Posted by: mydarkestplaces | March 10, 2013

The West Wing

To continue with the theme from awhile ago, let’s talk some more about seeing things you remember as a young person through the eyes of an adult – and a little more life experience. This one, at least, is a little more light-hearted.

When I was in college, my favorite TV show – hands down – was the West Wing. I longed to be Josh Lyman. I definitely didn’t want to be the person in charge (the President or Leo), but boy did I want to be the person who made it happen. Hence, Josh. Aaron Sorkin’s writing was fantastic. Every episode was tension wrought. Whether that tension centered around international incidents or Donna’s love life varied, but the tension was always there. Optimism laced the script throughout the seasons (even seasons 5 and 6, the ones after Sorkin left the show). The characters leading the fictional United States wanted the best for the country. They wanted the best for every citizen. They wanted to stick it to the Republicans (when I was 20 that held a lot of appeal for me).

I was, unequivocally, what I call a “West Wing Democrat”. And I know I wasn’t the only kid who got involved, or wanted to get involved, with politics because of that show. An entire generation of kids was inspired to go to Washington, D.C., and work for our Representatives (or home to work on campaigns) so that we could be the next Josh Lyman or Toby Ziegler or C.J. Cregg.

Among the many problems though, is that my generation (and especially the ones that came after) is a generation with a real immediate gratification complex. We want to be hired into the Senior Staff of the White House or Senate and nobody really told us just how much work goes into getting to that level.

Flash forward from 20 to 22. I’ve just graduated from college and am, naturally, looking for a job in politics. I go to work for the Maine Democratic Party. Better, it’s through part of Howard Dean’s 50-State Plan. So here I am, ready to make a huge difference. I’m going to affect change. I’m going to be the hope that’s seen in the world. Of course, no one told me that campaigns are incredibly hard work. And that when you’re just starting out you’re not writing policy or speeches, you’re going door-to-door fighting with people who want nothing to do with what you’re selling. Following six of the most miserable months of my professional career, and one particularly devastating loss,  I got the hell out of there.

Turns out that was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I’d tasted politics, and found out that – much like seafood – I didn’t like it. At all. My memories of The West Wing stayed strong, though. Strong enough that, fast forward another few years, when The West Wing started streaming on Netflix come Christmas 2012, I thought it the most magical gift ever given to me. I could now watch West Wing at my leisure. I could watch ten episodes in a row and not have to worry about getting up to change DVDs. I could watch twenty episodes and not have to worry about accidentally damaging the DVDs by leaving them out of their packaging.

I curled up, iPad close to hand, down comforter pulled up to my chin, head propped on pillows and fleece throws.

I turned it on.

My nostalgia assuaged, the quality of the show remains strong. Aaron Sorkin’s writing stands the test of time and, unfortunately, many of the issues Sorkin and his team address throughout remain pertinent today.* Without a doubt, Martin Sheen, John Spencer (may he RIP), Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford – the entire cast, really – put in such incredible performances. They are smart, they are empathetic. Even when you hate them, you love them. It’s one of those rare shows that deserved every single one of the awards it won.

That being said, instead of voraciously watching all 150+ episodes I’ve cycled through the first season and some of the second, but don’t go too much farther than that. I don’t care that much about politics anymore. From anything written on this blog, or that I’ve put online, know that it’s not that I don’t care about issues or my community anymore. It’s that I don’t want to look at the ugly underbelly. In Season 1, Episode 4 Leo says, “There are two things you never want to let people see how you make them: laws and sausages.”

I hate seeing and hearing the extremely partisan, extremely bitter fighting that happens in Augusta and Washington, D.C. It’s incredibly rare these days that any bills that really matter pass quietly. What seems to have been forgotten along the way is that, much like kids take their behavioral cues from their parents, the public take their behavioral cues from their representatives. This isn’t a chicken or egg thing – if our representatives modeled civil behavior and discourse then maybe, just maybe, there would be less vitriol across the board.

In civility’s absence though, I find myself – like a lot of my generation – avoiding government and politics. I can improve and contribute to the community just fine while not embroiling myself in the ickyness (technical term) of politics. So that’s what I’ll do. And I’ll continue to watch and re-watch seasons one and two of The West Wing and remember, with fondness, being an idealistic twenty year old. Someone who used to think that working in the system was the best way to change the system. Now I’m just going to ignore the system and hope that those of us on the ground are able to make the kind of difference we’d all like to see in the world.

*Although, as I noted on either Twitter or Facebook as I was re-watching, it’s kind of awesome to re-watch some of the episodes and have some of the issues resolved. For example, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell plays a prominent role in an early episode.

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