Monday 11 April 2016

The Newsroom, and my adventures with knight-errantry

The Newsroom

'The Newsroom' has been a difficult show to watch, but even more difficult not to. Unabashedly elitist, brimming with cultural and political context and full of Aaron Sorkin's quite brilliant dialogues, there is a lot to like about it.

It follows the happenings, on and off-camera on the set of a fictional News Network, ACN, as their prime-time news anchor, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels, smug) transforms from an inoffensive populist to a hard-hitting, controversial figure. This change is brought about when their network head, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston, old school) brings in a new Executive Producer, McKenzie Morgan McHale (Emily Mortimer, adorable) who shares Skinner's commitment to producing a news show that focuses on 'real' news and avoiding sensationalism.

Who’s in it?
Assisted by Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn, terrific and hot), Jim Harper (Jeff Donaghue, dopey), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill, goofy but sincere), Neal Sampat (Dev Patel, token Indian guy) and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski, manic) the Macs and Skinner fight hard against the tide of corporate control, which wants to focus on ratings and advertising.

Why do I like it?
As a story, The Newsroom has its good and bad moments. The love stories are a bit soppy, the idealism of the main characters can be a little difficult to swallow for us cynics, but it does hold up reasonably well.

Dialogue is excellent, fast, sharp and witty. There is a sense of preaching about the whole thing - Aaron Sorkin clearly wants to get a message across, and uses the medium he has to do it well. Peppered with references to real-life events from the US Midterms, the rise of the Tea Party, the Boston bombings, Arab Spring to many more obscure events, it tries to contrast the somewhat idealistic approach of the ACN show to the regular reporting by the likes of Fox News. Even the owner of ACN, Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda, superb) is like a stand-in for her ex-husband Ted Turner.

Why do I hate it, then?
It left me a little disturbed. I was not sure how to deal with how easily I could identify with McAvoy at times, Skinner at others and then again, McHale. They may be the 'good' guys, but is it worth fighting the fight they try to?

I may not be a high-profile news anchor, but social media has made all of us, in our way, capable of exerting influence. Is cultural superiority a thing? Is it fair for a person to think, "Yes, I know more than you and therefore I have a responsibility to educate / civilise you?"

For this debate - it is an important one for me. I've written in the past about the misfortune of having tastes in reading, music, movies - all the performing arts, really - that are a little esoteric, perhaps even rarefied. There was a time when I saw this not as a misfortune, however. I used to think it was a privilege.  That my education at a supposedly ‘posh’ school, my hailing from a family with distinctly above-average academic and intellectual tendencies – that all of that meant I could and should guide others to develop their tastes and skills as well. That I had an authority to speak on certain issues because I had a deeper understanding of them, either due to having read about them, or watched something about them, or simply having a high comprehension ability. Somewhere along the way, this impression dissolved away. I do not want to tread over ground that’s well-worn, since I wrote at length about this change in me elsewhere on this blog.

I had become comfortable in the knowledge that I’m just another schmuck, in fact of a far lesser relevance to the world than the more powerful, youthful voices that now dominate our discourse. In accepting that what is popular is, no doubt, good; that accessibility is more important than quality; that people should enjoy what they want to, and it is wrong to try and shape their tastes or their desires in a direction that I might find fundamentally more enjoyable, more valid, frankly – objectively BETTER than the alternatives. Because I had convinced myself that what used to be considered a sign of a higher level of understanding was in reality an inflated self-image engendered by an upbringing that failed to reign in ideals and aspirations.

That is what Aaron Sorkin made me question again. That is the disturbance that this series has wrought in my mind that I do not like, that I almost hate him for.

You know, I had accepted being the Don Quixote of the last chapter, who had once tilted at windmills in an attempt to change the world, but now retired to rest in his own home and recovered his sanity. But along came this ass and his damned show and tempted me to don that armour and mount the noble steed Rozinante once again. I won’t thank you, Mr. Sorkin. I won’t.


  1. I am the middle-of-the-road character, Percy. I do not like the elitist end of 'This you should like and this you should not'. But, I equally as much hate those who say, 'This I do not comprehend and thus it must be bad'. AND, if you give me the choice between ONLY elitism and 'junk what is not accessible to the meanest intellect', I will take elitism any day - though, yes, I prefer a world where all tastes are respected.

  2. I agree with Suresh. I have always liked elitists to come and evangelize to me - I have actually written about this in a post where I talk of how I got hooked on to science fiction for the first time albeit a different kind of elitism. Most elitism that I have encountered in school and college is more of the nose in the air kind where the folks won't bother to come down from their high horses and share their elitist interests with the lesser mortals.

  3. Notwithstanding your depressing monologue, the shows sounds interesting. Will give it a shot.

  4. Accessibility and quality - can they not co-exist?

    1. Of course they can, and they often do. "The Newsroom" itself was a fine series that did not lose the entertainment value, though perhaps again it did, because it lasted just under 3 season, which is a short run.

      But no, this write-up was essentially a virtual regurgitation of a disconnected train of thoughts. Probably needs to be read in conjunction with this: to make sense. Or make even less sense.