The Men of Boston Legal: Alan Shore

One of the things I love about Boston Legal is that the lead, Alan Shore (played brilliantly by James Spader) is so aware that much of his success, beyond natural intelligence and ambition, has come from invisible privilege. He’s well aware that, for no better reason then being born a straight white man, he’s been promoted ahead of women, gays and other ethnicities and faiths who were equally as good or better then him. He’s well aware that he’s done nothing special to be promoted over such people, except be born a straight white man.

In one episode, his ex-girlfriend Sally is fired for what amounts to inappropriate behaviour – being involved with both Alan and Brad Chase. This is despite Alan himself being involved with two women – Sally and Tara – having one secretary quit because of sexual harassment, another prepared to throw the book at him at the slightest encouragement, and a senior lawyer, Laurie, shuffled out of sight after he shows an interest in her (and Laurie shows an interest back; apparently the worst of the two indiscretions, since it was Laurie, not Alan, who got shuffled away). In other words, Alan is a complete slut, and admits so himself. He is very much aware that he’s deserving of the same punishment that got meted out to Sally, and the only reason he got off is because he’s a man.

He’s aware that his ethnicity and natural intelligence have given him a considerable step up in the world. He takes on random unprofitable cases to represent the needy and repressed probably because, although he won’t admit to such a thing, he feels like he owes Lady Karma something. He propositions his hot secretary (who he hired for no better reason then her hotness) something chronic, but goes in to bat for her when she’s getting screwed over by her credit card company. Maybe it’s me reading into things, but watching Alan I always got the feeling that he knows he’s done nothing special to earn his success and he owes something to all the people who are just as capable as him but don’t have that success.

He takes the departure of his girlfriend Tara hard. OMG, a man who actually needs his girlfriend/wife? A man who falls apart when she leaves? Shock, horror. And we thought all we were good for was raising the kids and running the house. He’s forty-something, divorced and lonely, beginning to realise that all the invisible privilege in the world doesn’t buy you love or happiness; in fact, it’s sometimes the opposite, because love and happiness are often diametrically opposed to the arrogance that comes with invisible privilege.

My one gripe with the show is that, since Laurie Colson’s (Monica Potter) departure, there is only one female character is a position of power; the rest are associates and secretaries. But maybe this is representative of most law firms, where the only woman of any power is the one who created the damn thing. But it works well because it – through Alan’s eyes at least – is very aware of the unfairness that the firm’s majority of white straight men have gotten there by no better reason then being white, straight men.

Read the rest of this series: Brad Chase, Denny Crane

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