I'd like to talk about Aaron Sorkin. I should offer a big caveat: I haven't seen The Newsroom. More damningly, depending on your opinion of the man, I never watched The West Wing either. But I did see that video of all the pieces of canned banter Sorkin has recycled throughout his career, and I've read enough about The Newsroom (I read blogs. I have a Twitter account.) to recognize the problem with the thing, a problem that runs across Aaron Sorkin's life work.
Sorkinisms - A Supercut (via drfunky17)
I did watch Sports Night, back when it was first in syndication on Comedy Central. Putting aside the first-season laugh track and the fact that the show-within-a-show was also called Sports Night and The Newsroom's show within a show is called News Night, which is hilarious (I'm amazed Studio 60 wasn't Jokes Night. The Social Network should've just been called Web Site), there's something that bugs me about Sorkin's older show. I hadn't really thought about it in years, but now that The Newsroom is on the air, I checked out Sports Night's Wikipedia page and started looking back over the full list of episodes.
Notice anything? There isn't a single goddamn episode about sports! It's all either office politics, relationship drama, or situations contrived to create a fertile breeding ground for banter and Life Lessons. Any episode that does tangentially involve sports only uses it as a framing device for some facile story of the week. The female lead's brother, who is a famous NFL player (sure!), is embroiled in a Steroidgate! A college football team stands up against Prejudice by refusing to play under a Confederate flag! A football player attacks a female reporter, and a nation of softheaded imbeciles erupts when she presses charges!
It's obvious that Sorkin has no interest in sports, and judging from his building entire episodes around stuff like a cricket match being a huge, important story for an American cable sports show to cover, or the same show scrambling to profile a group of mountaineers climbing Everest, he has absolutely zero knowledge of sports media. I'm the odd man out at Progressive Boink because I'm not a big Sports Dude, but having met other living human beings and having seen more than five seconds of SportsCenter and Pardon the Interrruption, I can say with confidence that ESPN HQ would never be thrown into a panic over cricket.
I fully realize that the actual sports weren't the point of Sports Night, but why shouldn't they have been at least some small part of it, if only on a level just beyond the most superficial, obvious one? If you were to write an Important Work about life behind the scenes at a college astrophysics department, you'd fucking well better be able to spot a star chart. But then this is the man who created a show about a brilliant sketch comedy show that in our own reality would've been the least funny piece of crap on the planet. At any event, on Sorkin's own Wikipedia page, it says that he came up with the idea for Sports Night while he was writing the screenplay for The American President and would leave the TV on ESPN as background noise. That sounds about right.
The Newsroom, from all indications, suffers from the same problem. I'm sure Sorkin is informed enough on current events and has plenty of consultants who help get the little details right, but the whole thesis of the show is bizarrely off-base.
Joe Muto, Gawker's former Fox News mole, wrote an article for Slate about what the show gets right and wrong about working in cable news. In the article, he points out that the entire premise of the show runs totally counter to reality in that Jeff Daniels' anchor dominates the ratings with a whitewashed, safe broadcast that goes out of its way not to offend. Once he has a moment of clarity and starts making his show more provocative and confrontational, the ratings start to drop. Anyone who's paid even the tiniest modicum of attention to the news in the last decade can see how backwards this is. In Sorkin's world, C-SPAN posts M*A*S*H-finale-scale ratings while Fox News languishes at the far end of the dial. The problem with the news is that people play it too safe, are too scared to offend? For someone so obsessed with the backstage workings of television, maybe he should turn on a fucking TV once in a while.
That's his problem: He approaches things with a thesis already in mind and has no interest in actually investigating it. He clearly considers himself a man of ideas, and that may be. But a lot of them are wrong ideas! And in no small way, either. I liked The Social Network. Thought David Fincher killed it, enjoyed the performances across the board, didn't even mind the Sorkinny dialogue. But the whole thing is built around this conception of Mark Zuckerberg as a nerd scorned who created Facebook to get the validation he never got from girls (and one girl in particular). The movie totally sidesteps the fact that the real Zuckerberg was in a committed relationship with his now-wife through the entire development process of Facebook.
Sorkin seems like he went into the movie thinking, "If I were Mark Zuckerberg, why would I have invented Facebook?" When the answer "to impress and/or show up a girl" occurred to him, he never deviated from that, no matter the actual facts. People like Mark Zuckerberg do things like create Facebook because they could be no other way. Aaron Sorkin doesn't get that, so he just pretends it's about a girl and prunes the facts to suit that theory.
Same thing with The Newsroom. Striving to make the safest, most anodyne show possible that makes no waves and takes no chances isn't the M.O. of cable news, no matter what its other glaring problems might be. But it is something that scripted network television is guilty of. That's Sorkin's world, and so that's the problem he grafted onto The Newsroom, even if it flies in the face of the truth, which is filled with dozens of actual problems with the cable news industry, problems that do merit thoughtful and critical investigation. That's exactly the trouble with Sorkin. If he were just tilting at windmills, so be it. But with The Newsroom, he's tilting at a windmill while there's a giant standing right next to it.
To me, it all speaks to a fundamental incuriosity, a blind faith in his own uninformed beliefs, even when reality contradicts them. That's the infuriating thing about Sorkin! When he ridiculed that Globe and Mail reporter for not despising the Internet and -- based on nothing other than his own preconceived notions, which should come as no surprise -- supposedly not reading the newspaper or watching movies, it didn't even occur to him that he's part of the problem. The willful ignorance that Sorkin sees across society is his own biggest flaw.
In that YouTube video of all Sorkin's recycled material, there was one thing that jumped out at me. It wasn't the oddly specific threat to turn someone's house into a "PING-pong room!" It was an offhand reveal by two separate characters that each of their fathers had a secret affair for almost 30 years. A detail like that isn't a factoid. The realization of something like that would be a defining moment in anyone's adult life, something that could shake their character to its core. To Aaron Sorkin, it's just an opportunity for a good line, to be mouthed by whichever interchangeable character needs to score some cheap pathos. Aaron Sorkin is not interested in truth. And you know it.