Musings on The West Wing

On Usenet recently (I don’t remember where or when), on an unrelated subject, I witnessed someone drop in several derogatory references to The West Wing. They had apparently seen the show a few times, and absolutely deplored it, failing to understand why anyone intelligent could like it. From what I could gather, their own political leanings were in the opposite direction from the shows’ characters, and they were unable to watch the show objectively, without seeing it as an hour-long commercial for politics they disagreed with.

I can understand this. In fact, as I pondered it, I began to wonder how any conservative might enjoy The West Wing. I do align myself more closely with the shows’ protagonists, and I could imagine being too bothered by a series which approved of contrasting values to enjoy a well-produced episode. But in the absence of evidence—does Mister Sterling count? He was definitely far more conservative than Bartlet, and I enjoyed a few episodes of that show—it’s hard to be sure.

One available example does come to mind: I enjoy watching The Sopranos. HBO’s ratings, DVD sales and Emmy wins show I’m not alone. Yet I can’t imagine that any large fraction of that show’s viewers believe that what its protagonists do is moral or admirable. Realistically, I can’t believe I’d rather feel more comfortable watching a show about a mob boss than a Republican. Which isn’t to say that everyone feels that way. I’d imagine there are, in fact, plenty of people who can’t appreciate The Sopranos due to its subject matter, and I can understand that.

4 thoughts on “Musings on The West Wing

  1. Grph. I think it’s pretty disingenuous to suggest that because The Sopranos works for you, a conservative-slanted version of The West Wing necessarily would. The question isn’t whether *a* show about Republicans could be enjoyable to you, it’s whether *that* show would be enjoyable to you if it were about Republicans. Consider: the Sopranos is designed to appeal to viewers despite–or even because of–the repugnance of what its characters do. The West Wing takes a very different approach to what it’s portraying. And I don’t think the person whose criticism you’re quoting is saying he doesn’t like shows about liberals; he’s saying he doesn’t like The West Wing.

  2. I vote mainly conservative and have conservative values. I’ve gnashed my teeth at the gun laws they’ve tried to push, their stance on foreign policy and so on, and I continue to watch.

    It’s not like the show puts out new ideas. They’re the same hard-core Democratic viewpoints the party has held for decades.

    Besides, just as often as Bartlet wins, he loses. So while the cast may be primarily liberal, the politics themselves tends to be fairly even-keeled.

  3. I stopped voting for most Democrats about 15 years ago. Simply put, they’ve had nothing realistically worthwhile to say to me. (I’m not trying to sound antagonistic, just giving some background.)

    I find WW to be a great show. They tailed off for about 2 years when Sorkin left, but the past season has shown yet another facet of what I’ve always liked about it: whatever the politics, watching the inner workings of a White House work would be facinating.

    Yes, they Barlet administration is liberal. I prefer to call it idealistic. It definitely reflected the politics of Sorkin the first few years.

    But then came 9/11 – and like it or not, there were REAL enemies out there. Watching how this set of characters had to respond was great writing. The characters had been established by then, and really, they somehow managed to keep in character and keep their ideals while reflecting some tough issues.

    This past season seems to be setting up for a major cast change. Something akin to “24”. It should, being the final year for this administration. I’ve paid attention to how tired and weary, sometimes jaded they’ve written the Barlet staff to be. Look at a picture of (the character) Barlet from 6 years ago and compare it to now. Or take Josh Lyman… man are they MUCH older. That sort of stuff happens to anyone who served in that kind of fishbowl for 8 years.

    I guess I’m not this conservative who believes that the liberals have nothing to offer me. Rather, the candidates and the DNC have become so out of touch with a majority of this country they fielded two candidates whom I think history will look back on as weaker than the ones who lost elections in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I think it was a major mistake for them to select Howard Dean. But I’ll tell you what, I look forward to hearing what Hillary Clinton will have to say for 2008 – I mean that.

    So I guess I’m saying I’m a conservative who can get past any “preachiness” that WW might use and watch it for how the characters work the issues.

  4. Count me as a conservative who loves the West Wing. I fell into the show about midway through the second season, and have enjoyed it since (although there was a stretch or two where it did get pretty bad).

    I’ve also wondered why I enjoy a show and like characters whose worldview is so different from mine, and who often express contemptuous and nasty opinions about my beliefs. There are several reasons:

    1) The show is intelligent, and expects its audience to be intelligent as well. The characters speak in an almost code of positions, acronyms, policies, etc., and the audience is for the most part expected to keep up. If you don’t know what the GAO is you can get lost in a scene pretty quickly. So many TV shows appeal to the lowest commen denominator, and its refreshing to see one that doesn’t look down on its audience.

    2) Despite the near-constant liberal rhetoric espoused by the main characters, The West Wing is also one of the few shows that allows conservative views to made intelligently. I know it sounds somewhat counter-intuitive, but examples abound. One of my favorite scenes was from (I think) the second season, when Josh was talking to a gay Republicn congressman and couldn’t fathom why he could belong to a party that “demonized him”. The congressman replied “I agree with 95% of the Republican platform. . . . My life doesn’t have to be about being a homosexual. It doesn’t have to be entirely about that.” Ainsley Hayes’ rants on gun control and the ERA are also stand-outs. Yeah, we have to put up with John Goodman as an ogre President, but in the end even he comes out in a good light with Bartlett.

    3) The characters. Although their political views are for the most part 180 degrees from mine, I like the people in the show (I have a hell of a lot more respect for the fictional Bartlett then I do the real Sheen). I like these guys. Even though Amy Gardner’s politics repulse me, I’m totally in love with her character. I’d love to grab a beer with Josh and Toby, even though we’d probably spend the entire time screaming at each other. Politics aside, the characters are well developed and likeable.

    So I may be somewhat crazy, but here’s one twenty-something die-hard Reaganite, who believes in the war in Iraq, Social Security reform, strict-contrustionism on the Constitution, tax cuts, gun rights, school vouchers, and a host of other political anathemas to the characters of The West Wing, who makes sure I’m home or taping every Wednesday at nine. I’d love for the show to move in a more generally conservative direction, but even if it doesn’t, I’ll enjoy it (as long as it doesn’t move into soap-opera territory like the kidnapping/VP-resigning/shots at the White House four-episode run last year – that was hard to get through).


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