Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"The West Wing" As Corrective Civics Lesson

Notes on Instructive Television

Two factors have driven me to the ranks of Amazon Prime and Netflix users. In 1961, Newton Minow, one of the seven Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under President John Kennedy, famously labeled commercial television "a vast wasteland" in a speech before the National Broadcasters Association. More than fifty years later his observation is no less true. More channels are available than ever before but the quality of programming seems only to decrease with quantity. The second factor is my personal need to update myself in the area of cultural literacy. Older nuns speak of "the black out years" of their early religious life when TV and newspapers were often strictly forbidden. Although things were very different in my experience, there still was not much TV and certainly no cocktail party conversation about the latest media.

Wanting to watch something worthwhile and fill the gaps in my cultural literacy, I have been binge watching "The West Wing". Wikipedia reports "The West Wing is an American serial political drama television series created by Aaron Sorkin that was originally broadcast on NBC from September 22, 1999, to May 14, 2006. The series is set primarily in the West Wing of the White House, where the Oval Office and `offices of presidential senior staff are located, during the fictitious Democratic administration of Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen)."

Some may be commenting, "Poor Hilda, is she really reduced to that?" But I have found that this awarding-winning television series offers a brand of dignity, righteousness and patriotism which makes the current political scene in our country look like the worst of vulgar situation comedies.

Wikipedia also commented:

Despite acclaim for the veracity of the series, Sorkin [creator] believed, "our responsibility is to captivate you for however long we've asked for your attention." Former White House aide Matthew Miller noted that Sorkin "captivates viewers by making the human side of politics more real than life—or at least more real than the picture we get from the news." Miller also noted that by portraying politicians with empathy, the show created a "subversive competitor" to the cynical views of politics in media. In the essay "The West Wing and the West Wing", author Myron Levine agreed, stating that the series "presents an essentially positive view of public service and a healthy corrective to anti-Washington stereotypes and public cynicism.

Dr. Staci L. Beavers, associate professor of political science at California State University, San Marcos, wrote a short essay, "The West Wing as a Pedagogical Tool". She concluded, "While the series' purpose is for-profit entertainment, The West Wing presents great pedagogical potential." The West Wing, in her opinion, gave greater depth to the political process usually espoused only in stilted talking points on shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press.... In Beavers' opinion, a critical analysis of the show's political views can present a worthwhile learning experience to the view.

Although admirable for other reasons, the later popular political drama series moved into a much darker place presenting totally disillusioning stories of nefarious political motivations and downright evil in "House of Cards." And then came "ABCs "Scandal" where the adjective depraved may be most apt.

So this reviewer highly recommends viewing "The West Wing" as a valuable civics lesson for the uninformed or merely jaded. You may find it restorative in its hopeful reality and in observing the better angels of our nature play their part on behalf of the interests of this democracy and all its people.

No comments: