Millennials Need A New West Wing
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Politics and Activism

Millennials Need A New West Wing

The Millennial generation has become politically disenchanted, and a political TV show like The West Wing may be the perfect remedy.

Millennials Need A New West Wing

The West Wing helped inspire a generation. Aaron Sorkin’s 7-season masterpiece (of which he was only around for 4) has often been hailed as the best portrayal of the modern American Presidency in television history. However, beyond being just a television sensation, The West Wing proved to have impacts on the real world as well. These impacts were so strong that they helped create a youthful surge that propelled into office a young, progressive, wonky idealist into the Oval Office. Just 10 years later, youth culture is becoming more and more entertainment and media based, yet millennials in 2012, 2014 and now 2016 are increasingly disenchanted with politics. I believe one factor of this is that for the last decade we have been without any West Wing contemporary to remind Millennials of the importance of service and civic duty and the honor in politics and government. If we want late millennials and generation Z to become more politically involved, we need a new West Wing on the air to show us how politics should be.

Many shows have tried to follow in The West Wing’s footsteps, but have either failed to do so or have gone in different directions. Political comedies such as the adorably quirky BrainDead, Julia Louise Dreyfus’ brilliant and raunchy Veep, and the fun-for-all-ages 1600 Penn all have occasional nods to politics or policy, but usually, favor gags and twists rather than substance.

Dramas have leaned typically more towards unrealistic, violent or cutthroat aspects of politics. These include House of Cards, in which (SPOILER ALERT) the House Minority Whip and eventual President, played by the talented Kevin Spacey, kills 2 people; Political Animals, a mini-series in which an overly-dramatic twist is around every corner; and now Designated Survivor which starts immediately with the Secretary of HUD ascending to the presidency after a terrorist attack kills nearly every federal politician. While Designated Survivor has some Sorkinesque aspects about it (Particularly Keifer Sutherland’s President Tom Kirkman: an honest, pragmatic and humble man who hates playing politics but reluctantly does his duty), it’s basic plot and premise disqualify it from taking the place of The West Wing. Basing the series around a terrorist attack, while pretty interesting television, does not leave much room for serious policy or ethical discussions.

There have been a few decent shows about political campaigns such as Chasing The Hill and Battleground. The latter featured multiple stars of The West Wing and had a very similar format. However, neither of these shows received enough funding, publicity or critical acclaim to get off the ground, with Chasing the Hill having created only 4 episodes before fading into obscurity.

The only high-profile show to come close to the idealist and substantive format of The West Wing was ABC’s Commander in Chief which, despite good ratings, interesting characters and a star-power cast including Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland, failed to get to a second season due to internal problems resulting in low ratings.

Even Sorkin’s own projects have failed to live up to the standard set by The West Wing. Despite creating an Oscar-winning movie in The Social Network, and an Emmy-winning series in The Newsroom, most analysts argue that these projects simply don’t match up with the enormous success and acclaim of The West Wing. He also saw some success in movies such as Charlie Wilson’s War and Moneyball but, again, not nearly as much as that of The West Wing. Other projects like Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip and Steve Jobs simply fell flat. Even the successful projects, some more politics-centric than others, did not create the ideals or instill the passions in young people that The West Wing did. Moneyball didn’t make a generation want to manage baseball teams, nor did Studio 60 cause a rise in the number of comedians, comedy writers or comedy producers. While The Newsroom made me personally want to go into journalism, its relatively pessimistic tone probably did not inspire many of my peers. Though it did, oddly enough, inspire Piers Morgan to become a more serious journalist.

There is a causation-correlation effect between TV and the real world here, and it goes both ways. Because we lack a show like the West Wing, a constant antithesis to the dark political world of which pundits and the opposition party try to paint a picture, Millennials have lost their enthusiasm and trust in the political system. Causatively, because Millennials have lost their enthusiasm and trust, television producers have seen efforts to make Sorkinesque political shows to be fruitless: a waste of time and resources. Shows like Commander and Chief and The Newsroom which floundered in viewership despite critical acclaim are examples of that. Our generation has become entrenched in a deadly cycle of political disenchantment.

However, just as this political disenchantment is fueled by factors both on and off-screen, so to is political involvement. On occasion, we get politicians like Howard Dean, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who have inspired the youth of America almost or equally as much as The West Wing did. Just as these politicians needed The West Wing to get young people involved such as at their peak in 2006 where their voting power helped Democrats elected across the country, The West Wing needed politicians to show people that their idealism wasn’t more idealistic than realistic. Bernie Sanders has shown young people that, not only does their political power matter, but that politicians like Jed Bartlet really can exist and, with our help, can get elected. With the rise of the Sanders-Warren political generation, now is the perfect time for producers and writers to capitalize on the surge with a new West Wing. I believe a show with The West Wing's lofty ideals and honorable characters would help inspire the Millennial generation and generation Z to vote in the 2018 and 2020 elections, which will be very important in determining the success and impact of (presumably) Hillary Clinton's administration.
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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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