America as it dreams itself

America as it dreams itself

Started watching ‘The Newsroom’ recently. It’s good stuff – written by Aaron Sorkin who did the West Wing as well. I watched the West Wing for the first season, back when it first came on television, and then George W Bush was elected, and the show seemed to lose all relevance in the farcical drama that soon became American politics.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there has always been an element of drama and performance to American politics. In this case, it was the ridiculousness of it all, coupled with the bare-faced aggression and shamelessness that offended me. I guess that’s why so many people find shows like ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Newsroom’ so interesting – it shows a version of the US that people desperately want the US to be like. There are hugely intelligent, hugely compassionate people working to make lives better for other people – campaigning for truth, integrity and justice. People with compassion and passion and determination to do what is right. People who are willing to stand with each other and up against the bad guys.

And through it all, they exchange rapid fire witty commentary. They shoot statistics back and forth at each other. The show an incredible depths of knowledge and incisive humour. It’s all a little unrealistic, to be honest, but I think that adds to the fantasy side of things – in many ways, ‘The Newsroom’ is a show that is as much fantasy as it is drama. It’s not about what life in a newsroom really is like, but what it could be like, if the people were as noble, as intelligent, as dedicated and trustworthy as Aaron Sorkin believes that they are.

You can’t watch these kinds of shows alone – you have to watch them with one eye on the latest episode and the other on CNN or Fox News to show you how America actually behaves. The shutdown of the government by 40 republican senators is a good example – where is the anger and the desire for change that is meant to stop that happening? Where is the fury? Perhaps it’s there and I’m not seeing it – I am in Australia after all – but I’m not sure that most Americans even care that much. There seems to be an outbreak of hand-wringing and annoyance on Facebook, a few funny memes, and then we move on. Where are the marches? Where are the demands for equality? Liberty? Since when did America allow itself to be held to mercy by a bunch of old, white and rich guys?

Or maybe it always did, and their greatest success was creating the myth that America ever stood for something that wasn’t the benefitting of the few at the expense of the many.

I’m not suggesting that such a thing wouldn’t happen in Australia. The reality is that it would – perhaps, looking at the recent election, it already has.