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Sorkin’s Election

Posted on Nov 11, 2012 by in Posts | 19 comments

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Right now, Aaron Sorkin is cursing Nate Silver.

In Sorkin’s world, the 2012 election would have gone down to the wire. It wouldn’t have dragged out in manner of the Bush-Gore debacle of 2000, nor would it have been called at 11:12 pm, which is what happened this past Tuesday in a thoroughly anti-climactic event (who cares if Florida still can’t get their act together? Good night, nurse.) No, in Sorkin’s world, the election would go down

to the wee hours of Election Wednesday, just as dawn was breaking and none of the world had slept. Sorkin’s election would have involved drama, last minute compromises, large states too close to call. Sorkin’s election would have been nail-biting to the end, broken down to in-fighting, tragedy, and party-hopping. Sorkin’s election would reek of integrity, to the point where you feel like you’re getting hit over the head with an American Flag. Sorkin’s election is the height of idealism.

It would not consist of a thirtysomething wunderkind—or highly logical statistician, depending on your point of view—calling the election perfectly weeks before, then getting praised and roasted via Twitter (#DrunkNateSilver anyone?) But before you can say five-thirty-GREAT, let’s mourn for Sorkin’s fictional election that could have been…

and we’re done.

Which is, perhaps, what makes Sorkin’s current endeavor, The Newsroom, so fascinating. In all of Sorkin’s previous series—the glorious The West Wing, the short-lived-but-beloved Sports Night, the thoroughly fine Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The American President (not a series, but thrown in for good measure)—he culled inspiration from real life events, without referring to any real-life politicians prior to Nixon. This allowed him to create a realistic universe, but an alternative one as well.

Thus his elections in The West Wing were devices to an end. The first, President Josiah Bartlet re-election, was a victory tour the entire way through. He destroyed his opponent in the last (and only) debate and gave the audience the satisfaction of enjoying Bartlet’s virtually uncontested election day, inviting us all to celebrate in our own integrity and self-satisfaction that here is a man, deserving of the presidency now and forever, who everyone agrees should be president, now and forever.

The second election, that of Congressman Matthew Santos against Senator Arnold Vinick, was the election of Sorkin’s dreams: a two-parter involving all the scenarios I listed earlier: a tragic death, in-fighting, and a large-scale recount. He took every possible situation that could induce anxiety for the audience (or voter, depending on your relationship with reality) and he infused the episode with them ad nauseum. Great television, in that it neatly tied up a messy, intense situation, and was able to gloss over the inevitable fall-out that would actually have occurred (see 2000 election), and kept the audience involved and engaged. He didn’t write it, of course, having left after the end of season 4, but it was still the election of his dreams.

This time, it’s a little different.

The Newsroom follows a realistic-ish timeline.; the first episode takes place in April of 2010, the day of the Gulf Coast oil spill, and bounces between major events that occur over the next sixteen months. The drama comes from the events themselves—he focuses on events that inspired media panic—as well as the interpersonal relationships that follow. That means he has to follow the current election timeline and outcome. In and of itself, it will be interesting to see what he does with it; he has more than enough material to work with, and, judging by his ode to debate reform in his episode “The Blackout II: Mock Debate,” he has plenty to say and the tools to do it.

I, for one, am thankful that Sorkin gave himself these parameters. It forces him to give commentary on things that have real impact on his audience.

While he has, in the past, allowed his characters almost complete victory when covering these “real” events, endowing them with so much prescience that their anticipation and “correct” reactions to these events come across as holier than thou, I hope Sorkin allows McAvoy and crew to get quite a few things wrong in the election season. I hope he allows a Nate Silver-esque character to come in and show them up, rather than having one working to their advantage. I hope that Sorkin’s inevitable annoyance that he couldn’t have written that election manifests in real discourse and character development. Because in the end, no matter how much I hope that Jed Bartlet will spring to life and run for president, this is television. These are stories.

I can’t wait for this show to start up again. I have terrible, unrequited crushes on Will and Don (more on my feminist feelings towards both these characters and my attraction to them coming soon) and I love having Sorkin back on television. I also think he has a real chance to blend his own immense storytelling ability with the gift of reality and these real, tangible political players who influence Sorkin’s viewers every day. And yes, that gift includes Nate Silver. – Hannah

19 Comments

  1. I think it is interesting that Aaron Sorkin has joined twitter in October yet has only tweeted two times. Perhaps he is busy with being back on television?

    • Or he remembered how much he hates the Internet!

  2. They should hire you to do publicity for the show. Nicely written.

  3. As someone who’s rambled extensively about Sorkin himself, I have to say this is a very nice exploration of Sorkin’s political thoughts. I do have one correction though in that Sorkin had been gone from writing The West Wing for almost two years by the time the Santos-Vinick dynamic entered into play – though, if he was watching, I suspect he probably appreciated the tone with which it was undertaken (and gave a sort-of-endorsement by appearing in a cameo at Santos’ inauguration in the final episode). Sorry, just had to let my inner Wingnut out for some air there. Good piece though.

    • I remember that Sorkin was gone by that time as well…thanks for making that correction…otherwise, I too am a great fan of The West Wing and also found the post very enjoyable…good job..

  4. Did you not know stories can come true??? If you wish hard enough & cross your fingers forever & throw a lot of salt over your left shoulder… Jed Bartlett can come to life & we can all be walking & talking forever. Sigh.

  5. I like Sorkin but he does have a bit of a tendency to treat antagonistic characters as straw men, which can get a bit tiring.

    Predictions for series 2: someone snarks at length about Veep wannabe Ryan’s appropriation of Friedrcih Hayek the 20th century economist, despite young Friedrich having serious reservations about laissez-faire govt policies. And his support for universal healthcare.

    I wrote a piece on The Newsroom:

    http://froodianpseudoanalysis.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/what-doesnt-aaron-sorkins-the-newsroom-have-to-say-about-the-2012-election/

    But I recommend you ignore that and read my remake of Star Wars instead cos’ at least that one has some cheap laughs in it.

    Apologies for the shameless plugging

  6. Really well written, I am a fan of almost all of Sorkin’s work. Only, I was under the impression that Aaron Sorkin left the West Wing well before the Santos storyline was introduced.

  7. Hi all-

    Thanks for reading! And thanks for the fantastic notes. Obviously I must have been suffering from post-election fatigue not to have remembered Sorkin’s departure after Season 4…the Wingnut in me has been duly shamed. Correction made :)

  8. I really like this post! I love Sorkin and pretty much everything he’s done, including one of my favorite shows recently…The Newsroom!

    • I’m happy you liked it! Sorkin is my kryptonite, I’ll admit. I can’t watch too much of his work though; I end up making life decisions based on his fictional world!

  9. i’m just starting with my ‘Newsroom’ season 1 marathon and thought of writing something about it here. didn’t read the last part of your blog though (spoilers…hehe), but i’m glad you wrote so well about the show. will read your entire post again once i finish watching. :)

  10. Big fan of Sorkin, though The Newsroom is his most uneven work for a long time.

    But at the end of the day I still pine for the fabulous Studio 60.

    • Studio 60 had one of the greatest pilots, and I agree about Newsroom’s unevenness…fingers crossed for season 2.

  11. I enjoyed reading this! I was a die hard West Wing fan, and I want so much to like The Newsroom, but the things I find wrong with it keep getting in my way (the much written about “woman problem” being first and foremost). One of these things is his rehashing of actual events. It works, for a lot of the time, but sometimes comes off as sanctimonious arm chair quarterbacking. It’s a fine line that Sorkin doesn’t always walk well. Part of the problem too is that we live in an age where it’s not always possible to separate the show runner/writer from the show, and I think that’s especially true with Sorkin’s work. I end up being taken out of the story sometimes when it’s so obvious that he’s preaching from the writer’s room (see irrational fear/hatred of internet posters).

    It’s also interesting that one of the most dramatic elements of the Santos/Vinick election was dictated by real life events – the real-life sudden death of John Spencer.

    • I agree completely. TWW was as close to perfection as there is in television…I love moments of Newsroom, but I find myself waiting for Sorkin to acknowledge some of his more catastrophic plot holes and character deficiencies…here’s hoping for season 2 that he tightens it up a bit.

  12. Really I thought the election would be down to the last milli-second! Great post, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Thanks so much! A friend of mine sent me the “Keep Calm and Trust Nate Silver” post and it got me through the day…otherwise I would have been a nervous wreck.

  13. The Newsroom is amazing and I am also looking forward to seeing how he adapts the events of 2012 into the next season. Great post.

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