Can Television Save US?

Beginning at 8pm every Wednesday night in my college dorm room, no one was allowed to speak. The few unlucky individuals who wandered into our room and made any more than some rustling sounds were shouted down until they shut up. Well, at least we gave them very dirty looks. Like, face-melting dirty.

I love The West Wing not because I'm liberal (though of course I am), but becuase it is so well written. The dialogue fresh and challenging, the characters engaging and funny. And it was so earnest, sometimes inspiring.

Aaron Sorkin, who created and wrote the West Wing for the first four seasons (before it started to be kind of lame), also wrote the play I watched last night at the Alley Theatre, the Farnsworth Invention. The Farnswroth Invention is a great piece of storytelling. I love the way Sorkin pieces the story together, has the characters step in and out of the narrative. It's about the invention of the television, and the fight between media mogul and president of RCA David Sarnoff and inventor Philo Farnsworth over who inveted it. Aaron Sorkin took the stage afterward for a talkback. He said that for him, the play was really about the need for exploration.

He hammered that message home near the end of the play, with David Sarnoff exlacming, "You go to the moon becuase it's what's next."

Yeah, that's nice. But what really stuck with me was the line earlier in the play. Both Sarnoff and Farnsworth believe that television can do great things. Sarnoff says about television, "It will end war...stop war by pointing a camera at it."

There are hints elsewhere that Sorkin believes in the power and possibility of media. His character in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (we can debate the merits of this show elsewhere), Jordan McDeere, president of the fictional National Broadcasting System, gives several semi-inspiring speeches about her network being challenging and engaging and producing real art.

This all seems a little far fetched as I watch Terminator 3 on the ridiculously named channel, American Movie Classics. It was preceded by Catwoman (which I didn't watch). The other night in an effort to find some mindless entertainment I watched Transformers. With Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opening today, it's hard to take the idea that movies and television can make us better seriously. The most popular entertainment is just an excuse to make fun of Michael Bay (you should try it, it's not hard), or fodder for morning talk shows.

I do believe that art matters, and that movies and even television can be art that teaches us and brings us together. We don't really get together much except at the movies, even if so many of them are bad. And there are plenty of good movies out there (I recently saw and loved Doubt, which does nothing if not stimulate conversation). And I believe that pointing our cameras at the worst parts of the world changes the world for the better. Even if we could probably do it better.

Sorkin is now working on a movie about the founding of Facebook. I know, sounds exciting. I imagine scene after scene of college students and twenty somethings updating their status messages. Well, now it would probably be more middle aged women updating their statuses (they are the fastest growing Facebook demographic, which is why you are now Facebook friends with your mom).

But Facebook and Twitter and the internet do hold the same kind of hope. We keep thinking, maybe they can teach us, bring us together, change the world a little by shedding some light on it. And maybe it is. Just think of the Twittering Iranians.


Anonymous said...

If by heal the world you mean magnify it's problems I would agree. If by heal world it is meant we can fix our problems with or using tv as an instrument I am not sure. It exposes us the depravity of man which is some of us instills the crusader mentality of needing to "fix" the problem. However others of us, just get ideas on how to further our "evil" ways. True that if we are left to our own devices we would find our own way to a further corrupting system, it's the history of man. I don't know if I could accept that TV is the necessary evil that is needed to heal the world.So much of the time we spend sitting in front of it watching other people's experiences instead of standing outside our own door with a beer in our hand, much like Hank Hill, getting to know our neighbors. Oswald Chambers expounds a little in My Utmost for His Highest, June 25 (I believe), on a topic sort of like this. That deals basically with this idea of needing to rid the world of sorrow, and by sorrow he meant anything "not of God" not just sadness, but evil and hurt. If it weren't for these things we would only live in "success" he contends and if we only live in success we are egocentric, sorrow burns away shallowness. Which is better to offer the world, the hurting world at that?

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