland.

The whole thing is disconcerting. And not least because in the days after seeing it, every time I saw a mention of Clinton, I'd flash on Olivia Pope. Unless we're talking about her clothes, this is not a good thing. Rhimes shows are entertaining and I watched Scandal for a while. But I bailed around the time one of her "gladiators" -- the nickname for her team of criminals in a crisis management company -- took to torturing people for fun and information.

If the ad wasn't bad enough, actor Tony Goldwyn, who plays the show's philandering president, tweeted his support for Clinton: "She's the ultimate #Gladiator!!!"

What's next? Will House of Cards mephistos Frank and Claire Underwood be making an appearance to endorse Hillary too? Or is that too on the nose?

Cruel enough to rule

As someone who watches these shows my mind naturally jumped to an explanation for spin-doctoring so bad. Clearly, a Trump supporter had infiltrated Clinton's PR team and sabotaged her.

I got a little thrill at the thought of a Scandal-like plot in-the-making. When they saw how this inept political marketing backfired, would the knives be out for the culprit? (Not a metaphor.) Would bodies be pushed from office roofs or in front of subway trains?

Suddenly I was interested in the American's never-ending race for the presidency. But apparently I'm alone in this suspicion. Commentators were congratulating Clinton's campaign for its coup in securing Rhimes and her famous cast. Shondaland shows dominate Thursday night TV and Rhimes is widely considered the most powerful woman in U.S. television.

Of course, there's nothing new about celebrities endorsing, but there is something creepy about conflating vile fictional characters with a real life politician. And I can't shake the feeling that it's some sort of accidental truth telling.

My reaction is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve with a political endorsement. But the fact that Americans seem to just roll with the idea of Clinton-as-devilish-Pope, suggests that the mob is wanting something rougher in their politicians' projected self-images now.

Which would also explain the rise of The Donald. It's hard to imagine any Western democracy where a guy who cultivates an image as a racist, militaristic, hate-monkey with bad hair -- and who encourages white supremacists and people with a penchant for unfortunate hand salutes -- could find himself in line for the highest political office. (Don't suggest a country like that. We're online and Godwin's Law applies.)

Bernie's schmaltz

How quaint and of another era, suddenly, seem Bernie Sanders' ads. Heartwarming, and tear jerking, these beautiful little 60-second films are shot in the warm tones of nostalgia, offering glimpses of life in America for all the ordinary folk.

My favourite one features shots of Bernie (don't we all think of him as Bernie?) walking among the farmers and office workers and standing before crowds of good, honest, hardworking people. There's no spoken message, just images set to the soundtrack of the bittersweet Simon and Garfunkel song, America with its inspiring chorus, "They've all come to look for America."

Bernie Sanders campaign video.

It's as if Frank Capra has risen from the dead to run Bernie's comms campaign and actually send Mr. Smith, at long last, to Washington.

Instead, it looks like the final battle will be fought by Hillary, who sees herself as being just like Shondaland's master manipulators, and Donald, the guy who put together this political pep rally featuring sexualized pre-pubescent girls singing a hilariously bad jingle:

Scene from a Donald Trump pep rally.

I guess that means the great 19th century showman P.T. Barnum was right all along: There's no such thing as bad publicity, as long as they spell your name right.

© Shannon Rupp. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Media

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Get The Tyee in your inbox

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other


The Barometer

What do you think will happen in 2019?

Take this week's poll