I love Aaron Sorkin. You know the screenwriter? The creator of The West Wing? Yeah that guy. I love him. Ok not him personally, because I’ve never met him, but his writing. I have for years. And, I’m not one of those frauds who stumbled upon The West Wing in college and declared their love. I’m a true devotee.
I can officially say I’ve grown-up with Aaron Sorkin produced genius. I watched Sports Night, his first venture into TV, when I was 9 years old. I started watching The West Wing when I was 10. At 17 I watched every single episode of the short lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip when it aired.
It’s educational. Yes, I said it. Television can be educational, at least smart television can. Sorkin does it, he may be writing entertainment, he may be writing something that’s interesting, but it’s also educational. You can walk away from The West Wing more educated about the abortion debate, about taxes, about history, about literature and English.
Believe it or not my years of living in the shadow of a brilliant screenwriter (secretly wishing he could give me lessons on how to write as well he does), enhanced my vocabulary. By the time I was 15 I knew could accurately use and define words like torpor, gratuitous and gravitas. It made me smarter.
He does something that the entertainment industry does less and less of each year, he writes smart. He doesn’t pretend his viewers are dumb. He doesn’t assume they’re ignorant. He writes as though people are smart. It’s a novel idea in the modern entertainment industry, that people actually care about what’s going on in the world. That a character can be both endearing and smart. That a viewer may actually take the time to look up a word or an issue if they do not know it already.
By the end of my first semester at American University, one of the most politically active campuses in the country, most of my classmates had seen at least one or two episodes of The West Wing. By the time I graduated a phrase like “Communications Director” would be echoed by students saying “Sam Seaborn or Toby Ziegler.” Everyone, Republican or Democrat loves the show. It embodies what we want to do. Out of the select few students, beside myself, who could already quote the series like the back of our hand and who already included the name Aaron Sorkin has part of their vernacular, about a quarter had chosen a political path because of The West Wing. (I’d be amiss if I said it didn’t influence my decision as well).
A television show has to be good, powerful, smart and educational to actually persuade people to adopt a career choice. Politicians watched the show because of how closely it aligned with political life, students watched the show because it persuaded them to care and be active in politics and government.
Sorkin’s writing is sharp and quick. It’s witty. It mixes moments where you’re gripping your sides because you’re laughing and moments where you’re wiping your eyes because you’re crying, in the same episode. It proves it’s ok to love words.
I’ve been spending time watching Studio 60 this past week. When I’m not watching it, I forget how good it is. If we want to continue to be a literate society, we need more books, and people to read them. But, we also need more television shows and movies, that are written smart, like Sorkin’s. We need shows that inspire. That make people think. Shows that are smart.