Political Animals Shouldn't Have Made Hillary Hot

What Women Really Think
July 20 2012 11:16 AM

Political Animals Shouldn't Have Made Hillary Hot

148772435
We'll take her as she is, thanks.

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages

Does the pop culture version of Hillary Clinton have to be sexy? That’s one question left in the taillights of last week’s Political Animals pilot, the second episode of which airs Sunday night on USA. The miniseries stars Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish Hammond, a Clintonesque Secretary of State who basically tours around Washington kicking ass and taking names. And looking hot. Why? Because the producers want to prove there’s no arena in which their superwoman doesn’t excel? Or because, without physical appeal, she couldn’t qualify as a superwoman at all?

The distinction makes a difference. At stake here is whether we know how to admire a powerful woman who isn’t also a 10. Viewers may no longer regard a lovely face as sufficient grounds for respect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a prerequisite. 

Advertisement

To be fair, most of the cast of Political Animals is frighteningly attractive. Former first sons Douglas (James Wolk) and T.J. (Sebastian Stan) are gorgeous. Ditto journalist Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), even though she’s actually supposed to be a little washed up compared to her young blogger frenemy. The president is a hunk. Doug’s uptight fiancée is hot (and bulimic). Even the secret service officers standing guard outside the motel room where our heroine parleys with her ex-husband Bud are hot. Perhaps significantly, the only character who does not seem to have won the genetic lottery is Bud—sorry Ciaran Hinds. (Those who read the show as extended Hillary Clinton fanfic may see this as a sign of lingering antipathy towards the cheating Bill.) But the fairest of them all, clad in a flame-colored pantsuit, feathery orange hair framing her high cheekbones, is of course Elaine, whose inner “political animal,” judging by all those coppery tones, is a fox.

The show’s pretty insistent on this point. (In one scene, Bud even calls Elaine a fox.) Unlike the other characters, who just happen to be exquisite physical specimens, Madame Secretary’s sex appeal is not incidental. Her ex-husband (dating an exotic younger actress) dubs her the most attractive woman he’s ever seen. A diplomat can’t keep his hands off her ass. A crowd at a fundraiser goes wild when she shares a provocative shimmy with her former presidential primary foe, the Obama stand-in. And her wardrobe: shimmery gold dresses that would be at home in a Disney cel, body-hugging suits, saucy little jackets.

Maybe Political Animals is just in love with its protagonist and wants to give her every advantage.  If the show’s an exercise in wish fulfillment for Hillary fans, why not lavish some extra bodaciousness on Elaine? Why not give her brains, courage, tact, heart, eloquence—oh, and killer hair?  Here’s why not: Because power derived from fuckability is not real power. It’s power predicated on a system in which men are in charge. It’s sham girl power. But until pop culture adjusts to the fact that women no longer need a man in order to be successful, TV’s heroines will remain strong and hot, principled and hot, clever and hot.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 1:52 PM Julian Casablancas’ New Album Sounds Like the Furthest Thing From the Strokes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.