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10 years since the West Wing? That long? July 23, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.


I always liked the West Wing, but often in spite of rather than because of. The bombast and the self-regarding liberal cosiness of its world view could be problematic, to put it mildly. Was a US Presidency like this? Almost certainly not, but it was often entertaining to see the depiction both in terms of what was depicted and what it was trying to convey. Rewatching the pilot episode recently it was amazing to see how antiquated it all looked. 2016 is not 1999. That’s for sure. We’re all a bit more familiar, actually a lot more familiar, with Sorkin’s schtick now. I like The News Room but I doubt it really shows us the internal workings of cable TV any more realistically than the WW did politics. Actually just on WW, I liked the last two seasons, they felt grittier – well, as gritty as WW did, but that was a change and a change was good. It was also interesting to see matters from the Republican camp.

How often have we heard the jibe about people ‘thinking they were in the West Wing’ when in, or close, or not that close at all to government here? And there’s something in that, that odd cloak of self-importance and self-aggrandisement that some wear when even tangentially linked to government activity. For the West Wing could be very pleased with itself. Far too much so for some tastes.

But, reading this Guardian piece I wondered:

And still, as our political system continues to degrade – there’s gridlock in Congress over so many issues, and both parties are resorting to filibusters even to get the most basic legislation passed – The West Wing shows us a world where the political system works. It reminds us of a time, not too long ago, when people in political office took their jobs very seriously and wanted to actually govern this country rather than settle scores and appeal to their respective bases. The most popular political dramas of our day are Scandal and House of Cards, ones where back-alley plotting and murderous presidents take center stage rather than the ideals of governing.

The oddity of that analysis is that the West Wing arrived in 1999, in the very same decade as gridlock had shut down the US government for some months, where a President was impeached, where the Gringrich revolution was made manifest, where… well, where the atmosphere was toxic and where the political system quite literally did not work. The WW was a response to that, as much as a magical tale by which we could compare and contrast subsequently.

And this time when the political system worked strikes me as illusory. Bi-partisanship, clubbability, etc, seem to me to be have been rarer than is sometimes imagined across the life of the Republic (that Republic, not this one, though the point is as true of here as there).

I’m unsurprised, in a way, that there’s been no clear successor. Commander-in-Chief, the Geena Davis vehicle, didn’t fly. It was better than many gave it credit, but how could it compete with the sheer weight of the West Wing and the manner in which the latter carved out a cultural space that was, at times, quite massive. 24 offered a different and genuinely fantastical tangent with which to view Presidencies. House of Cards another again.  I’ve not seen Madam Secretary, I’m curious as to whether it’s any good.

Perhaps it is too soon to envisage some sort of reworked West Wing style programme at this point. And yet, it would make sense, for if WW was a response of sorts to US politics in the 1990s, the sense that things could and should be better, then no doubt there’s another on its way after the shambles of the 2010s and before. But perhaps that’s to miss the obvious point. Having had an African-American President and now, quite feasibly a woman President the actual office is arguably much more interesting than any television programme. Perhaps it will take more mundane Presidential candidates and actual Presidents before we see something new along the same lines as the WW. Here’s hoping.


1. gendjinn - July 23, 2016

West Wing is a pretty accurate depiction of 1990s White House and DC politics. They had Paul Begalia and a similar level Republican (whose name escapes me) as advisors from the get go. From my days in DC (and my wife’s much greater direct DC experience) it resonated pretty well with the times, culture and behaviours.

It didn’t really capture the GWB change to DC & WH and it was not supposed to. It was literally the fantasy cocoon for US liberals to stick their heads in the sands and imagine the Clinton presidency had continued uninterrupted.

Been a big fan of the Sorkin/Schlamme collaboration Sports Night & WW but found The News Room absolute crap.


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