Since its release at the close of September, Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” has gotten its shine from six days to Sunday. And rightly so — the writing, while a bit ham-fisted even for the Netflix generation’s answer to “Bonfire of the Vanities,” dives head first into the kinds of topics that can easily veer into trivializing and exploitative landscapes with aplomb. It does so by immediately going for the jugular, hitting you upside the head with the bluntness of its message in the most camped up, almost-derisive fashion, discrediting itself and rendering all defenses null before it actually starts to hit home. The tangled relationship between emotional centeredness and youthful ambition, the ever-climbing bar for achievement cloaked in little more than sheer existential dread, what it means to be your “authentic self,” the simultaneous condemnation and idolization of extreme wealth and all the particulars of loneliness, anxiety and depression (especially in reference to queerness) are baked into a televised sheet cake both indelicately and with great care.
The real storytelling jewels, however, lie in the show’s visuals. The dichotomy of reality and the common portrayal is co-signed by an endless cornucopia of truly fabulous backdrops. The makeup of each scene — how every room is decorated and the way the architecture helps inform the space, the personal styling of each character and how it betrays their intentions, while placing them neatly into the overall visual narrative — lifts an immense amount of weight. It’s a classic Ryan Murphy spectacle with every still, but the ideas expressed are so clear and immediate that there isn’t any real margin of error. It serves as a reminder of just how much can be said of oneself when you dress with intention.
Not everybody gets to be Gwyneth Paltrow, trimming her hedges in a poppy red Carolina Herrera gown and matching crochet gloves or a downtrodden Lucy Boynton furiously practicing her serve in the middle of the night in tennis whites, complete with a bold-striped cashmere sweater that says TENNIS on it (and neither are necessarily intended as realistic options). Embodying a character can afford the opportunity to escape from the mores of commonly accepted personal styles and the wider norms that inform them. The characters of “The Politician” succeed so thrillingly in their personal style because they poke fun at their identities, at the pomp and circumstance of getting dressed for a particular role and all that comes with it. The downright comedic drama that comes with their wares doesn’t exist off-screen, but a touch of self-awareness and a willingness to subvert our chosen roles can go a long way.
I find gender so interesting because it completely eludes me. When I think of myself in my own private headspace there is no underlying status that feels like home, and I think a very large part of why I, along with many members of the queer community, so prefer to be alone is because that untetheredness becomes real when you’re around other people. To defy something so ingrained in how people conceptualize themselves and go about their life, or even to feel like what you project doesn’t quite fit, is to be forced to think about all of the different places it’s steeped in. It is to be conscious of it, all the time, and every choice in how you represent yourself can quickly feel like a negotiation as a result. As hard as anyone can try, there is no vacuum you can self-actualize in. We are raised through a series of negotiations between who we are and what we’re born with, and pursuing concepts, as opposed to perceptions, is one way to create a home within yourself. It’s a way to put yourself in the driver’s seat, to self-satirize, to navigate the social pressures we inevitably adhere to in some way or another with a little bit more agency.