Friday, November 10, 2006

What's up with Sorkin's Kansas?

Examination of Aaron Sorkin's treatment of conservatives in The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

A running theme of Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip seems to be exploring what happens when "red" and "blue" collide, and whether people from differnt backgrounds can work together.

In The West Wing, in the beginning, conservatives were strawmen who might bicker with the lower level staffers, but would then stand slack-jawed as Barlett or some other senior staffer delivered an unanswerable speech. The first entry here is probably the canonical example. Conservatives were caricatures who would shove another child in front of a bus in order to go yell at a woman walking by an abortion clinic on the off-chance she might be getting an abortion.

Then, we got Ainsley Hayes, who was allowed to land a few punches before being put back into her place (in the boiling room) before she ran off to fire guns in Miami.

Now, on Studio 60, we have Harriet Hayes, who is the star of the show, kind to everyone, but happens to be an evangelical Christian. She seems to be the next evolutionary step from Ainsley Hayes.

So, I wonder where we're going.

As the episode including Tom's parents showed, Sorkin's not above trotting out stereotypes of red state folks to smash them down. I mean, they had never heard of Abbott and Costello?

We've also got the current cliffhanger of half the cast being stuck in a rural Nevada police station with a judge played by John Goodman who started off like he was on the same bus as Tom's parents, then showed otherwise, but then returned to what seemed like a caricature. And this whole sequence was kicked off when Harriett expressed her views on same sex marriage and was confronted by a gay couple who didn't approve of her disapproval.

Anyway -- what do you think Sorkin's trying to teach us about red state - blue state relationships? That as long as red state people are smart and tolerant (Harriet's OK with premarital sex) and look like one of the Hayes sisters, we can get along great?

Thoughts welcome...


JohnMcG said...

You're right, John! Rock on!

Elbo Ruum said...

That as long as red state people are smart and tolerant (Harriet's OK with premarital sex) and look like one of the Hayes sisters, we can get along great?

I know red-staters who are both smart and tolerant, and yes, believe it or not, this does help increase the likelihood of peaceful coexistence dramatically, politics fully aside.

sikwoiu said...

John: I'm a fan of the show. I thought the gay's that confronted Harriet were the most unflattering portrayal to date. No?

JohnMcG said...

I agree -- it was quite unflattering.

It's also true that the street thugs weren't the standard bearers for their point of view.

I'm honestly curious about what Sorkin is doing. Sometimes he'll portray red starer as simpletons, then he'll wag his finger at us for thinking he was going to portray John Goodman's judge as a simpleton. I'm honestly flummoxed.

JohnMcG said...


I guess I was using "tolerant" in a tongue-in-cheek way. I'm not saying bigotry should be celebrated.

The show seems to be saying, and maybe this is my distrust of Sorkin, that Harriett isn't one of *those* Christians. She's not bothered by premarital sex.

It seems like Sorkin wants to give the other charcaters, and vicariously himself, credit for being able to work with someone like Harriett, who's also extremely talented and attractive.

It'd be kind of like a show congratulating itself for diversity for having a black character who wasn't into all that civil rights stuff, was ambivalent about affirmative action, and was gorgepus and the best at her job.

The message to Christians seems to be -- "Hey, we'll work with you. Just be gorgeous and don't bug as too often, and we'll tolerate you, though we'll take shots at you for "straddling the fence."

JohnMcG said...

I realize now I'm unfairly putting Sorkin into a no-win situtation.

If he makes his red-state characters flawed, then I accuse him of caricaturing. If he makes them perfect, I say he's offering an unreasonable standard of behavior for Christians.

Maybe I should just enjoy the show, huh?