The Newsroom: Aspiring To Intelligence

The greatest challenge in creating a show like The Newsroom is incorporating the real life news cycle into the personal stories of an ensemble cast and striking some kind of compelling balance between the two, where the audience is entertained by both. Where the first season stumbled with this goal, the second is doing a better job of still being interesting when Will McAvoy, portrayed by Jeff Daniels, is not being a vicious combination of Bill O’Reilly’s assertive condescension and Jon Stewart’s voracious pursuit of fidelity in journalism. His performance and the writing behind it are still the most addictive aspect of the show, but having spent enough time with the other characters, there is more to care about behind the scenes and the supporting cast has much more to offer now that they have been developing with believable depth for a full season.

Aaron Sorkin is a popular speed bag for intellectual criticism over the years and not without reason. Not because he’s entirely deserving, in all honesty he’s the rare successful television writer who can create entertaining thoughtful stories about complex relevant subject matter that is both accessible and reasonably well informed. However, the way he phrases his arguments are interpreted as pedantic, superior, and occasionally reductive but the fact that he’s making them is the important thing. In a show that is intended to be about a news team that is trying to elevate the level of debate about journalistic integrity and accountability in the political theater, his detractors are ironically focusing on the voice, rather than the subject matter being discussed.

It’s a little Kafka-esque when viewed objectively; the news is too close to entertainment so let’s make a show about news going back to its journalistic and investigative roots but we have to make it entertaining, too, or no one will watch it. But criticism of the show is that it is too preachy and not entertaining enough. Factor in the amount of time it takes to produce a season and the topics being discussed are inevitably dated by the time an episode airs and the canine-like attention span of modern audiences (SQUIRREL) have little impetus to become emotionally invested in subject matter that has been chewed, gnawed, strangled, consumed, digested by four stomachs (the news cycle is now a cow in this metaphor), excreted, and ultimately, forgotten about as 24 hour news networks struggle to fill air time in between breaking any and every story faster than the other guy. So how does this show stay relevant? And how does it avoid the know-it-all attitude that comes from reliving an experience with the gift of hindsight? Sadly, it doesn’t. But that’s okay, at least someone is trying.

Here is the problem with attempting to make an intellectual argument about a controversial subject in the Internet age: anyone who is capable of contradicting you will. Emphatically. With a distinct and unabashed enthusiasm that betrays ego and self assuredness and, in reality, common sense. This is the age of contrarianism rather than debate. And debate can be a healthy thing when properly moderated but the Internet would not be the Internet if it were moderated. The Newsroom presents an interesting idea that took me by surprise with it’s simplicity. Most TV shows, in fact entire networks scream to the rafters about being balanced and reporting both sides of a story, when in reality not all stories or arguments have two sides to them. Not to say it shouldn’t be sought out but sometimes, and I don’t want to paint with too broad of a brush, sometimes people who are consistently adversarial or critical are just being assholes.

I am a fan of Aaron Sorkin. I’m a total pushover when comes to fun, complex, witty dialogue. I love the occasional slapstick humor. I enjoy a well delivered diatribe. These things are in his wheelhouse, he definitely knows his strengths and plays to them without hesitation. I also agree with a lot of his politics, even though through his writing I learned what was too far left. Liberal media bias or not, the far right is too easy of a punching bag if only because they tend towards sensationalism and urgency in their message. But the extreme left is not without its own flawed perspectives. The West Wing was a great example of a purely optimistic liberal dreamscape in the White House. This show was so idealistic in its politics that it will never go down in the annals of television as being anything other than excellent entertainment. But in reality the selflessness displayed by every character in the name of the greater good makes it only that. As the reality of the last decade in Washington feels closer to House of Cards and it’s ilk, the appeal of his characters, President Bartlett, Will McAvoy, etc. remain charming affectations of the people we’d like to see running the show, instead of being players on a show run by Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin-esque Monologue Conclusion :
Is The Newsroom flawed? Absolutely. Biased? Sure but what show isn’t?
Oh, I know. True Blood. Or Game of Thrones. Television is about escapism, fundamentally, if I want to know what to think I’ll watch Daily Show or Colbert and laugh away so I can move on with the rest of my life knowing someone else is affected. Someone else will do something about it.
Well, here’s the thing: no one is. Congress is still a monumental and historical failure, the Tea Party is still browbeating every borderline Conservative into fighting tooth and nail to pass archaic anti-abortion legislation, clinging to the one policy that has never been in danger of alienating red states, to retain what voting base they have left in order to get reelected so they can do…what.
Champion the current GOP policy of heel dragging?
And then you have Obama, and Holy God did I drink the Kool Aid on this guy. Twice. But thanks to this President I now owe an apology to the few lost souls who defended W when the Patriot Act was passed. Because, I said, vociferously, not only is there no need to, the government will never be so reckless with our civil liberties, nor are they competent enough to do so effectively. And as many, forgive the term, liberties as the Patriot Act took, I’ll be goddamned if the NSA hasn’t been illegally and without warrant, spying on American citizens. Damn if we haven’t suspended due process and ordered a drone strike on at least one American citizen that we know of. Punch me in the face if this didn’t happen under a President who campaigned under the idea of HOPE and CHANGE.
Pause for effect.
There is something wrong with our country. Something wrong with the people running it. Something wrong with the way we get our information and how we’re using it. I mean…the Internet is a gift, it’s the greatest invention in the history of humanity because it has the ability to unite every literate soul on the planet. And instead of using it that way, to make each other better, we’re using it to make ourselves feel superior in our own anonymous little dens, cloistered around monitors that play out information like little TV shows instead of seeing it for what it really is: a window into other people’s lives, into the real world that is spinning around us, nonstop.
Because it is spinning away, inexorably. The comments and views and likes are now part of a larger social strata, a collective consciousness that decides what kind of world we live in.
I’d love to be Aaron Sorkin. Successful, critically acclaimed, all too willing to put his face on his art. Which is what it is: art. This is what writers do. Create a hypothetical environment, present an argument and step back. Now it’s up to the audience to continue the dialogue and, god willing, elevate it.
Jed Bartlet for President.

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