Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Voice of Our Shadow

Because sometimes, it's good to title posts after good books.

Getting to a few comments before another shiny new post that will probably be called The Anubis Gates for no reason.

Little Miss Nomad:
I think you're maybe taking it the wrong way. I loved West Wing and Sports Night and A Few Good Men and even watched the entire season of Studio 60 more than once, and I kind of liked The Social Network, so I think I have every right to not love The Newsroom and criticize it intelligently without it being "making fun," just like I can dislike Girls without it being some kind of gut, unreasoning backlash. I think that's diminishing many people's opinions in the vein of sticking your fingers in your ears and refusing to listen because you don't want to. Isn't it better to agree to disagree? Also, the video of repeated lines or phrasings, if you watch it, though it does make some cheap shots, does at-large make a point. If you're going to put your stamp on the shows your run, at least have someone around to make sure you're not recycling old stuff, because having a voice and self-plagiarism, accidental or otherwise, as Jonah Lehrer should also note, are two different things.
Of course you have every right to not like The Newsroom! I thought I went out of my way to say that I was focusing on the media critics who appear to just have piled on Sorkin. So no, I don't think I'm taking anything the wrong way. Again, my post wasn't about the quality of the show (you don't even know if I like it!), but more directed at my growing suspicion of media critics and how churlishly out of touch they seem to have become. They really do think they're a part of the story, that they are the voices of their generation, and I don't agree with that. Unfortunately, this has now driven me to (partially, because COME ON) agree with David Denby on Voice.

It sounds pretentious (IT'S DAVID DENBY) but dude's got a point. We are conditioned now to have a tin ear towards dialogue. People don't read books for the writing anymore. They rush through everything, because God forbid you miss something the world is talking about. You need to cut through all of that and get to the fucking story right away. JUST TELL ME WHAT'S HAPPENING. DON'T PAINT A PICTURE. And for God's sake, don't make your characters vulnerable in DIALOGUE. Don't make them step out onto a limb that you may not agree with. Make sure everything is safe and in that little box of cool that is apparently how we're going to live until the Earth burns up. Don't let Michelle on Bunheads have a monologue about layaway at Contempo Casuals. Cut to the fucking chase. Read Fifty Shades of Gray because it's sexy and forbidden, but fuck the fact that the writer has no facility with the Queen's English. Or anyone else's English, for that matter. "She's a good writer" isn't even a phrase anyone uses anymore because the CRAFT of writing has become irrelevant.

And that is what pisses me off about the Sorkin haters, the people who've piled on The Newsroom like gleeful bullies. They don't have to love the show, of course. But by dismissing Sorkin's facility with words, they're just making things worse. If, as a critic, you liked The West Wing or Sports Night but hate The Newsroom because you find it trite, or obvious, or you hate how Sorkin writes women, or that it's just not up to the standards you feel Sorkin has set for himself, then there's a way to write an article about that that doesn't include being an asshole. Just siding with the haters is lazy. But actually being a journalist and analyzing why The Newsroom doesn't work could be time-consuming, and as we all know these media critics need to shit out stuff pretty regularly. Sometimes I think I spend more time on these posts than they do on their analyses, and holy crap that's depressing if true. If, as a critic, you have hated everything Sorkin's ever done, then I don't know how to deal with you. Because if you are a media critic and you can't recognize craft, or voice, then you should probably become something else.

But notice that I'm complaining about critics here, and not about viewers. Totally different. And really, Bobo here nails what I was trying to say:


Two fresh posts in a single week? I hope this is a trend!
I could not agree more with your assessment of the Sorkin-bashing going on in the media and on the internet, even though I happen to agree with some of the criticisms. There's just a weird lip-smacking quality to it... as if Sorkin were somehow due for a flogging. I think a corollary of Sorkin's "passion"--or maybe just another word for it--is "audacity." The Newsroom tackles--and to some extent, rewrites-- our very recent history. That's a BOLD move, and it makes the show, and Sorkin himself, a target for some very legitimate criticisms. But to not qualify said criticisms with an acknowledgment and commendation of the show's sheer audacity is churlish and petty. IMO, the flaws of "The Newsroom" are a result of the risks Sorkin has taken, and, as you suggest, we should be applauding risk-taking, not dousing it with our reflexive, internet-bred cynicism.

Not quite a trend, but perhaps a trend-let. And also, QED, Bobo!


Laurie said...

Kay, I recognized your name from some writing you did years ago and popped over to your blog. Just thought, based on your favorite authors in your profile, I'd recommend another one (or three): John Lescroart and John Sandford--based on the presence of Robert Crais on your list--and Jim Butcher, based on Laurie King and the sci-fi/fantasy element you're apparently open to. I haven't read his fantasy series, but his Dresden Files books are great fun.

So you're into Sherlock now, too? It's the first time I've been so invested in a relationship between two characters since Mulder & Scully--so rich! The long waits between seasons are so worth it (and survivable by filling in the time with Doctor Who, Supernatural, and of course, well-written fan fiction)!

So happy for your success...I've always thought of you fondly and wondered "where you went" after Millennium.

All the best to you!

Little Miss Nomad said...

I think I'm just a little pained, because while you've been seeing showrunners get bashed by the press, I've seen the press fall over themselves calling any criticism of such shows as valueless "backlash," or as you put it, "haters." Those are just two tropes that are driving me nuts personally, and I've seen it for Girls, The Newsroom, The Killing, The New Girl, etc., etc. Many of the pro TV writers I've read seem to be a little too enthralled with celebrity and less with a given show's actual merits, which is just as bad as unwarranted bashing. So I totally understand where you're coming from, but I wish there was a happy medium between hatchet jobs and ass-kissing.

Chris said...

Sadly, I think the dialogue on The Newsroom is mainly awful. Yes, Sorkin has a style--for which in the past he got terribly overrated, and now maybe he's being underrated as a way of compensating (which I agree is unfair, because this is nowhere near as bad as Studio 60), but let's not kid ourselves. The dialogue is great compared to your average episode of CSI. That's it.

It's on HBO, and I can't think of any other series on HBO that doesn't have better dialogue. More words isn't automatically a good thing. Sorkin got his start in the theater, and would anyone seriously try to say his influence there will ever equal that of Beckett or Pinter? Sometimes less is more, and sometimes more is less, and The Newsroom falls into the latter category.

Sherman-Palladino is doing a much better job on Bunheads, and she's neither being dissed or praised--she's mainly being ignored. Sorkin isn't suffering that curse, nor is he being attacked by other showrunners, and you should think a minute about why that is. The sexism charges do hold water here, like it or not. He is working out a lot of personal issues on this show, and I just am not that interested in his personal issues. They are not that interesting.

Great cast. I have not laughed once when watching it. I have enjoyed--and frequently agreed with--the political POV being expressed, but that just depresses me, since it's being expressed so poorly, and to so little effect. I mean, how is this helping anything? Is a single mind being changed? Except maybe in the wrong direction.

Sorkin may be an actual genius, but if he is, it's not his dialogue that makes him one. It's pedestrian strident overworked stuff compared to the true masters. I think he's shown amazing timing and prescience at points in the past. But his instincts seem to have deserted him now. Maybe it's because he's just engaging in 20/20 hindsight here. Which means, ironically enough, that Will McAvoy and his merry crew will never actually make any difference. Because we know how all these stories turned out. It is a remarkable exercise in futility we are watching here.

And yet I still watch. And I hope for it to become something better. And it keeps getting worse. And that doesn't make me a hater. And it sure as hell doesn't mean I can't appreciate good dialogue. I sure as hell do appreciate it when I hear it. And I'm not hearing it on this show.