The pronouncement of death and failure have become synonymous with success and life. If you’re not one, you are the other. We live in a reality where such stark truths permeate nuance and, in the end, destroy our ability to take in information with the understanding that it may mature and morph as the rest of the story presents itself.
For whatever reason our culture seems to be at the extreme of extremes. Best, worst, right now, not later. Ever. The idea that the entire story isn’t available right away seems alien to those consuming it. People don’t take the time to digest the facts that they do have then connect those with the details that will inevitably trickle in; instead they fill in the blanks with perception and commentary. Sometimes theirs, most often though it’s the commentary of their trusted media personality passed off as theirs. (And yes, I’m including myself in this. Daily Show anyone?)
It’s with that blueprint in mind that Newsroom, iconoclast Aaron Sorkin’s newest venture into the world of characters delivering words at the speed of modern information, could really do some damage to the current system of Give Me All The Information So That I Can Devour It And Move Onto The Next Story Media. (Interesting that our media consumption is the same as our country’s takeover tactics.) He has set up a world wherein the internal battle of “reporting the news” clashes with “creating the news” given that there is now an expected 24-hour cycle of commentary that is being presented as facts on all cable news channels. Newsroom will be an attempt to highlight the difference between news and commentary.
In the premiere episode, Jeff Daniels — playing the surly anchor of a news channel’s flagship show much like Bill O’Rielly or Keith Olbermann — and his team of writers and producers race around and create that night’s program from scratch dealing with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill propagated two summers ago by the since-loving BP company. An obvious metaphor for the outbursts of personalities in the premiere, but still an effective choice nonetheless.
It’s interesting that Sorkin decided to revisit 2010 as his starting point since the line between commentary and news would be seemingly more blurred now than then since it’s been happening longer.
Yet, the most likely reason for this is to allow for natural events to happen and shape the show’s narrative as opposed to creating half-assed similar articles of news that have a cheesy resemblance to current events. It’s the same reason we love shows like Mad Men: we can love the characters and use the marking of major events as the timeline instead of guessing how long their world has been in existence. So instead of creating a reality, we are brought back to a time where our country was actually united on a topic before we were then suddenly torn apart as the truths were given political affiliation. We come back to a point where the emotional mayhem that took over the people actually drove the story towards truth until it was no longer new and was then allowed to be parceled up into smaller chunks more easily distorted.
That’s Sorkin’s point, and the point of Newsroom — This shit happened and people were outraged the proper amount of time and then forgot about it, as opposed to continuing to care about it until it was fixed and people were held accountable. The point is that instead of staying with this until its conclusion, we allowed our screens to be filled with a boatload of stories that continually seeped out and covered our newspapers and Google machine searches. BP has since done some of what they claimed in an attempt to clean up their mess (literal and metaphorical), but the point is that it never should have gotten to that point in the first place. That’s why it was important that Sorkin start there — we pride ourselves on being a forgiving country, but we hardly ever admit that that can also mean we are a forgetful country. As long as what you did last is better than what you had done previously, we’re good to allow it to continue. Yes, BP has taken steps; no, it doesn’t take away the fact that this outcome was an almost certainty because of the measures that were or weren’t taken initially. I’m not saying it needs to dominate headlines still since there is new news to digest, but it should still be in the forefront of the minds of people that don’t have to interact with it every day.
Admittedly, I’m a fan of Aaron Sorkin. I find peace in his claustrophobic pacing and like to feel smarter when I can keep up with the levels of conversation, jokes and facts that are being patted around like a kitten with a ball of string. (I also like kittens, so maybe that has something to do with it?) I re-watch at least the pilot of Studio 60 a few times a year because the precision with which Judd Hirsch defames the rotting of American television culture is so interminably on-point that I just want to sit on his shoulder as he condemns the shit that gets laughs with an agreeing scowl on my face as if to defiantly say, “Yeah.” (Because when someone is already articulate in their argument, I find it best to not convolute it with my commentary.)
I don’t know that I’d call it a fearlessness, but Sorkin definitely holds a talent for showcasing the temperature of the culture.
That being said, I worry about how long the shelf life of this show is if all it intends to do is be a commentary on modern media? Shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad seem to succeed in this realm because their message is disguised by characters that work through metaphor and nuance, whereas Sorkin wants this show to instead shove metaphor to the side while cramming the idea that there is no nuance right into our faces, which is true. However, I just don’t know how long that can last without losing its purpose and deviating from what it tries to be in the first place? How often can a show hit the same beat without eventually falling silent?
Of course that’s assuming that it’s entirely the show’s responsibility to proceed the conversation. An unknown source and I were talking about this show last night and at one point I was accused of having a defeatist attitude because I said that people who will want to watch the show, will, while others that are inclined to see it as propaganda for something they don’t believe in (aka, a leftist piece of garbage galavanting on its own high horse entered in the soapbox Kentucky Derby) wont. It doesn’t mean that show can’t reach all sides, it simply means that it’s the people’s responsibility to uphold the values that are being portrayed and continue the dialogue instead of allowing the dialogue to be created without their input.
If people are willing to once again discuss their differences with an attempt to understand one another rather than either force their beliefs on another or walk away in disgust, then Newsroom will have done its job.