Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why I'm a Crackpot

For a long time, I was a big fan of The West Wing, both as drama and for its political values.  Then, during the 2008 presidential election, as I watched in amazement while millions of liberals were impressed by the patently unimpressive Barack Obama, I started to drift away from the family history and faithful lesser-evilism that had tied me to the Democratic Party.  I read blogs (you can find some of them on the blogroll at the right) that offered various critiques of the entire American political system, not just one particular party, and after a period of resistance accepted their arguments as convincing, and indeed far more morally defensible than the casuistic reasoning required to make Democratic Party liberalism seem meaningful.

With this new perspective in place, I could see that The West Wing was full of things I'd come to despise-- dishonesty about American intentions, emphasis on process over content, and most particularly a sickening deference to power.  I was also having doubts about Aaron Sorkin as a dramatist, noticing that his writing tiptoed in the direction of addressing actual issues, both political and personal, only to back away when it truly mattered.  On the other hand, I continued to find Sorkin's dialogue style engaging, even though I'd certainly entertain the argument that it's hardly as intellectual as the show's reputation would suggest.  And I retained a shallow fondness for the characters, two-dimensional though they often were.

I've wanted for a while to do some writing about politics, but I never feel like I have much to say compared to the bloggers I read regularly (again, check the blogroll).  I tweet about politics occasionally, but that's a form that not only doesn't require substance, it pretty well rules it out, so I mostly make jokes or reiterate things other have said.  What I do feel confident about discussing is (to use the term loosely) art.  I review horror and fantasy books at another blog, and I while I don't pretend to any great insight, I think I do all right.  The point of overlap here is obvious.  So I decided that, after a hiatus of a couple years, I would watch The West Wing again.  This time, though, I'm going to approach it with a critical eye, examine its many shortcomings, and just generally suck the fun out of everything.  Politics will be the primary frame of reference, but aesthetics are also bound to pop up, particularly with regard to Sorkin's stylistic tics and use of sitcom tropes.

(You'll note that I talk about Aaron Sorkin, who left The West Wing four years into its seven year run.  That's because I was, and suppose am, the sort of puritanical viewer for whom the show basically ceased to exist once he left.  I tried to watch the fifth season, but even when I was an unabashed fan of the show I found it deathly dull, and although I own the full series on DVD, I've never watched more than a couple episodes from later in the run.  So, for the purposes of this blog, The West Wing ended with the fourth season finale "Twenty Five." If I get there and feel compelled to continue, I might extend the analysis into the Sorkinless seasons.  But before that, let's see if I can manage the first four years.)

Why is the blog called "Notes from a Crackpot?"  Devoted viewers of the series will recall the two episodes of the series in which the White House staff were, horror of horrors, forced to interact with actual citizens who held passionate beliefs about various issues.  The first of those episodes was titled "The Crackpots and These Women."  In light of my own angle on the show, and the likely view many readers will take of my comments, I thought that was an appropriate label.

I think that's enough for preliminaries This afternoon I plan to rewatch the first episode of the first season, aptly titled "Pilot."  If all goes to plan, and I'm not browbeaten back into party loyalty by the SHEER AWESOMENESS of Jed Bartlet, my analysis will appear sometime tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. This could be a really interesting project. I still count myself as a big fan of the show, and plan to revisit the DVDs at some point for the first time in years.

    I probably won't be as thorough about it as this, but I suspect it'll still be interesting to see whether it feels different, given how my politics have changed in the intervening time. (I've mostly called myself a liberal, and have veered more toward social libertarianism and/or anarchism recently.)

    I imagine the Sorkin dialogue and general funness of it will probably still keep me engaged and enjoying it. I'm not sure how important the politics were to my experience of the show in the first place, and when I found things to disagree with its values on, it was more often interesting than infuriating to do so.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing how you get on. (I saw Charles Davis retweet your mention of this blog and thought it sounded worth a look.)