Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ding Dong, “West Wing” Is Dead

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NBC’s alternate universe showWest Wing” is dead. Finally realizing this fact, the producers at NBC will air the final episode sometime later this spring, followed by fumigation to remove the odor and some of the worst rodents and vermin attracted by the corpse.

From its beginning, “West Wing” was a lie. The show’s site boasts that WW “offer viewers a realistic, behind-the-scenes peek into the Oval Office and the campaign trail that leads there.” Nothing of the sort, actually. The pilot was run September 22, 1999, when Bubba “Perjury” Clinton was in office. From the beginning, the President was depicted as noble and unerring in judgment, while conservatives were dismissed as trivial and petty. The personal pettiness of Bill Clinton was never depicted in Josiah Bartlett. Indeed, as the years passed it became increasingly obvious that no Democrat seemed suited to the image of Bartlett, who never cheated on his wife, was well-liked by Congress in general and the public in large numbers. By the time the pilot of “West Wing” ran, President Clinton had already been investigated and impeached by the Congress, and tried by the U.S. Senate. While Clinton escaped conviction, the 67-vote threshold to remove him never seriously a threat (the vote was a predictable 50-50 ‘no condemn-no condone' agreement by ‘The Club’), the emerging details of his sordid conduct, especially in attempts to smear his enemies and escape responsibility so immoral that Richard Nixon’s image benefited from the comparison. “West Wing” was clearly a Mainstream Media attempt to rebuild the image of President Clinton, even if it meant contriving a man Bill Clinton could never hope to emulate. Like Clinton, Sheen tried to put the JFK patina on his portrayal of Josiah Bartlett, while deftly ducking the scandals and personal peccadilloes of the Camelot President. “West Wing” was a grand lie to protect a vulgar liar.

I found “West Wing” interesting at times, as a peek into the mind of the Left Coast. But as the years passed, it became more and more obvious that “West Wing” had no contact with Reality. When terrorists attacked America on 9/11, “West Wing” failed to notice it. In fact, to this day the only ‘unreasonable extremists’ depicted on “West Wing” are conservatives and Christians. We face serious real-world questions about National Security and Weapons of Mass Destruction proliferation, but “West Wing” focuses on greenhouse gas as a factor in presumed Global Warming, and on the ‘need’ to restore Welfare. Demographics in the real world show parity between Republicans and Democrats, and a general preference for Conservativism over Liberalism, but in the world of “West Wing” the people are overwhelmingly liberal.

But perhaps the most laughable series of episodes are the ones surrounding the ‘election’ between Democrat Matthew Santos (how convenient – a Latino candidate with no accent, Caucasian skin tone, tailored suits copying CEOs of Fortune 50 companies, even an Anglo first name) and Republican Arnold Vinick, two men who together lack the depth I could find in a single sheet of notebook paper. Ironic that in both cases, “West Wing” presumes that the candidate cannot rely on his party platform, which is irredeemably tied to special interests and cronyism, so that we are supposed to cheer for men who defy their party and refuse to make promises to the nation, except in vague assurances that they love America – shades of John Kerry! By the Christmas break, I was convinced that the producers and writers of “West Wing” had no confidence at all in grassroots party volunteers, to say nothing of the electorate at large. No, we need to be told by our leaders what is good for us. They will tell us what we must do, the whole ‘consent of the governed' thing is vastly over-rated, and anyway it was created by a bunch of dead rich white men, right? The arrogance of the writers of “West Wing”, even as rigor mortis sets in, is breath-taking.

I would have found it interesting, had “West Wing” examined some of the new social paradigms from the past election – Dean’s internet fund-raising, the Blogosphere’s investigation and commanding authority in the “Rathergate” scandal, or the evolution of magazines and newspapers towards web-focused articles and blogger columnists, for instance. But “West Wing” was too much like a certain liner captain, who saw the iceberg but couldn’t understand why it didn’t get out of his way when he sounded the horn. “West Wing” began with contempt for Conservatives, and from there simply added to its list of enemies, until there was virtually no one left to watch the show.

I did find one accidental bit of honesty in the show. If you check the website, you can see the cast of the show proudly portrayed as if a vanguard against the foes of Liberalism. You may note that with one exception, the skin tone of everyone lined up is exactly the same; even Jimmy Smits is shown with the same skin tone as Martin Sheen and Alan Alda. The one black shown in the cast is shunted far off to one side, and is a low-ranking cast member who is never promoted, assigned a significant duty, or even asked for his opinion, except for some informal matter in the same patronizing tone might use on a family valet or butler. Small wonder that even in this promotional picture the man is not smiling or confident, and it speaks to the irony of Hillary Clinton’s “plantation” comment in ways she never intended.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I don't agree with most of your essay. Truth is, The West Wing, like most TV shows, went off the air after 9/11 for a brief period. Then, there was a special episode regarding terrorism that, while not directly dealing with 9/11 specifically, made some fair points about dealing with terrorism, the aftermath of it, etc. Although it was a bit sermonic, it was the first show to even think of doing something like that, and they made it in eight days.

Also, I'm not sure that the creators/producers of the show had Clinton in mind when they were writing Bartlet; he was a better President than Clinton was and it's not like they were trying to cover up what Clinton did.

My last point is, the real White House doesn't have much more diversity than the Bartlet one, and Dulé Hill, who plays Charlie (or "the black one), has had a rather large part these last few seasons. Not as big as, say, Toby or CJ, but he has been in the main credits since season one.