Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Huffington Post's Eve Simon defends Aaron Sorkin in the most awful way possible

By insulting the intelligence of anyone who criticizes The Newsroom, Simon shows just how shallow her understanding of the show is.

Jeff Daniels stars in Aaron Sorkin's new HBO series.
If you don't like The Newsroom, Eve Simon thinks you're a moron.

In a fairly awful opinion piece that ran yesterday on The Huffington Post, Simon takes any and all critics of Aaron Sorkin's new drama to task for contributing to the dumbing down of American society. Apparently anyone who didn't enjoy the show, who thinks it's flawed or overly preachy or just plain bad, only formed that opinion as a result of the anti-intellectual forces that have insidiously taken over the country and made intelligence into a vice. A NASCAR New World Order, if you will.
After watching the pilot of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO drama The Newsroom, I'm not at all surprised that people have been beating on it like some alien weed they're hell bent on destroying. 
The show is just too smart. Smart as a pejorative*. And that scares the shit out of everyone. 
Stupid people hate that he calls them out on their lack of engagement, and smart people are scared to death to admit publically that he's absolutely right. Why? Because that would validate the picture painted of them in the press: Elitist, smug, self-important, superior, condescending, and not Real Americans (FuckYeah!). 
In these days of advanced citizenship*, I'm truly horrified to say that being smart has become the ultimate liability. And instead of doing something about it, we sit back and wonder why the media is taking our national culture to hell on a speedboat*.
Even ignoring the fact that Simon is proving her own straw man counter-argument by coming off as one of those "smug, self-important, condescending" smart people (because why try to subvert the stereotype when you can play into it?), and even eliding her apparent belief that Sorkin is the lone holdout in a television landscape filled with reality shows and procedural crime dramas (this in a year that brought us a subtle exploration of gender roles and power struggles on Game of Thrones, bold creative choices on Community and a brilliantly funny, bitterly pointed political satire in Veep, to name only a few), Simon's rant displays the limitations of her own understanding of Sorkin's drama.

You see, the entire point of The Newsroom is that cable news only exists as a place for people to get their own beliefs confirmed. The show's characters are trying to create a new kind of news show, one that informs viewers with well-researched, fact-driven journalism rather than using those stories to vilify the other side and present a one-sided ideological agenda. (The ironies of this as a stated goal on a show as ideology-driven as The Newsroom are obvious, and certainly worth a closer look, but that's a story for another time). By automatically classifying anyone who disagrees with her own love for the show as idiots who are "content with spoon-fed media pablum" and care about nothing beyond "which Kardashian is getting divorced next," she displays the kind of behavior that Sorkin's characters are pointedly against.

Simon's piece is not the kind of thoughtful reporting that led to the triumphant centerpiece of The Newsroom's pilot. It's the type of ill-informed, prejudiced paranoia that animates the talking heads who populate so much of the cable news landscape, on both the right and the left. (Oh, and for the record, actual smart people don't simply parrot Aaron Sorkin speeches to make themselves look smart, then offer "mad props" and "street cred" to readers who can name them all.)
As a long-time Sorkin fan, his return to television made me a little giddy. Yes, his shows traffic in archetypes of the smarter-than-the-average: president, sports producer, Internet genius, misanthropic anchorman. And yes, he gets constantly dinged with criticism about preaching to the unwashed about Big Things. That piss you off? Too bad. Living where there's free speech means sometimes you're gonna get offended.* 
Aaron Sorkin's idealized characters are unconstrained by society's discomfort with The Smart. Through them, he is free to speak the truth about anything. Even that we're all being lobotomized by this country's most influential industry that's just throwing in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn't include the courting of 12-year-old boys. And not even the smart 12-year-olds. The stupid ones.* 
This has all led me to a terrifying theory. That somehow over the last 10 years, the smart people in this country have begun to feel guilty about their intelligence. That Americans (FuckYeah) who are content with spoon-fed media pabulum make the rest of us look bad for wanting something better. That being asked to do the unimaginable -- actually think -- has become too high a price to pay for entertainment. Maybe it is true that people don't drink the sand 'cause they're thirsty. They drink the sand 'cause they don't know the difference*, but I really want to believe there's still hope for us.
I'm not going to argue that there's a disturbing current of anti-intellectualism that runs through many TV shows, even some of the best. And, for the record, I quite enjoyed the pilot of The Newsroom; despite a few issues that need to be worked out, the show has enormous potential. (After all, The West Wing didn't have a perfect pilot, but it turned out to be a pretty great series.) I don't disagree with Simon on that point, either.

What I disagree with - what I'm terrified by - is her conviction that, by defending the show in terms of intelligence, she's doing something brave and difficult. I disagree with the way she places her own opinion as a "smart person" high above the opinions of all the other sheep who are either too dumb or too scared to admit to liking a TV show. I disagree with the piece's defensive tone, which will allow for no contrary opinions or acknowledgment of the series's very present flaws. Make no mistake: while Simon might tell the "haters" that they're "allowed to disagree" with The Newsroom, she makes it very clear that anyone whose opinion differs from hers is just a stupid American (FuckYeah) who has been so brainwashed by our dumbed-down culture that they wouldn't know real artistry if it was staring them in their mouth-breathing faces.

If Eve Simon is representative of "smart people," I think I would prefer to be stupid. And so, I suspect, would Will McAvoy and Aaron Sorkin.

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