In Case You Missed It of the Day: Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom debuted Sunday night to mostly poor reviews, but no matter – here’s the most predictably Sorkin-esque scene, in which Jeff Daniels argues against American greatness.
[Not Safe For Work — Daniels gets ALL riled up.)
Dear Mr. Sorkin,
You know, your main character—or should I say avatar?—derisively mentions that America leads the world in adults who believe in angels. I sincerely hope you consider yourself part of that demographic, Mr. Sorkin; it could not be more clear that you have deifieda version of the United States of America that never existed, and moreover have elevated those individuals that have come to represent the myth to a place “deserving” of worship.
You say that once, America stood up for what was right; you say that once, America fought for moral reasons. When I look at the history of the country I live in, I run into Manifest Destiny; I find the histories of our systemic oppression of indigenous Americans; I find our incursions into Vietnam and Korea, both for our own ends; I find empiricism, colonialism, and the incredibly pervasive idea that it was our job—our duty—to invade, takeover, and subjugate other countries to our will, all in the name of freedom. Are these the moral reasons you’re talking about, sir? Have I, perhaps, missed a memo?
You say that once, Americans waged war on poverty, not on poor people—really, Mr. Sorkin? When was that, exactly? Was it when we allowed sweatshops to grow and flourish, turning a blind eye to the abusive conditions occurring inside of them on a daily basis? Was it during the rise of unsafe, unregulated tenement housing? Was it during the period of time when slavery ran rampant in this country, which—lest you forget—was, from a historical perspective, pretty fucking recently? What about after slavery, Mr. Sorkin? Do the Jim Crow laws and the people they oppressed, both financially and otherwise, fit into your sunny worldview of a country that battled poverty, but treated its poor with respect? Do they, sir? Do they really?
You want to talk about aspiring to intelligence; you want to talk about caring for our neighbors; you want to glorify a time when people “didn’t scare so easy,” where people sacrificed, where America didn’t beat its chest. I may be part of the worst (period) generation (period) ever (period), but I’ll tell you what, Mr. Sorkin: I’ve done my goddamn homework on the nation whose flag I pledged my allegiance to every day for twelve years, and the country you believe in never existed. Like you, sir, America has had moments of shining brilliance and glorious talent, and like you, sir, America has always tended to be blinded by her own arrogance. This country has some great history, but it also has some really terrible history, and its ignoring that truth is dangerous and limiting and deeply wrong, whether you want to admit it or not.
Here’s the deal, Mr. Sorkin: my first political awareness dates to watching your show, The West Wing, with my father on Wednesday nights. By all accounts, you are an egotistical, misogynistic, self-aggrandizing bastard, but I have chosen to consume the media you produce anyway, because, until now, I’ve been able to find some merit in it—and, hey, because you helped shaped me and quite a bit of the rest of the generation you here called the worst ever. But if you’re going to have the nerve to produce the scene I just watched, then I have this to say: America is too goddamn old for your prostrate worship of Great White Male to be relevant. It’s gross, and it’s wrong, and it’s boring, and it’s contributing to the very problem you seem so intent on arguing against. I love my country, sir, but not the version of her you seem to have imagined. To love that version of America…well. It wouldn’t be loving America at all.
You say the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one, Mr. Sorkin, so here’s my advice: buy a mirror, and shut the hell up.
I had a screenwriting professor last year who would get along famously with Aaron Sorkin if he ever met him. He was also a very intelligent man who thought very highly of himself, and was an unrepentant jackass. He was, I think, a little more self-aware about the fact that the Great White Male’s time has passed, and occasionally made jokes to this effect, but was still essentially always reacting to his declining importance in the world by overcompensating. This overcompensating consisted, essentially, of him being crazy sexist all over the place, while simultaneously claiming he wasn’t. This guy said, enough times that I cannot remember the individual incidents, that girls were bad at structure and, y’know, narrative, because we just write about feelings, and it was the BOYS who were naturally good at the structure thing. This was even more insulting than it sounds because screenwriting classes revolve almost entirely around learning structure, so the implication was very much that the boys had the advantage in the class and that we were at a natural disadvantage.
This was infuriating, obviously, but it was also just kind of sad. His hypothesis was not even remotely borne out by the class, which consisted of both guys and girls who were better at structure, and others who were better at emotions. The whole thing was sad, too, because I did learn a lot from him, he was very encouraging to me in certain ways - he and I both knew perfectly well that I was the most talented writer in the class (I say this not to puff myself up - there weren’t too many of us in there, and there were some other extremely smart people who just weren’t great writers). But his actual interactions with us and his ridiculous delusions about people in general had very little to do with each other.
What needs to happen next, in America, is that these people need - well, I hesitate to say silenced, because the connotations of that statement are much more suppressive and threatening than I really mean. They need to be taken out of positions, I suppose, where they have a soapbox on which to declaim this kind of reactionary rhetoric. Because it is damaging. We can look at the clip above - which is horrifying - or at the kind of shit my professor used to say and poo-poo it, but 2.1 million people watched this show last night, and some of them will buy what Mr. Sorkin here is selling simply because his writing is supposedly so intelligent - he must be right about what he’s saying! (Seriously, guys: number of words ≠ quality of words.) And there will have been people my professor got at, too; I’m sure that in the aftermath of dealing with him there were some young women who either a) gave up on going into the industry because they didn’t want to keep dealing with sexist blowhards, or b) actually began to believe that they weren’t good at writing because they were women. These kind of arrogant white men manage to hold onto their power through acting like they still have any, and that makes their power real - because power isn’t really anything except the impression you manage to make on other people. So Aaron Sorkin acts like he’s god and people believe him, and keep giving him the opportunity to write on a very mainstream platform.
The advantage that we have is that we’re free not to watch. And then, all of the sudden, he hasn’t got any power at all - it was only ever an illusion in the first place.