Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Myth of Aaron Sorkin

I'm so happy; a good friend sent videotapes from home, with the sixth season and bits of the seventh of The West Wing. So I've been spending the last few weekends viewing them.

All the ink I read online about The West Wing, from the newsgroups to article clippings, you'd think the post-Sorkin era was the biggest tragedy to hit television. Actually, I took some time comparing...it occurs to me that Sorkin's idea of American politics is far too ideal for me, and much less realistic than the most recent offerings I've seen.

For one, I don't think Sorkin cared too much about the campaign aspect of politics. Before Bartlet's last debate, Toby said something about C.J., something along the lines of "she hates campaigning, because it takes time away from doing," and it was said as if it should be automatically presumed as true. To me, it seems that Sorkin believed that whether or not people agreed with a righteous principle, the mere fact that they should, ought to be enough to persuade them. Nothing in life works like that, and believing that can only lead to disappointment.

I enjoyed it then, but this latest campaign season is a lot more exciting than anything Sorkin wrote for this show. Wells has tried to show that some things are worth fighting for, and strategizing, however unpalatable, is necessary to wage the good fight.

During the debate in season four, Bartlet said something like "there are days where there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts." To be honest, I think it's possible that Sorkin himself didn't believe that. It was only injected in there to show the President being more nuanced than Ritchie, but the truth is the presence of Sam in the early seasons only insisted that some things were absolutely right and others were absolutely wrong, and any argument about it was completely superfluous and viewed as a waste of time. As much as Toby is my favorite character, it really showed that he hated the fact that issues needed to be contested, or that the other side thought they had valid points of their own.

Were I issues-blind and non-partisan, I would say that kind of behavior in the early years of The West Wing would be comparable to the current Bush administration. Conflict is treasonous, campaigning is inelegant, and what is right is supposed to have been understood long ago. Wells doesn't have those pretensions, and has attempted to show as real a reflection of politics as possible, at least more realistic than his predecessor.

Don't get me wrong; I love The West Wing under both producers, but these days the early episodes come off as pretentious and fake. It is still funny, it is still smart, but it no longer shows itself as true to life. For that, I go back to the videotapes I just opened.

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