Veep, Week 3: How Much “Diva” Is “Too Diva?”
In which Arts Desk and DCist discuss Veep, HBO's new comedy about the vice presidency
Ben: In pondering Selina's contempt for normals, you wonder if "shaking all those hands and kissing all those babies on the trail of her failed primary run took Selina to some very dark places." I suspect her isolation—from "normals," from her own daughter—began long before that. It's probably what happens when you spend enough time in federal Washington to merit a celebration of your time there. Still, you may be on to something with these motifs stretching across HBO's various Sunday-night properties. Some shit humor wouldn't be a stretch for Girls, but I wonder if it won't be long before Veep adapts a particular theme from Game of Thrones' current season: Would you be surprised if Selina accidentally killed an infant or two?
We haven't broached it yet in these conversations, but we should now: Does Veep have anything to say about gender? "Who's the real first lady?" goes the (presumably tabloid) headline that ignites this episode, referring to some sort of "rift"—as Jonah soon puts it—between the vice president and her boss' wife. "Everyone's making it like we had a cat fight in the map room," says Selina by way of a denial, but she spends much of the episode trying not to look to "diva." (She's considering adopting a dog for the good look, but a terrier is deemed too diva; all those magazine covers featuring her face are stashed in a closet, because displaying them at the party would also be too diva.) She denies the spat is occurring—she and first lady argued about something, though we're not told what—but plays into the gossip. When Gary tells Selina she's better looking than the vice president, she mouths back, "Thank you."
It plays humorously, I think, not broadly or distastefully or as a blatantly sexist portrayal, because it's not just the women in Veep who are vapid and egomaniacal. Everyone here is concerned with how they look—either physically, or through the power-obsessed prism of federal oneupsmanship. And while Selina's utterance that she has "a dick and balls" is a cliche—that the high-achieving woman, in order to succeed, must act like a man—she clearly doesn't have balls. There's barely a character we've met who's not a coward in the face of potential political blowback, including the male senator who chastises Selina for her lack of testicles in the first place.
I'm not saying that in Veep's world, there isn't sexism: It just hasn't been clearly defined yet. To borrow Mike's inarticulate phrase, gender in Veep feels like a "hollow Trojan Horse" for Armando Iannucci's broader argument about political vacuousness.
There's nothing diva about the bullshitsu, Ben. Till next week.