Grey’s Anatomy vs. Scrubs*: Or the Limits of Representation

by guest contributor Maia, originally posted at her blog, Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty

I’ve started watching Grey’s Anatomy really regularly (they’re repeating Season 1 in NZ), I’m not quite sure why – because I don’t really like it that much. I don’t think it’s well-written, by half-way through season two I hated almost all the characters. But watch it I do, if nothing else it gets things to blog about it.

Shonda Rhimes (Creator of the show) said that she wanted Grey’s Anatomy to look like America, and she did quite well. Of the four authority figures we see most regularly, three are african-american, and one of those is female. This is a world where you can live in a trailer park and grow up to be surgeon. Rich or poor, male of female, Korean, African-American or white – anyone can work at Seattle Grace.

Compare this to Scrubs, the authority figures are all white men, and while you can be a doctor and female or a doctor and African-American, the women of colour are all nurses.

There was this episode of Scrubs where all the main characters were speaking to the camera about their lives. I don’t remember the reason but Carla (the Latina Nurse) was telling a story about when she was a girl, and how she came to be in the job she was in. She was in a store and someone was injured in some way and a doctor came in and saved the patient. Her segment ended with her saying “That’s when I realised I wanted to be a doctor.”

The show didn’t have to tell us why Carla didn’t become a doctor, because it was really clear. What I loved about Scrubs is that it showed a society where racism, sexism, and the class system were all problems.

I don’t believe that individuals can overcome racism, sexism and their position in the class system by themselves, even if you do manage to achieve a position of power despite belonging to and oppressed group then there are going to be scars.

When Izzie told a girl from her trailer park to give up her baby, because Izzie had given up her baby and become a doctor – the show is arguing that anyone can make it. In our society it’s simply not true, and any show that pretends it is is lying to us.** Give me a show set in a world I can recognise.

*Or at least the first couple of seasons of Scrubs, I haven’t watched the show in years, and suspect it has gone downhill.

** Grace Paley, short story writer activist, said of writing that all your characters had to have blood and money. Meaning that everyone comes from somewhere, and where that is shapes who you are, and that everyone is also shaped by the way they meet their material needs . Most TV shows ignore the second rule, and the worlds they create are that much poorer because of it (and, Firefly excepted, Joss Whedon was unfortunately no exception).