I’ve seen pretty much everything that Aaron Sorkin has written and produced. Why? Because I am obsessed with his quick wit and political humor, but my relationship with his work is not that simple. Just because I can quote every episode from "The West Wing" (well, only seasons 1-4) doesn’t mean I don't see some of the obvious problems with his writing .
I will start with the praise. In his more political projects, Sorkin has put forth some of the best arguments for political stances. In the "The West Wing," he provided an amazing monologue by President Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) defending the separation of church and state. He points out the problems with people picking and choosing which parts of the Bible they will take literally and which they will ignore for political gain. From this argument we got the line, "I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian , always cleaned the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?" a line that causes laughter, but also points out the problems of what happens when you take the Bible literally.
Jed Bartlet was one of the best creations by Aaron Sorkin. In my mind, he has raised the bar for future politicians. While yes, I understand that life is not like a TV plot, written to provide the perfect conditions for a political revelation, one can dream. Jed Bartlet has the perfect mixture of charisma, humor, and common sense. At times, he can be goofy and slightly absent-minded (in the first episode, POTUS rides his bike into a tree), but Sorkin brings him into the light in specific moments to deliver witty and insightful speeches that contain more substance than many political speeches that are aired today.
Speaking of raising the bar, "The Newsroom" addressed every issue that I have had with corporate news with the perfect amount of wit and humor. The series starts out with one of the greatest speeches in TV history, set under a giant picture of Murrow, with the main character, Will McAvoy, explaining why America is not the greatest country in the world anymore, but it can be. The arc of a show follows a sold out news anchor that is inspired by his old flame to revamp the world of corporate news. Jeff Daniels leads the show and is perfect for Sorkin’s abrupt monologues about the downfalls of modern day media.
I think Sorkin did an amazing job capturing how the news should have been portrayed throughout the past years. In season one alone, he tackled the BP oil spill, the Giffords shooting, and the NSA leaks. Sorkin created a world in which it was possible for a news station to defy the constraints of corporate money tackled up in politics and present the news how it should be presented to the public; the news coming from Dev Patel and John Gallagher Jr. doesn’t hurt either.
While I can talk about why I love these shows all day, there are some problems with Sorkin’s political writing. For one, it only expresses one perspective, a super liberal perspective. Sorkin dismisses conservative views and any view that conflicts with what he is portraying. Some of the points seem to be common sense to me but are dismissive of all others points of view. It would have been interesting to see Sorkin put forth one of the many valid conservative arguments and tackle it in his liberally polarized show dynamic. In "The Newsroom," it feels like he tries to make up for it by making the main character identify as a Republican even though almost everything he says contradicts the Republican party. It would have been better to have a liberal leading the crusade rather than a masquerading Republican.
Another problem that I have with Sorkin is his misogyny. All of Sorkin’s work seems to highlight the male mind and its capabilities, completely overlooking the potential of women. He doesn’t help his case by writing his female characters as airheads, socially awkward or incompetent. For example, most of the female characters in "The Social Network" were either minor and unnoticed or lunatics. "The Newsroom" may be the worst out of the all. Sorkin writes the female characters to be incompetent or pathetic and dependent on men to take care or explain things to them. The one strong female character that Sorkin tried to write, Sloan Sabbith, is socially inept throughout the series. I was disappointed to not see the re-occurrence of a character like CJ Cregg.
CJ Cregg might be the root of my love-hate relationship with Sorkin. She is a strong character who is goal-oriented and self-confident. She works in a completely male-dominated works space. At times she is the glue that holds the west wing together. Even with all the good characteristics that Sorkin gave her, he still made her the villain in a lot of cases. She was always the source of complaint for the male characters. Her job was to keep them in line and they sometimes mocked her for it. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that CJ Cregg only began to rise in the ranks of the west wing once Sorkin stopped writing after the fourth season.
As you can see, I am torn in between love and hate for Sorkin. I think his writing is quick-witted and intelligent but also misogynistic and one-sided. Still, I think that "The West Wing" and "The Newsroom" are some of the best television shows in the past two decades because they were trying to deliver a message. Although the message is sometimes flawed, at least they tried.