5 December 2003 | Zen Bones
Long Live the Big Block of Cheese!
As mentioned in a couple of episodes, Andrew Jackson kept a two-ton block of cheese in the foyer of the White House for the public. It was to remind everybody that The White House belongs to the people, and that their voice should always be heard and represented. Well, "West Wing" is a love poem to the ideals of a portion of America that has not had a voice in a long, long time. Be forewarned, this show is not a docudrama watered down or dumbed down in order not to offend the sensibilities of the mainstream. It is unabashedly - dare I say in these reactionary times - ultra-liberal and proud of it. President Bartlet and his staff represent the spirit, courage, depth and imagination that many (but obviously not all) faithful Americans feel this country was founded on: a spirit that they would like to see in their political candidates, but rarely find anymore. It is the stuff of dreams. Check that twice; this isn't reality TV so don't go ballistic if certain "facts" about the official processes of White House machinery are incorrect. The show isn't meant to provide documentation of life in the west wing. It's meant to give us an idea of the complexities of the political process, as well as a look at the dedication and personal sacrifice most politicians and staffers have to endure. Most importantly though, the show is meant to be a springboard for ideas and values. Is President Bartlett in any way realistic? Hell, no! He's a wild composite of every liberal politician and scholar that ever positively influenced this country, as well an authority on antiquated history, philosophy, mythology, national parks, chess, and virtually every nation in the world. What makes him especially endearing is that all of these qualities are rolled up in a homespun charm that could make Garrison Keillor positively green with envy. Some people don't seem to get the joke: he has every single element that has been absent in politicians - Democrat and Republican alike - for a longgggg time. The fact that he is so unreal is THE element of social satire that this program propagates. Frankly, I find it thrilling because as much as I love other political satires like "Bob Roberts" and "Wag the Dog", it seems wonderfully refreshing to see satire being directed from politicians rather than at them. There will never be a real president like Jed Bartlet in the White House, but every American can get a healthy dose of inspiration from fictional Jed Bartlet, 'man of the people'. [I'd include other nationalities in that statement, but there's something about Bartlet that is quintessentially American. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I visualize it along the lines of reading the Constitution while eating a bowl of chili. Other nationalities will have to come up with their own particular mixture of homespun idealism.]. I should include his staff in that statement too, since any of those in the West Wing (with the exception of Ainsley Hayes, sweet as she is) would make a fantastic president.
As for the other elements of this show... On first watching it, I was very aware of the fact that the White House staff seemed to spend more time holding conversations while walking in corridors, than actually sitting in their offices. I was also aware of how the cameras twirled around them unceasingly. And I often found the dialogue in both quality and delivery to be something along the lines of Spalding Gray meets Gore Vidal; i.e. extremely quick, witty and brilliant, but how many people really talk that way? Well, by the third episode I became so attached to the fascinating qualities and idiosyncrasies of each character that in my ears, their dialogue seemed to flow quite naturally. By the forth episode I was tickled pink to follow them anywhere. And by the fifth episode, my inner gyroscope finally synched up with the show's steadicam. I'm hooked- what else can I say! All the characters/performers of "West Wing" are excellent, and the "what if" scenarios in each show cleverly cover situations that we're all familiar with, with just the right touch of emotional depth (or in some cases, levity. The show's humor is always delicious!).
`West Wing' is simply brilliant through and through. The only bad thing about it is when it's over, we all have to face reality once again. Damn!