This blog is an experiment, so I’m flattered that you’re here but apologize for contributing to the amount of nonsense distractions available on the internet. I’m embarking upon this exercise for the following reasons:
1) I recently was in bed with bronchitis for nearly a week and, in the way that your brain can have no control over what you eat, say, or feel when you’re sick, I was compelled to watch seasons 5, 6, and 7 of The West Wing for only the second time ever. (It’s important to note here that a conservative estimate of my TWW history puts me at over 50 views of each episode in seasons 1-4. It is often my white noise when I am cleaning my apartment, making dinner, or getting ready in the morning. It’s my go-to when I have nothing new to watch or listen to.)
I found, surprisingly, that I liked those three seasons. I had stopped watching the show in real time when Aaron Sorkin left at the end of the 4th season, and didn’t watch 5, 6, and 7 until the show had ended (and then only begrudgingly, to see what had happened to the characters). But it’s been over ten years since season 4, and, naturally, I’ve changed. I think about things differently now, I know more, and we generally have different thresholds for what we will tolerate. Golden Age of Television and whatnot. Which brings me to reason number two.
2) Did I mention that I’ve seen the first 90 episodes of this show about 50 times each? That’s almost 5,000 hours over the past fifteen years, or six solid months of my life. By Malcolm Gladwell’s standards, I’m about halfway to being an expert (or whatever) at watching this show. I’m definitely more of an expert at this than anything else, except maybe driving or typing or Facebook. For something I’ve spent so much time with, I could stand to start being a little more critical. I can put TWW in the context that only love and time can provide.
At its height, my fandom bordered on obsessive. Yes, I still watch the show at least once a week and yes, I do include in an alarming number of professional conversations, “Let’s see, how can I explain this? Did you ever see that episode of The West Wing when…” But I’m much tamer now. I am less of a zealot. When I find out someone else is a fan, I don’t compete with them over who loves the show more. I no longer have an AOL Instant Messenger screenname with a West Wing reference in it. I’ve become, to borrow a political term, more moderate in my opinions. I can see the bad in it. I don’t look past the sexism or the holier-than-thou Sorkin soapboxes. I want to still love it, and see it through the eyes of my sophomore year polisci major self, but something has happened. I don’t like the part of myself that loved or didn’t love certain things ten years ago. This obsession is slowly but surely becoming something I am not proud of.
But it’s OK, the world and I have changed. Which brings me to my last reason for being here.
3) Footnotes. I’ve been thinking for a while now about how much of pop culture is going to need to be footnoted for future generations, particularly quality films and television. And we’re not doing as much of it now as we should; we’re just leaving breadcrumbs for future scholars.
I don’t think TWW is one of the greatest shows of all time (I would categorize it now more as a guilty pleasure) but I do think it existed at an important moment in America’s political landscape and will be taught in classrooms (you will not be surprised to hear that I’ve taught it in mine).
One of Sorkin’s trademarks is inside jokes that are supposed to make the smart people feel smart. And the jokes of 1999 are getting harder and harder to get — if you even got those jokes to begin with. I want to, again as an exercise, attempt to annotate some of the references.
Plus maybe, if I write down all my thoughts as I’m rewatching, maybe I can spend the next 5,000 hours of my life on something else. What’s next? (See what I did there?)