Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sorkin's Society?

One of my favourite writers, Aaron Sorkin gave the commencement address to students at his Alma Mater, Syracuse last week. While there is no doubt that this forum provided Sorkin with the opportunity to embellish many of his stylistic cadences, which divide critics in equal measure the speech is worth commenting upon for a number of reasons.


This speech is the essence of Sorkinesque writing: a patriotic, hopeful, naive diatribe. In fact much of the speech he has used before a number of times. However, it is those qualities that provide a source of motivation to this writer. Perhaps the thing that infuriates the public most about Sorkin's writing is that he has higher expectations for society than it does for itself?

It is no coincidence that the current President of the United States is often compared to the one which Sorkin created for The West Wing. The difference is obvious though, Josiah Bartlett was never subjected to public scrutiny, for if he were he would have mostly likely been impeached during his first term of office. These days, the more progressive political operatives quote Bartlett from the passages of Sorkin’s many teleplays instead of Marx. Those brought up on episodes of The West Wing rather than pages of Robert A. Caro or David Day live in a vacuum where politics is a noble game and minds can be changed with five pages of dialogue, rather than through proper policy formulation. The end result is that politics becomes a circular exercise: people become aspirational pawns in the political process, once their desires cannot be met, they quickly figure out that there is a massive gap between the Sorkinesque view of the world and the actual one we inhabit. Rather than finding a leader who conforms to real world expectations, society says the system is broken, and then tries to find another leader of the same type. Society then begins anew destined to repeat the same mistakes.

Among Sorkin’s closing paragraphs of the commencement speech, he propagates his world view as if he were Sam Seaborn himself: 
Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt.

Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness, character. You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance—and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy. Don’t ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.
Of course there is nothing wrong with this view if you are a wide eyed optimist who believes that the power of words is enough to change minds. I was such a person once. However, the more I hear Sorkin’s words, the more I believe that he is just simply a great storyteller on a quest to find a fictional utopia.

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