TV Shows You Learn From: The West Wing
To date, The West Wing remains unique in American television history. The show’s story lives, breathes, and talks American politics. The only show of its kind to last more than two seasons.
It was created, produced, and mainly written by Aaron Sorkin (writer of The Social Network) for its first four seasons. (Mr. Sorkin departed after the show’s fourth season concluded). The show in its entirety concentrates on the day-to-day operations of Democratic President Josiah Bartlett and his personal staff.
The show’s drama can stand toe-to-toe with the best television series, but its value comes from what any American citizen can take away about the basic functions of the American political process. In addition, the viewer learns the relative positions of the two major parties in the country, and the values of an ideal Democratic president. So much can The West Wing help anyone get into the habit of following American politics that it should be routinely showed in every high school Civics and Economics class. You remember better if you’re having fun while learning.
However, learning the basics of a certain subject can often be misleading. For all it does right, The West Wing is ultimately a more ideal political world than the one Americans actually inhabit. The parties are far more polarized than the show portrayed, owing to the radicalization of the Republican Party after the 2008 elections. Its SCOTUS never ruled in favor of a Citizen’s United-like ruling, giving corporations the ability spend unlimited money in advertising dollars for any candidate they so choose, and its Senate has not evolved into the ridiculous sixty-vote institution that slows down and further polarizes today’s Congress.
But I digress.
Standing tall at seven seasons, The West Wing pillars certain values that defy the expectations of the viewer, yet are all entirely American. The show avoids the flashy, “red white and blue” patriotism that is prevalent in modern movies and emphasizes the subtle ideas that Americans are exposed to everyday but hardly notice. I urge any reader to look into his or her wallet at this time and take out any one dollar bill. If you look on the back, you’ll see the Latin words “Annuit Coeptis” (“Favors Undertakings”) rise above an unfinished pyramid. Why is the pyramid unfinished? The pyramid is unfinished because this country is supposed to be unfinished. America is meant to keep bettering itself. This country, unlike that of any other nation, past or present, was founded upon an idea: to create a more perfect Union.
Addendum: The West Wing’s opening credits