The West wing
I am enchanted by American imperialism. Not for its own sake but because whether we like to admit it or not the idea of American greatness is very influential in many of the most enthralling creative endeavors that will be undertaken on our lifetime. Although regrettably these endeavors are hardly ever clinical.
Politically the last ten years have been hard on everyone. I am sure that I am one of many curious young minds that have been trying to piece together the shards of our geopolitical state. Trying to make sense of why so often bureaucracy trumps common sense. Again and again I found myself turning to creatives from the American mainstream for some accountability. The west wing, Jonathan Franzen and Dr Cornel West, but mostly The West wing.
For some reason I have found myself profoundly attracted to Aaron Sorkin’s take on liberal politics in America. The series is unapologetic social commentary on what it means to be a statesman in the most ludicrous nation on earth. The series is partly a mimic of Bill Clinton’s presidential years, and has a cast mixture that works surprisingly well on screen. Including Martin Sheen as president, Rob Lowe as an ambitious deputy of communications slightly lacking in diplomatic maturity. As well as Richard Schiff who plays the morose Toby Ziegler, a middle aged Jewish man who offers very little in the way of poise.
What is most potent about the series is that it ran concurrently with the Bush/Mbeki presidential years, and because it was based on a liberal ideology Sorkin could have so easily layed it on thick and preached the righteousness of Democrats and their politics. But he opts for a different route; through the heavy chunks of dialogue we are acquainted with an environment where even people of the same party have differing convictions.
One of my favorite scenes comes at the end of the second season in two cathedrals where president Josiah Bartlett reprimands God for his failures. He tells him Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto? A deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem! Tuus in terra servus nuntius fui officium perfeci. Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem! Which loosely translates to (Am I to believe those were the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with Your punishments! I was Your servant on Earth – I spread Your word and did Your work. To hell with your punishments! To hell with You!)
In this scene there is something both insightful and unsettling about American arrogance. This idea that the oval office gives you the right to tell God what to do. The notion that the American presidential seal makes you a stakeholder in righteous decisions. There are few adjectives that describe the power of this series. The west wing is a clairvoyant achievement. Rich with cultural references but still not indulging in the intellectual pretentions of quoting Segmund Freud. The west wing is simply immaculate