The Newsroom: Behind Every Great Man are 15 Other Great Men (and One & a Half Great Women)

The Newsroom is smart. It is witty, and impassioned and oh, did I mention smart? I liked a number of things about The Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin at his best is my favorite thing to watch. He makes intellectualism a moral issue and I love him for it. If I could boil the first season of The West Wing in a spoon and inject it into my veins, I would.

But Aaron Sorkin has lady trouble. In that, he doesn’t really like to write them as characters. Oh sure, they exist, and sometimes they’re even awesome, but for every CJ Cregg, there are 20 Josh Lymans. 20 whip smart, misunderstood Aaron Sorkin avatars at every stage of life, shooting through hallways soliloquizing at record speed.

If Sorkin were a new writer, fresh to societal criticism, I would note the gender failings of The Newsroom and hope for better next time. Lena Dunham was rightly criticized for her alarmingly racially homogenous cast, but I can note the (correct) criticism of Girls and still enjoy all of the things it did right, because I genuinely believe Lena Dunham will learn, and that her mistakes come from inexperience and ignorance, not hatred. But now she knows, and if her next project features the same palette, she will have made an active choice. “I’m sorry, I just didn’t think…” becomes “I chose not to think.” Aaron Sorkin has had chance after chance to fix the glaring hole in his record and he doesn’t care to.

I guess it isn’t everyone’s job to fix sexism. I suppose it’s anyone’s right to just not give a shit about racial and gender diversity. But Aaron Sorkin’s whole schtick is “doing better.” Being better. Tilting at windmills. Which I love! But it is hypocritical to rant at the American public for sinking into the intellectual and moral mire, to pat yourself on the back for “speaking truth to stupid” and then blithely ignore the negative impact your work has on 51% of the population. Aaron Sorkin prides himself on tackling The Big Issues. Well, Aaron, gender equality is a Big Issue. It is a moral issue. When you are a self-appointed prince of the liberal elite, you must be held to a higher standard. Depressingly, the “higher standard” for mainstream tv is still pretty low and shouldn’t be that hard to reach.  

Sorkin is an experienced writer, one who crafts meticulously and understands structure and symbolism. I do not believe any of his choices are haphazard, though I do suspect his motivations are sometimes subconscious.

Let me run through my specific issues:

1. In the opening rant (you’ll recognize it from Studio 60 and the Sunset Strip, with like, relevant bits cut and paste) Will McAvoy sneers at a “sorority girl” then goes on to extol the virtues of some mythical foregone time when you could “be a man” and there were “great men” who were venerated for being great men.  

2. The first time we meet Maggie (the charming Alison Pill), she is being emotionally bulldozed by her older, more successful boyfriend. I’m not saying people don’t have boyfriends, or personal drama, but Sorkin is a writer who nearly fetishizes the Character Introduction, so to have Pill’s first words on a show about journalism, politics, and morality be about her relationship is insulting.

3. Will McAvoy knows the names of his white, male colleagues, but not his female assistant or his Indian blogger.

4. The first time the two named female characters (The aforementioned Maggie and our main female protagonist Mackenzie) interact on this show about journalism, politics, and morality they discuss….clothes, beauty, and boys. Again, I’m not saying that female co-workers don’t discuss fashion or relationships. I do! But in Aaron Sorkin-land, to make this their primary interaction is defining and insulting.

5. When Maggie is promoted by Mackenzie, it is not because she does something noteworthy in her work (which she does later in the episode!). No, the impetus for her promotion is that she has displayed a warm, fuzzy feeling. While loyalty is certainly an admirable quality, in Sorkin-land, men are lauded for merit, even when they’re assholes. Women are rewarded for being nurturing.

6. So far, there are zero visible LGBTQ characters.

I have not given up hope. Mackenzie is pretty great so far, not seeming to suffering from any of the usual trope ailments that seem to strike Sorkin ladies: Hungry Thin Lady Syndrome, Beautiful Klutz, Neurotic Overanalyzer. Future episodes promise other prominent female characters from Jane Fonda and Olivia Munn (although, good god, am I really pinning any feminist hopes on Olivia Munn?!) Pill’s character Maggie had a shaky start (and Sorkin was especially lazy with her, pulling her almost quirk for quirk from The West Wing’s Donna Moss), but I think there’s potential in that arc.

The Newsroom has other problems that have nothing to do with feminism, most notably that, seriously, I believe Aaron Sorkin does not think we will notice that he is recycling himself at an alarming rate, including his own personal issues. Yeah, you gotta work your shit out through your art, but you’re obviously not making any progress, because you’re chewing the same gristle you were 4 years ago.

A lot of people hate The Newsroom because it’s made by pedantic blowhards for pedantic blowhards. I have a pretty high tolerance for pedantic blowhards (myself included) so that won’t be what drives me away from the show. Sometimes, I need my hour in the liberal, intellectual echo chamber. But I do need to see him try to respect my gender, to try to write something new. I know it’s hard to leave the formula when you feel like the formula works. Bad news, though. It doesn’t work anymore.

I’m still holding my breath for Aaron Sorkin to grow. I want to believe there’s another great show in him. Call it quixotic.


The Groupon Diaries: Archery Lessons

For someone who doesn’t hunt, arrest criminals, or even play video games, I sure do like to shoot things. So when there was a deal offered for archery lessons, bow & arrow rentals, and practice time on the range, I jumped at it. Vicki got in on the action as well, having grown up a non-hunter in a hunting family.

We promptly forgot about the deal until May, when it was nearly expired. That is how I roll.

Finally, we trucked out to semi-rural PA for our lesson. There was some trouble finding the entrance:

Some people go both ways

My graphic designer friends may notice that there are two arrows. In addition to this sign, there was a large billboard next to the dirt road turn-off for the building. But it didn’t have the white arrow. So the logo pointed directly to an empty field. Obviously, we worked it out. But maybe be careful with including arrows in your logo, is all I’m sayin’. 

Inside, the staff was courteous, but reserved, in the way that seriously outdoorsy people often are. Our teacher took us to the range and tested our “eyedness” before handing us our bows.

He showed us how to place the arrows, how to draw, and did his best to explain how to release without like, releasing. Having read “Zen and the Art of Archery,” I understand, intellectually, that the release is supposed to happen sort of magically: plucking the string will disrupt the flow of the arrow. So a master in the art will be first in a state of tension and then in a state of release, without like, releasing. Yeah. Zen. Let’s be clear. I… don’t know how to do that.

But Vicki and I did alright even without spiritual enlightenment. I was pretty comfortable at least making it within the target. Vicki struggled a bit with her bow. She’s right-handed, but after testing left-eyed (not lopez), she was given a left-handed bow. I’m not saying the instructor was wrong, per se, but after she switched to a right-handed bow, Vicki got 2 bullseyes.

You can tell she got more badass because the lighting is different.

I got one bullseye, scouts honor, but the it was during the lesson and I was too embarrassed to ask the instructor to pause so I could take a photo of it for my blog. Because surely, that would be what gave me away as a nerdy city slicker. I figured if I got one, I would be able to get another during our practice time, which was a very stupid assumption.

While the instructor was still there, he would tweak our form or give advice (bending the bow holding arm ever so slightly will prevent nasty string ricochet!) and then say, “sooo, do you guys…have any questions?” Ah, the Socratic Method*. Interesting approach. We came up with a few questions, but mostly I didn’t really know enough to know what to ask.

“Uh…how do you get….good?”
“Practice. Like, a lot of practice. I sometimes practice 5 hours a day.”
So there’s not like…a trick? Just practice, huh?

Cue training montage

We got to watch a staff member fixing and testing a crossbow, which was good fun. But the end of our practice time, both Vicki and I could feel the whining of muscles we rarely use, and I can see how with this whole “practice” business, they might strengthen and improve stability and therefore aim. I think both Vicki and I would like to return to practice more. I feel better prepared to survive the apocalypse, but perhaps not the zombie apocalypse, as my accuracy is probably good enough for a body shot, but not a head shot. I’m trying to figure out how to turn my basement into a range… I would definitely have paid full price for this, but I’m not sure I would have thought to go without the catalyst of a groupon.

 *Please no one leave a comment explaining the actual Socratic Method.