I had occasion to go to a meeting a couple of years ago, where I met a large number of very intelligent people who had gathered to talk about ostensibly very intelligent things. And in one of the conversations I had, the subject of television came up. I kind of internally groaned when this happened, because I happen to like television…and in any situation where there are a bunch of professional writers and professors gathered together, invariably at least one person will get all huffy and superior and will grump about how they hate television, they don’t even own a television, and how television is rotting our minds from the inside out.
My immediate reaction to this is something on the order of “But then how do you watch Live from Lincoln Center, you pompous nit?” or “So I guess during the coverage of 9/11 that you were just slagging to your colleagues, you had to go out and buy one, right?” but in this case I held my tongue. Until one person started going after a show I actually watched on a regular basis, which was “The West Wing.” This person said: “But it takes itself so seriously! It’s so pedantic! And it’s preachy!”
Now, don’t get me wrong – there were some serious problems with the show, with its tone and its tenor, but I happened to like its tone and its tenor, and therefore I was willing to do a little suspension-of-disbelief. I liked the show because it was at least trying to address big, serious issues. So what if invariably the way it dealt with the issues turned out to be a facile or even silly or impractical solution? At least it was making people think about compromise, tradeoffs, or demagoguery, or even the delicate math of how to respond to terrorism.
Then another person chimed in and started griping about how “hopelessly liberal” the show was. It was apparently just another example of how Hollywood Media-Types Hate America. It was Brainwashing The Youth. (Right, as if 12-year-old boys were gathering in droves to camp out in front of the tv to watch “The West Wing.”) It was Creeping Liberalism. I kept thinking, “It is what it is, and I won’t say you’re entirely wrong…but how would you feel about it if it was a Republican president and his staff? Would it be okay then to be preachy, as long as it was preaching something you agreed with?” I kept all of this to myself. I wanted to make friends.
I smiled, and nodded, and allowed as how they had a good point…all the while thinking, “You people who feel so put-upon, so shut-out of the game…you should come to where I live. The conservative wing of the Republican party has a mortal lock on the discourse there.” Fort Riley is here, there’s a large percentage of families with members serving in the current conflicts and questioning the policy that got us there is Just. Not. Done. Conservative talk-radio is everywhere, most people watch FOX News and there is much raising of eyebrows if you turn on CNN, and it seems like every other car has at least three of those patriotic magnetic ribbons stuck to it.
Of course, the conservatives here also believe that they are shut out of the discourse entirely, but at least they get to see that they have allies in their struggle against the Evil Media Liberals Who Just Won’t Tell The Truth. Because They Hate America. And Freedom. And I Heard That Sometimes They Kick Puppies.
So I have to say that watching the new Aaron Sorkin show, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” kind of made my heart sink. I mean, I consider myself politically solidly in the middle…which by today’s standards means that the people on the Right think I’m, you know, Emma Goldman, and that people on the Left think I’m, you know, Barry Goldwater. But even I thought that beyond the snappy dialogue and the flawless production, it was perhaps not the best idea in the world to set the wheels of the show in motion with a flap over a comedy skit that would aggravate Conservative Christians. I mean, that just kind of seems like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Maybe all these exasperatingly put-upon people have a point.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I have done myself a disservice by trying to step back from my own politics to see the big picture. Maybe I should just be mad. It seems to launch careers, book deals, and talk shows.
I’m a Christian, and I don’t fit in with the Hollywood stereotype of same…but I can’t say that this makes me particularly mad. I just say, “Oh, well, that’s not me, and not the people I know, and that’s just how Hollywood feels like it has to do things, painting with a broad brush.” I’m also not exactly a good fit for the stereotype of Christianity that some people on the Right seem to be pitching. That doesn’t make me mad either. I find myself shaking my head and laughing to myself a lot. “What a shame,” I think. “All this time and effort to reach me, to get me riled up, to make me be outraged….and here I am – changing the channel on the radio. Turning off the television. Reading a book, walking my dog, deciding that actually, my life is just fine without the approval of a bunch of scriptwriters or editors or producers who don’t really care about me unless I’m out buying an iPod.” Which means that I’m pretty much out of luck, I guess.
I’m still going to watch television. I’m still going to listen to the radio. I’m still not going to let the media tell me who I am based on their perception of who I might be. I’m just not willing to give these people that much power over me. And I’m still not going to buy an iPod.
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