Sunday, September 21, 2008

"I Won't Lie To You, Being Fictional Was A Big Advantage"

BARTLET Well, it seems to me your problem is a lot like the problem I had twice.

OBAMA Which was?

BARTLET A huge number of Americans thought I thought I was superior to them.



OBAMA I mean, how did you overcome that?

BARTLET I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.
Maureen Dowd's column latest column in the Times was written by Sorkin -or someone extremely proficient in Sorkinese. Check it out. It has all of Sorkin's greatest attributes, and some of his weakest flaws as well; it gets an A+ for rhetoric, for pacing, and for being a delightful read. Sorkin's dialogue is fantastic; but his soliloquies that make my head sing. In the world of writing, Sorkin is a classical composer and it shows. Words build on words; thoughts hinge on what came before, and though it may begin with one "instrument", by the end there is a full orchestra.

I wish I could quote my favorite lines from the Dowd column. In truth, though, that would end up being the whole thing. But a few ones that got my blood pumping would be:
"As a Democrat I was surprised to learn that I don't like small towns, God, people with jobs or America."
"I've been a little out of touch but is there a mandate that the vice president be skilled at field dressing a moose... ...and selling Air Force Two on eBay?"
"Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn't extend to Americans being exceptional."
"The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it."
And the creme de la creme:
"Call them liars, because that's what they are. Sarah Palin didn't say 'thanks but no thanks' to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said 'Thanks'. You were raised by a single mother on food stamps - where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annopolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I'd ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you're at it, I want the word 'patriot' back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn't know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can't do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie - the truth isn't their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they've earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It's not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman, and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology, and common sense too? It's not bad enough she's forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It's not enough that a woman shouldn't have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist's baby too? I don't know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she's got the qualifications of one. And you're worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!"
There are weaknesses; I don't know if Sarah Palin has forced her daughter into a loveless marriage and neither do Aaron Sorkin or Bill Maher, even though that doesn't stop them from repeating the line. Sorkin has a troubled and complex history with women characters, and some of that comes out in how he chooses to frame Palin in the piece, though the actual language he uses in its context creates the overall effectiveness. But overall, I want Sorkin to write political speeches - I don't care for whom. I want politicians, on both sides, to be forced to watch Sorkin's politicians and especially their speeches. I want to hear about how "the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless". I want a president to stand up and challenge the idea that the ACLU is unAmerican in some way. I want a president (or presidential nominee) to be Andrew Shepherd and say:
"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land is the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the 'land of the free'."
So go; read the Maureen Dowd piece. And then rent The American President; watch some episodes of The West Wing or Sports Night (both have those moments of greatness of writing). And embrace Sorkinese. It makes the world a slightly better place; and it envisions a world in which people are truly, desperately, achingly passionate about their work and their place in the world; where every day they strive, in small ways and big ways, to do the right thing and to be the best they can be. And that, along with the way Sorkin chooses to tell it, is music to my ears. So one more quote from Sorkin, about the qualities of music and writing:
"Words, when spoken out loud for the sake of performance, are music. They have rhythm, and pitch, and timbre, and volume. These are the properties of music, and music has the ability to find us and move us, and lift us up in ways that literal meanings can't."


John said...

As much as I enjoyed that, it was cheapened by the use of all-too-typical cheap shots against Sarah Palin. Moose jokes and implications of a shotgun wedding only strengthen her proponents' resolve and weaken any other points that we might bring to bear. Stick with the rampant corruption, the abuse of power, the attempted censorship, the intolerant ultra-conservative values and the ignorance of basic foreign policy information. Above all, point out the hypocrisy inherent in nearly everything she says. These are the things that make her a shameful candidate. There's nothing shameful about being from the wilderness, as strange as we city folk may find it.

petpluto said...

I definitely agree Sorkin's message was cheapened by the pot shots he took at Palin. At the same time, I'm more willing to overlook those sorts of comments than I normally am because I'm so enamored with his writing (which is a problem, I know).

At the same time, I do think Sorkin has a point with the moose joke (rather than his Cinemax heroine line) in that the Right has created a mythology for Sarah Palin that has no baring on her readiness to lead. Attacking that, questioning that, is a worthwhile pursuit for the Obama campaign.