After watching the pilot of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO drama The Newsroom, I'm not at all surprised that people have been beating on it like some alien weed they're hell bent on destroying.
The show is just too smart. Smart as a pejorative*. And that scares the shit out of everyone.
I'll admit that Sorkin's work isn't for the uninitiated. His agenda is never hidden. His contempt for the media's mechanism is unapologetic. And he couldn't care less if you can keep up with his language. I actually think he prefers that his writing weed out the weak-minded since it eliminates the need to pretend they matter to him.
Stupid people hate that he calls them out on their lack of engagement, and smart people are scared to death to admit publically that he's absolutely right. Why? Because that would validate the picture painted of them in the press: Elitist, smug, self-important, superior, condescending, and not Real Americans (FuckYeah!).
In these days of advanced citizenship*, I'm truly horrified to say that being smart has become the ultimate liability. And instead of doing something about it, we sit back and wonder why the media is taking our national culture to hell on a speedboat*.
How else can you explain why politicians vilify the college educated as a campaign kickback to the Everyman? Or how it's perfectly okay for half of the electorate watch The Bachelor instead of the State of The Union and then claim they understand anything about our country?
Combine that with a Feed-Me-Seymour news cycle that's become the servant of too many masters to be effective at anything beyond whisper down the who-gives-a-fuck, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Or for 24-hour cable news. Enter Mr. Sorkin, stage left.
Railing against acceptance of the lowest common denominator by very people to whom we entrust our country's soul is at the root of everything he's ever written. Place one of his trademarked walk-and-talks in the White House or backstage at a sketch comedy show and the same themes emerge. Smart, good. Dumb, bad.
As a long-time Sorkin fan, his return to television made me a little giddy. Yes, his shows traffic in archetypes of the smarter-than-the-average: president, sports producer, Internet genius, misanthropic anchorman. And yes, he gets constantly dinged with criticism about preaching to the unwashed about Big Things. That piss you off? Too bad. Living where there's free speech means sometimes you're gonna get offended.*
Aaron Sorkin's idealized characters are unconstrained by society's discomfort with The Smart. Through them, he is free to speak the truth about anything. Even that we're all being lobotomized by this country's most influential industry that's just throwing in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn't include the courting of 12-year-old boys. And not even the smart 12-year-olds. The stupid ones.*
This has all led me to a terrifying theory. That somehow over the last 10 years, the smart people in this country have begun to feel guilty about their intelligence. That Americans (FuckYeah) who are content with spoon-fed media pabulum make the rest of us look bad for wanting something better. That being asked to do the unimaginable -- actually think -- has become too high a price to pay for entertainment. Maybe it is true that people don't drink the sand 'cause they're thirsty. They drink the sand 'cause they don't know the difference*, but I really want to believe there's still hope for us.
I cannot think of a single voice out there that keeps nailing the tension inherent in the modern American experience as pointedly and consistently as Aaron Sorkin. So when the main character from The Newsroom says that he longs for the time when Americans "aspired to intelligence. We didn't belittle it. It didn't make us feel inferior," I wanted to fistbump him. And then hug him, really really hard.
This show is going to make people uncomfortable. That's always the point of Aaron Sorkin's work. But you know what? It's long past time just to speak truth to stupid*. So haters, suck it up, watch the show and form your own opinion. You're allowed to disagree with it. But you're also allowed, nay, encouraged to engage in the important discourse that this show will create. It's okay -- we won't tell anyone. And who knows -- you may actually learn something beyond which Kardashian is getting divorced next.
And to Aaron, I mean Mr. Sorkin (call me!), I have only this to say: There's no such thing as too smart. There's nothing you can do that's not going to make me proud of you. Eat 'em up. Game on*.
*Just so no one thinks I'm a plagiarist, these are all lines from Sorkin's himself. Mad props and comment love to whoever can name the characters that said them and the shows they're from. Oh, and even more street cred to people who add their own favorites.
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