Although this might sound strange, this has already been one of the best political summers of my life… all because of what’s been going on in the West Wing. No, not the real West Wing -- even though the unraveling of Rove is fun to watch -- but that other West Wing, the one created by Aaron Sorkin. Specifically, my 16-year-old daughter Christina has become obsessed with the show.
Every stage of parenting has its own particular pleasures -- along with its own particular terrors -- but adolescence is special. For the first time, you get to have adult conversations with your child. But they are a different kind of adult conversation -- you get to talk about grown up things but without the cynicism and baggage that so often accompany exchanges between adults.
The other thing about adolescence is -- you’ve seen the movies -- rebellion. This is often the time when a child will finally express years of pent-up frustration about those parental interests and passions the child has had to compete with for attention.
And even if they don’t rebel against it, they can often just be bored by whatever it is that you do (which is, in some ways, even worse than the rebellion would be).
In our household, the passion in the air is, of course, for politics.
So imagine my surprise -- and utter delight -- when my oldest daughter happened to turn on The West Wing and completely lost herself in it. Once hooked, she became relentless in feeding her new habit. She quickly devoured the DVDs of the first four seasons -- an entire first term’s worth -- and then begged for the as-yet-unreleased fifth. A phone call to a West Wing-insider later, I was able to announce that tapes of the fifth season were on the way. But even this wasn’t enough. “Mommy,” Christina said, “why can’t we just drive to Burbank and pick them up instead of waiting for them to be delivered?” Which, I am ashamed to admit, we did. Suddenly mommy’s friends -- and mommy! -- were not so bad after all.
So this summer has featured lots of dinner table talk about politics. But instead of questions like “Is Rove going to be indicted?”, I get: “Mom, do people really talk like this in the White House?” I hated to break it to her but, sadly, a conversation between Karl Rove and Scott McClellan is almost guaranteed not to be as clever as one between Josh and C.J.
Her newfound passion for politics -- and the freshness of her idealism -- have also affected me. Yes, there are many ways in which our system is broken -- and I know I spend a large part of my life pointing them out -- but for her it’s all new. And, as a result, I feel as though I am rediscovering, through her eyes, the bedrock principles on which our democracy is built.
And because it’s The West Wing through the eyes of a 16 year-old, you get takes you’re not going to get from the New York Times television critic.
And now, as she waits for our mole to come through on season six -- and teens aren’t so hot on waiting -- Christina’s been asking for other idealistic political shows and movies to watch. So the other night we watched Reds. But she wants more, more, more… so I’m putting together a HuffPost cross-generational political film and TV fest. So far, I’ve lined up All the President’s Men, Election, The American President, Wag the Dog, The Candidate, Dick, Running Mates, Z, Mister Sterling, Dave, Bulworth, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
And I would love to hear your suggestions. What are your favorites? Which inspire you? Which do you think hold up best? Send them in! My daughter will thank you -- if she can tear herself away from the screen for a few moments.
The teen years are, if nothing else, very volatile… so who knows how long this fascination with changing the world will last. But I’m going to enjoy every minute of it while it does.