No Magnetic North

My other piece in this issue of Bright Lights is on Aaron Sorkin's "moral compass," specifically focusing on The American President, Sports Night, The West Wing, and The Social Network:

Note the sheer volume of strung-together words, especially in contrast with the deluge of one-liners that preceded them. Note the admission that "being President of this country is entirely about character." Note the quiver of facts and figures so readily deployed, the logical argument mitigated by the tenacity of the moral suasion. Note the long sentences, the pounding cadences, the focused repetitions. (Note, too, that this is my style of writing as well, and either forgive me or not. But you understand by now the thing we dislike most in others is always that which we dislike most in ourselves.) Note how late each monologue falls in the narrative, climax and denouement at once. Note the way each monologue ends with a throwaway line, a closing off of the potential response: hope you enjoyed the chicken, back to the briefing, I am the President, away we go. For in the final estimation we never get mere answers from these idealists, these ideologues. We get what Sorkin considers the Truth. That he thinks we can't really handle it is clear, because we have to take it in one gasping gulp, with no time left to digest. The Great Monologue always moves on before any other voice can be heard, and then we fade to black.

It is all too easy, if you are a good Sorkinian liberal like myself, to agree unthinkingly to all of this. Easy to let conloquor slip past in favor of the part where we are meant to listen and to learn. In fact, I agree on the merits. I believe it is wrong to support subsidies that make it harder for the poor and more profitable for agribusiness. I believe no crime was ever prevented by making it easier to get a gun. I believe that the ACLU should defend the Bill of Rights even when it is used by homophobic lunatics protesting at military funerals. I believe in limiting global warming, in the right to burn a flag, in the need for honest debate instead of ad hominem attacks. In other words I believe, or would like to believe, in Aaron Sorkin's America. I just don't believe The Great Monologue is any different from the moralizing of Bill O'Reilly or Michelle Bachmann. I just don't believe that he "raise[s] the level of public debate in this country."
You understand by now that the thing Sorkin dislikes most in others — his bĂȘte noire, hypocrisy — is the thing he most dislikes in himself.

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