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22.04.2022

Anatomy of Power

‘Who are you?’

‘I’m a Whitehouse.’

‘And what is it about Whitehouses?’

‘They always come out on top!’

That is the refrain echoed between father and son in almost every episode of Anatomy of a Scandal, a Netflix-produced dramatisation of the 2018 novel of the same name.

It tells the story of a wealthy and attractive politician, James Whitehouse, who is accused of raping one of his staff members… who also happens to be his former mistress. The show takes place mainly in a courtroom, and is rated 18 – for good reason, as it contains sexual content, drug use, and graphic descriptions of sexual assault. You may choose not to watch it for that reason.

The show tackles several controversial and complicated issues: consent, he said/she said, infidelity – with mixed success. But what stuck with me from my six-hour binge-watching fest on Monday (don’t judge me) is this: power.

The refrain we hear between James and his son starts off as a cute motivational call-and-response. But the more we learn about James’ history and attitude to life and truth, the more chilling it becomes. There is an assumption of power, of privilege, of always winning no matter the cost, and this has repercussions far beyond games of Monopoly around the kitchen table. It felt poignant to watch this programme as similar discussions are taking place in and about our own government and leadership.

As a society, we are acutely aware of the ‘wrongness’ of ‘hard’ power, of physically forcing people to do stuff they do not wish to.

But what about soft power? What about the place of privilege and assumptions we make about ourselves and our ‘rightful’ place in the world? Whether we realise it or not, we all hold ‘soft’ power. It can be emotional, financial, relational, or cultural, and the way that we choose to use – and potentially abuse – our power is an important aspect of our discipleship (Philippians 2:1-11).

Jesus is clear in his teaching that ‘the last will be first, and the first will be last’ (Matthew 20:20-28). In Anatomy of a Scandal, James ‘coming out on top’ meant that others were trampled on, silenced, misled, or misrepresented.

In the upside-down kingdom of God, however, ‘coming out on top’ looks like humbling yourself, making yourself lesser, serving others’ needs over and above your own. It looks – more than anything – like loving your neighbour as yourself.

 

Alianore Smith
Alianore is an Associate Speaker for LICC and Church & Theology Executive at International Justice Mission

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for the comments on power based on the anatomy of a scandal. I was beginning to think how apt the message is for today in politics.
    I love the symbolic reference to the game of Monopoly.
    However the point about soft power is brilliant!
    My thanks to Alianore Smith for a great article.
    Shalom
    Dermot

    By Dermot Thornberry  -  22 Apr 2022
  2. I binge watched this too this week whilst in Iisolation, so no judgment! It struck me on so many levels the need for self truth telling. We need to live in deep communities of love and growth and transformation not merely moral exposing. The church for decades has failed to become these places. Even the caveat to worn people of the content worries me, because Christians need to be able to tolerate and observe and critique on a screen because the church must critique actual government corruption of power…refugee scandal, climate scandal, covid scandal, economic scandal and tax havens, stripping the NHS of funds, bleeding our mental health services dry, war and then stand up and speak up. We must indeed call out the anatomy of scandal in our own choices of banking ‘HSBC and Barclays are dire for fossil fuels but do we care? ), use of resources, what we eat and how its farmed etc etc. Lord have mercy. And defo watch this series back to back! X

    By Rachie  -  22 Apr 2022
    • I think Rachie is right to broaden this out to some of the many other ways in which power is abused – by individuals, corporations and nations. As Christians we should be standing up against the over-powerful at every level! In the modern world it’s not enough to just focus on personal ethics.

      By Martin Tiller  -  10 May 2022

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