So I spent the majority of my weekend watching Season Three of The West Wing on DVD. Lest you think me a total bum, I should also say that I attended a slightly intimidating party in a loft, did three loads of laundry and made green curry chicken. But pretty much when I wasn’t doing those other things, I was watching The West Wing.
I’m a fan of TV. Let’s just put that out there right now. I don’t think it should replace human parents, or, you know, other relationships with real people, and I just can’t get behind American Idol, but I think its an incredibly powerful medium, and that used appropriately it can be both massively entertaining and educational. (I also think that was the LONGEST sentence ever written, and that most likely none of it is grammatically correct. And that I am pretty unconcerned with both those facts. The irony of this will become apparent later.) Obviously TV must be used in moderation—but the same thing is true about scotch and nacho cheese sauce and I’m a big fan of those too.
I’ve already waxed poetical on the sheer genius of America’s Next Top Model (perhaps the best argument for the continuation of Reality TV in existence) and Lost (a life preserver in a sea of Reality TV crap, a show that dared take on that most challenging of feats—hiring actual writers—and reminded America that the enjoyment of looking at beautiful people on a beach can actually be enhanced by a plot). These two shows are wonderful, both in entirely different ways, and watching them makes me happy.
Watching The West Wing though, that does something else to me entirely. For one thing nearly every episode makes me cry. Now admittedly, a poorly constructed Kleenex commerical could make me cry. I am prone to both laughter and tears as a response to many, many things in life, and frankly, I like that about myself. Maybe you like that about me too? If not, well, don’t sit next to me when I watch The West Wing.
Honestly people, I don’t mean to be cheesy, but I think this show represents everything that is great and possible and flawed about this country. Actually, you know what? I do mean to be cheesy. I think that patriotism is a really cheesy feeling, in the best possible sense of the word. It’s a throat swelling, hand on your chest, blood pounding in your ears kind of feeling. It’s pride on such a massive scale that it’s impossible to contain it in a single human being.
It feels uncool to admit to such a feeling, let alone to admit to liking it to the point of seeking it out. It feels like I should be affecting the same aura of bored detachment much of my generation feels when the subject of politics comes up. But even when I’m not watching The West Wing I don’t feel bored or detached from politics. I feel the opposite. I feel deeply and personally involved in my country’s fate.
I want to feel inspired by my government, and by the people in charge of this country’s fate. And all partisansim aside (as much as it can be pushed aside anyway) I do not feel comforted by George W. Bush, and I do not trust his administration. I don’t find solace in his folksy charm, or reassurance in his attempt to be ‘one of the people’. I do not want my president to be ‘one of the people’. I want him (or HER, but that’s another entry entirely) to be larger than life. To know things that I don’t know and to be able to convey ideas to me in way that leaves me feeling respectful and a little bit in awe. I am not claiming to know more than President Bush, but I am also not claiming to know less, and that fact saddens me more than I can say.
I guess my point is that watching this show, fictional or not, reminds me of the kind of person I want to be, and of the kind of country I want to live in. I realize the ridiculous amount of idealism inherent in both the show and that statement. What I don’t understand is why so often people scoff at the power of idealism in effecting change, as if they wish to give the entire concept a friendly pat on the head and then move on to more useful tools like aggression or corporate sponsorship. What is more American than unabashed idealism? Where would this country be without it? England, that’s where.
I want so badly to feel as though I’m being led by a group of smart and capable people. If those people also happen to be good looking and terribly witty, that probably wouldn’t hurt. I suppose the point of this rambling and possibly (unintentionally!) pretentious entry is this: watching this show makes me feel like there is hope. It makes me feel like the only possible way to affect change is to get out there and do it. To BECOME the smart capable person (I wouldn’t mind also becoming better looking and terribly witty) and to join in the fray.
Thanks Aaron Sorkin, for portraying a White House that is classy and relevant and hopeful. Even if it isn’t real. You’ve got to envision the world you’d like to inhabit before you can create it. And if you can see that vision on TV, then so much the better.