“Aaron Sorkin knows the weight of last words, and his last words to me, as we walk-and-talk out of the HBO press room, are: “Write something nice.” He says this in the “Smile, honey” tone of much less successful jerks. It’s not advice the Oscar-winning, show-bossing Jonathan Franzen of screenwriting would take himself, thank what gods there be. In Sorkinville, these gods are men. […]
At the short end of a TV season dominated, if not by shows about girls and women, by talk about shows about girls and women, Sorkin’s new drama The Newsroom arrives with a “Hey, remember how great America was when it wasn’t just a man’s world, but a man’s man’s world?”
[M]y first question starts, “I watched the pilot twice … ” But I don’t get to the question part because Sorkin looks as if he wants to say something. I invite him to do so, and he asks, “Because you liked it so much the first time, or because you didn’t understand it the first time?”
So huge is the hubris in thinking anyone smart enough to write about this show for a national newspaper might not be yet smart enough to understand it (should you fret about your own Sorkin-fathoming abilities, let me say that if you read Don Quixote in the ninth grade or studied American History in the 11th, you will be fine) that I just swallow and tell my own truth.
REPORTER: No, I think that there might be a third way, which is that if you’re going to write about something, you have to look at it more than once. […]
Sorkin does not live in the age of Gawker. But The Newsroom is opportunely timed – at least for educated-liberal audiences – in part because this is an election year, and Americans are so divided that wild ambivalence seems like the only way left to feel. In larger part, it’s because a certain kind of man is now freaking out over the loss of his greatness: Esquire is e-publishing “men’s fiction”; Simon Fraser University wants to build a “men’s centre,” requiring perhaps refuge from the plague of 51-per-cent female enrolment; “misandry” is a word you hear people say and mean.
Really, all that’s happening is that feminism has achieved some of its purposes and pluralism has taken root. Systems are tenuous; forces of change are multiplying; the great-(white)-man theory will not hold.
Sorkin, though, is winningly upholding it. The colonel, the president, the genius, the baseball coach, the anchorman, and next – as he’s recently confirmed – no less than Steve Jobs: His subjects are masculine iconoclasts with traditional top-down power, who strive, in Graham Greene-type ways, to use it for good.
But on “real” TV news, these heroes are dying, and to mourn them is also to mourn a paternalistic notion of truth as something you should but cannot handle, when for the powerless vast majority it’s so gossamer it just slips through our fingers. With one look into the steel arrogance behind Sorkin’s eyes, I am sure he considers his life’s tragedy that, in 50 years, there will be no Sorkin to write about him.
“I think I would have done very well, as a writer, in the forties,” he says. “I think the last time America was a great country was then, or not long after. It was before Vietnam, before Watergate.”
It was a great country, yes, for great white men. It was a great country when you could still trust in greatness. As many of us (who watch HBO, at least) long ago stopped believing in God, a God who for all Christian and capitalistic intents and purposes was male, it could not be much longer before we also stopped believing in things as theistic as neutrality and objectivity and omnipotence in journalism. I do not want us to stop believing in heroes; only in heroes who think, as Sorkin’s heroes think, they’re truth-raining gods.”
Sarah Nicole Prickett: How to get under Aaron Sorkin’s skin (and also, how to high-five properly)