Tuesday, November 15, 2016

This Is Not My Beautiful House

Revolution Not Be On The Netflix

The Bush years began with his appointment to the Presidency and ended with hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq, the worst economic disaster since 1929; government-sanctioned communications surveillance; a dozen dump trucks carting away shredded documents from Dick Cheney's residence; and Wee Georgie leaving town after Obama's first Inaugural address with a sour look on his face. For eight years, it was a wasteland of mediocrity, greed, mendacity, and death. Not to put too fine a point on it or anything.

On the lighter side, for six of those eight years, Democrats and Other liberals could tune in every week to watch The West Wing on NBC. Developed by lead writer / producer Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball; Charlie Wilson's War; Steve Jobs), TWW ran from September 22, 1999 -- while the Clinton administration was still in office and before Bush v. Gore --  to May 14, 2006.

The story follows the administration of a fictional President, Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen), his family and staff, through two terms in office. Sorkin was only involved for the first few seasons but the program was moderately popular over its full seven seasons. The cast (in particular, Stockard Channing, Allison Janney; Dulé Hill; James Spencer, Richard Schiff; Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney; Rob Lowe appeared during the first two seasons and Jimmy Smits in the last two) were well-chosen. They did exactly what a good acting ensemble should: Made you believe, and made you care what happened to their characters.

More than half the country believed that the 2000 election had been stolen by thugs, and Fredo Corleone ("I'm not stupid -- not like everybody says !!! I'm smart !!!"), had been appointed President by the Scalia Court. As the Bush years progressed and the 2004 election all came down to more questionable voting in Ohio, The West Wing was a counterpoint to the rabid dysfunction in Washington -- though Wee Georgie and his retainers still had two and a half years left to bugger the country in his second term when the last episode was broadcast.

I liked TWW as teevee. I understood it was an escapist fantasy for liberals, trapped in what we believed were the Dark Ages. It was well-acted and funny -- in a way those troglodyte right-wing stupidheads could never be; of course. Right. The staff and President Bartlett didn't always win their battles against clever, greasy right-wingers, but we were left with the image of  forward motion towards a better future under a left-of-center leadership.

Not everyone believed the program was a good advertisement for American democracy, but so long as actual war in the Middle East was distant, and The Good Times rolled, The West Wing was great entertainment.

Since 2006, a lot has happened.  We understand now that presenting serious questions and offering potential solutions in a television drama is no substitute for those issues being addressed and solved. Watching a fictional, responsible left-wing Presidency on the small screen is not the same as actually having a liberal government in office -- one that walks the walk of its ethical and moral talk, and makes decisions that benefit the interests of all its citizens as opposed to a small percentage of them. Having bittersweet satisfaction in seeing Goodness triumph in D.C., while the actual government is run by fanatic True Believers bent on domination and revenge, is no satisfaction at all.

(I might add that, as satisfying as using a bow and arrow or six-foot, two-handed sword might appear to be, scenes of dystopian imbalance and revolution in Hunger Games or Thing Of Thrones might be fun but don't relate to life in 21st century America after November 8, 2016.)

In the new era we're about to plunge into, I hope no one attempts to revive The West Wing, or anything like it.  We don't have the luxury of watching a substitute for Raising The Issues -- the issues are in the streets. They're in our faces, whether we like it or not. We don't need escapism. We need resolution. And we need resistance.

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