L. Neil Smith's
Number 344, November 6, 2005

"It's the American thing to do."

America's First Female President
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

For many years, Americans have wondered what it would be like to have a female president. This fall, ABC decided to answer that question by installing Geena Davis in the White House as President Mackenzie Allen in the new fall drama, Commander In Chief. Ostensibly, this is a show that's supposed to make women feel good about themselves. Moreover, it's a show that's supposed to let working moms know they can do anything if they put their minds to it—even if it means balancing national security, a relentless press, and cunning political opponents with having a husband and kids. Basically, it's the same fairytale they've been drilling into schoolchildren's heads for decades—the one that says if you turn in your homework, brush your teeth, and go to bed when you're told to, even you can become president some day. Only in this fairytale, the hero isn't a prince. She's a princess. And in the end, she becomes the queen.

Well, from what I understand, audiences are eating this up at the moment. Commander In Chief is the fall season's "most watched" new show. To me, this doesn't mean anything. Third Rock from the Sun was probably the "most watched" new show once, too. Chief's actors walk and talk like they've got one of Bill Clinton's famous cigars up their butts. The dialogue sounds like a script full of stage directions. The plots are thin. And the characters are as flat as dime store training bras. But I'm fine with that. It's a terrible program, but, hey, if it makes working mothers feel good about themselves—great. That's all that matters. Lord knows, it's no worse than Lifetime. And besides, they're a segment of the population that doesn't get to watch nearly enough TV. But the problem I have with this show isn't that it targets working mothers as an audience. It's that it plays off their very worst fears. And far from advancing the cause for women, it suggests that, to be successful, women should act more like men.

Take the October 25th episode, for instance. In it, the president learns that a terrorist has been captured crossing the Canadian border with a bunch of explosives. [Cue Emmy Award-winning melodrama.] Now, right off the bat, the mind races with possibilities. Where was this terrorist headed? The Hoover Dam, maybe? An oil refinery? A skyscraper? A bridge? A highway? A nuclear power plant? Or hell, Trump Taj Mahal? No. Our country is a land of many landmarks, and this terrorist basically has his choice of any one of them. But where does it turn out he was headed with those explosives? An elementary school in Missouri. That's right. An elementary school. In Missouri. And he came all the way from Saudi Arabia to do this.

Soon we learn that this terrorist was part of a cell with designs on blowing up no less than four—count 'em, four—elementary schools in Missouri. All in an apparent attempt to ruin Halloween for Geena Davis's six-year-old kid. Luckily, we go to commercial after learning this, and when we come back all the bad guys have been magically captured. Case closed. Roll the credits. Time for Boston Legal. But see what I mean by playing off working mothers' fears? Just think about the scenario here. Terrorists blowing up school buildings. It's like Usama bin Laden meets Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Working moms bite their nails at the mere thought of it.

Why would terrorists do this, though? Where's the strategic value in blowing up elementary schools? Are they worried the kids might be learning about freedom in there? I'm not saying terrorists wouldn't bomb schools, necessarily. Those guys who held a school hostage in Russia certainly proved they would. But my point is, Geena Davis doesn't know why they'd do it. And more importantly, she doesn't care. Like her, we're just supposed to accept that evil men from Saudi Arabia are out to kill random Midwestern schoolchildren. And like her, we're supposed to accept that this is what you get when you send your kids to be with strangers every day. Like many of the men who held the office before her, America's first female president doesn't have the balls to consider how having American troops in 130 countries may be inspiring terrorism, or how, if nothing else, it spreads thin the armed forces and leaves us largely undefended back home. She just takes the reigns of America's empire, safe in the knowledge that these are dangerous times.

Every English teacher I ever had tried to convince me men caused most of the problems in this world. But maybe war, power, aggression, and so on have less to do with penises than with who wears the pants. It's accepted as fact in this country that for women to get ahead, lots of times, they have to act like men. That's fine. Every woman is her own person anyway. Some might act like men naturally. I'm just not sure why working moms are supposed to feel good about this. "Mac" Allen may be America's first female president. And her opposition to such things as torture may show her kinder, gentler side. But when push comes to shove, she still assumes a father figure position. Which isn't a knock on fathers, mind you. It just makes me wonder why having a working mom as president is supposed to be some big kind of deal.

Commander In Chief isn't going away any time soon. I'm relatively sure of this. So if people want to watch it, great. Let them. I just happen to think they're watching it for the wrong reasons. This show lacks the capacity to depict a president—any president—with any amount of depth. The only reason people are watching it is because she's a female. And, to me, that's the wrong reason to throw your weight behind a president—even a fictional one. Maybe I'm missing the point here. Maybe I'm watching this show from the wrong side of the gender inequity fence. (Hey, I'm a guy. My team is 43-0 when it comes to winning the White House.) But if you ask me, two other ABC hits—Desperate Housewives and Wife Swap—do more to make women feel good about being women than Commander In Chief, with its [Insert Authoritarian Here] mentality, ever could.

Though, of course, neither of those shows conveniently pave the way for Condi Rice vs. Hillary Clinton...

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column for The Aquarian and other publications. He can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.


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