Monday, July 16, 2012
TV as first draft of history
For historians, one interesting decision Sorkin made when he wrote the show was to back-date it by two years. Thus, whenever there is a moment of high tension between characters, all of a sudden Gabrielle Giffords gets shot in the head and the characters return to business--and learn to like and respect one another again. Or the Deep Water Horizon blows up. Or something from the recent American past invades the narrative and we end up with a history lesson about the recent American past.
It's an interesting technique, and a bit jarring. It's also in true Sorkin-style a bit much. On the one hand, why do all these important events happen at the exact moment one character is about to reveal why she cheated on him? Come on! What timing! On the other hand, Sorkin tries in his typically didactic way to show us how the news media should have reported on these signal events, and therefore how we should view them today.
In a way, Sorkin's news in The Newsroom really is a first draft of history. Not only reporting the events as they happen, but also showing a bit of perspective that only emerges with time. When CNN misreported that Giffords had died in the shooting, for example, the team at The Newsroom decides to wait for a second source, and turns out--tada!--to not have misreported the tragedy. When the anchorman, a crusty bachelor and registered Republican played a bit meanly by Jeff Daniels, goes after the Tea Party for losing its grassroots anchor to the Koch Brothers agenda (and money), he's making an argument about how we should interpret the development of the organization.
From a teacher's perspective, this is what we try to do. We try to explain an event from the past, not only by telling the details of the event, but by understanding motives and outcomes, both expected and unexpected. Then we try to fit that event in the larger narrative of the past. If only we were as slick (and rich) as Aaron Sorkin.
What do you think? Sorkin's a lefty, no doubt. But he's making an argument that being a lefty today has become siding with the truth. A bit much? How much will he color our understanding of the recent past? Is TV the first draft of history? If so, how can we compete?