Wednesday, July 25

the newsroom

I’m infatuated with a TV show. It’s been a while. I mean, of course I watched Game of Thrones. What self-respecting fantasy writer (or aspiring fantasy writer) hasn’t? And it’s great entertainment, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no infatuation. I just like it, a lot. But this new show – it’s infatuation, moving towards love.

I doubt very much that you’ll be surprised when I tell you that the show is Aaron Sorkin’s  The Newsroom. I didn’t watch much of The West Wing – no cable at the time and the Internet was not yet all over streaming things like that – but the couple episodes I saw were enjoyable. From a distance though, it seemed like a bit of a fairytale: centrist, pragmatically progressive president making the decisions we wish the American president had been making, and showing the heart we wish he’d been showing, during the height of the Dubya debacle. In the absence of regular exposure to the show, I just never developed an attachment. I never had a chance to properly suspend disbelief.
How things change.

It’s 2012 now, and TV programming is readily available via steaming and download. As interested as I am in how disingenuous the mainstream media is, the premise intrigued. And then I saw the opening clip from the first episode, when Jeff Daniel’s anchorman character, Will McAvoy, has a meltdown during a panel discussion and admits that the ole’ US of A ain’t what she used to be, or perhaps ain’t what she likes to selectively remember she used to be, all nation states having this powerful tendency towards revisionist self-perception.

Anyway, as much as I didn’t necessarily agree with all of McAvoy’s memory of the States from its relative glory days in the wake of WWII, I did like his take on the current state of affairs, especially his critical views regarding the MSM’s way of selling out the truth in favor of ratings. It looked compelling. I bit.

Five episodes in I’m hooked, and the show, which flashed back in episode one to the explosion of Deep Water Horizon and has been quickly moving forward towards the present in a review of McAvoy’s (and his team’s) developmental arc, is getting more and more compelling. The acting is great, Sorkin’s writing is typically erudite, sharp, and warp-paced, and the drama is compelling.

But I love it for what it’s trying to do – shape and participate in a discussion on integrity and truth in a way that the MSM infotainment industry is no longer very interested in participating in. If West Wing was a fairytale about what we wish the White House could be, then The Newsroom is a fairytale about what we can only dream of our news sources being.

And it is a fairytale, make no mistake. This many idealistic people in the same room only happens in rarefied circumstances, and I sadly doubt that an MSM newsroom is one of them. That said, Keith Olberman (who is rather unlike Will McAvoy in ideological terms) did take most of his staff with him when he was fired, so I guess there still is some idealism and loyalty. Exceptions that prove the rule? But I digress…

The fairytale world the characters of The Newsroom live in is one in which Democrats and Republicans actually represent different ends of a notably wide spectrum of political and ideological thought. That just isn’t the case anymore than it’s accurate to say that there’s much of a difference between the policies of Liberals and Conservatives in Canada. Seen on a political spectrum, the difference between Democratic and Republican policy (or Liberal/Conservative) is actually minute, the ferocity of the rhetoric giving the impression that there is a insurmountable gulf between them when the truth is that they are peas in a pod, siblings arguing over semantics at a volume loud enough, they hope, to discourage real exploration of the options that we face as a species.

So I have this weird conflict inside me as I fall in love with this show: I think that it raises important questions about how the infotainment industry is shaping our thought by means of untruth and innuendo, and that’s a discussion worth having. But it also reinforces the idea that all we need to do is find a center-right equilibrium full of civil discourse again to be happy and safe, with no real need to actually discuss ideas outside of that narrow ideological pie slice as we move forward.

That’s just silly. Our culture is obviously broken in profound ways, wearing out as we near the end of an age. The empires are crumbling and, I think, we’d be better off just admitting it and moving in a new direction with an urgency that is currently, and profoundly, lacking. My greatest fear is that future generations, if there are any that far forward, will look back at this time and place and wonder how we could have been so stupid, so selfish, so myopic and intentionally vapid. I don’t want that to be our legacy. Who would?

Anyway, if you haven’t watched it yet, here’s McAvoy’s opening salvo from episode one. And here’s a toast to debate and discussion and discourse, and the place that art – even TV art – can play in that debate..

p.s. I'm still struggling to rearrange my world so that I have appropriate time to write again. I believe it will happen, but it's not happening fast enough. For me. But I'm trying. And that's part of the journey, so I guess I'll be okay with it. Final revisions on The Novel are still crawling forward. I will finish at some point, my promise to both of us.