The Hillary Clinton TV fictions: women and power – The Good Wife

21 Feb

Women who have political power are in an ambivalent position.  Their power is to some extent undermined by dominant attitudes about characteristics and values associated with male and female behaviour.  There is a fine balance that needs to be negotiated by women in, or seeking, the highest and most powerful political roles and leadership. Previously I have posted on some of these contradictory forces with respect to recent coverage of issues related to NZ Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei: those to do with leadership, and issues to do with economics, finance and state intelligence services.

TV dramas inspired by Hillary Clinton’s public life have been achieving some renewed significance at a time when many are expecting her to make a second run for the US presidency. Some of these representations are showing on NZ TV screens, and thus likely to have have some influence on political and gender attitudes in this country. One of these programmes is The Good Wife.

Hillary Bill Clinton

TV programmes produced for major US networks, and with a solid following, both reflect and influence dominant social and political values and beliefs, including those to do with women, gender roles and political power. This influence is  TV dramas like The Commander in Chief (2005-6 :shown in US on ABC network), The Good Wife (2009- : shown on the CBS network in the US),  and Madam Secretary (2014- : produced by and for CBS) have been partly or wholly inspired by Hillary Clinton’s political connections and/or activities, spun through the formats of popular TV genres.

In the last week episodes of the latter 2 programmes aired on NZ’s Freeview platform. These are part of renewal of popular representations of women in politically powerful positions that coincides with the expectation that Hillary Clinton will once again seek to be the Democrats’ candidate in the next US presidential election.

The Commander in Chief (“Tagline: This Fall a woman will be President”) was a short lived, but critically acclaimed, programme that preceded Clinton’s first run in the 2008 presidential primary – a candidacy that was first announced at the beginning of 2007. This highlighted the masculine-aligned status of military power. Clinton responded to her perceived weakness in that area with a video presenting her as in control of US national security. The video promotes Clinton as simultaneously being a maternal figure overseeing a households security, as well as being in control over national security and international relations:

someone who knows the world’s leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world

This balancing of maternal responsibility with capability in matters of political power and/or (inter)national security foreshadows the approach taken by the TV dramas mentioned in this post.

Since that time Clinton has boosted  her credentials with respect to US foreign policy, with her stint as US Secretary of State.

The Good Wife bridged this period, focusing on the legal career of a woman (Alicia Florrick) married to a philandering politician (Peter Florrick). She also is shown as balancing her role as mother and as a lawyer, while supporting the publicly acceptable facade of her marriage to a man prominent in state politics. In keeping with the legal genre, since at least the time of LA Law, Alicia grapples with ethically conflicted dilemmas, while also trying to maintain her liberal ideals and values.  Eli is a pivotal character, managing public relations for Alicia’s husband, the former Mr Big: he physically embodies masculine power, in his tough and at times ruthless approach to politics.


Alicia is thus given a public profile as “the good wife” as part of husband Peter’s image. In the course of the seasons, the relationship edges towards a marriage of convenience, maintained mainly as a public profile.

Alicia and Peter’s son Zach often openly questions authority figures, and is a bit of a moral conscience for Alicia. He also keeps the adult characters in touch with the always threateningly uncontrollable online social media.  The daughter (Grace Florrick) is younger and a bit confused. She looks to Christian values as a way to help make sense of her world.

The Good Wife episode that showed last week on NZ’s TV 3 was the final episode for season 5.  It ended with a cliff hanger of sorts, with Eli asking Alicia to stand as a candidate for the role of state’s attorney. (Such candidates most often stand as a representative of the Republican or Democrat parties).

This week’s episode, on TV3 was the opener for season 6.  It focuses a lot on ethical dilemmas and dubious politics, foregrounding Alicia’s dealings with one of who previous law firm’s client: an criminal drug lord. At first, Peter, now the State Governor, is opposed to his wife becoming states attorney. By the end of the episode, he has come around to supporting the idea, after seeing the failings of other possible candidates.  This view is supported by internal polling showing Alicia is favoured by the public as a political clean skin: untainted by politics, who has maintained her ethical stance under extreme pressure (episode script here).

Older female voters liked that she stood by her husband; younger, that she started her own business.

Another post follows on another Hillary Clinton inspired TV drama…


2 responses to “The Hillary Clinton TV fictions: women and power – The Good Wife

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