My wife and I have been looking for a substantial series to watch, a no doubt-hopeless effort to replicate the ineffable experience of watching ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Sopranos’. So, I chose ‘The West Wing’, a long-form series that seems to have gained generally universal praise. The missus dropped out of the long haul fairly early on, thinking that it was a bit too ‘folksy’ and ‘feel good’ for her tastes. How annoyingly up-to-speed she is, given the real-time changes in the White House, aka,nowadays,The Blight House or Bleak House? I actually quite like The West Wing and its quasi-narcotic spell, but, having been made around twenty-odd years ago, it already feels like a Norman Rockwell painting, as opposed to the modern day Edvard Munch-ian horrors of the Trump Presidency. How low have we, in this case the Americans, fallen? ‘The Scream’ seems to just about sum it all up.
The Americans have always been idealists, and The West Wing’s main characters represent this - we all surely would want a family like this? President Josh Bartlett (Martin Sheen) or his Chief of Staff Leo would be the Dad of our dreams; C.J. our mum; Toby our cranky uncle; Donna, our slightly wacky sister; Sam our sexy cousin; Charlie our charmer cousin; Zoe our adorable little sister, Zoe our adorable little sister and Josh our ideal big brother. All of them exuding sheer charisma and good will. We’d all want them to cover our backs, wouldn’t we? They’re good people, period. But how would you fancy the current occupants of the White House as family?
Trump’s attitude to his daughter is dodgy at best, over-sexualised and over-familiar. That towards his sons is demeaning and hostile,all of the dysfunctional psychodrama putting me in mind of the ‘myth’ of Chronos eating his children out of pure murderous envy.. Josiah Bartlett is saintly in comparison. But, then again, he is a fictional character! The Trump Administration is a nightmare version of that of Bartlett, all of the latter’s positive and joyful characteristics being leeched out of it. Josiah’s wife is a compassionate doctor - who/what, exactly, is Donald Trump’s wife? No-one really knows. Or really cares. Their only child seems to be a rather sinister replicant, one of the pod people that Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to have both a member of, and sadly seems to be grooming his children (including the ludicrously named ‘Sixtus’) to also join. Brrrrhhh! What scions of ugliness - Ivanka’s cold ‘allure’ (never mind her husband’s equally robotic sheen). John Crace’s now-classic ‘Maybot- trope can be applied to this lot.
Just compare C.J.’s press briefings to those of the current era, and we can see how low we’ve all fallen. I’ll leave it to a few quotes about The West Wing: “”They could make you feel inspired about politics in our worst moments of cynicism” and “We dream of a real Commander-in-Chief who was half the president Bartlett was”. The comparison is painful, to be frank. We, and our American friends, are left with a sad refection of our joint aspirations and hopes. The West Wing is great TV, but it seems contemporary as Yes Minister (but without the nostalgic glow, as American TV occupies a never-never land of gleeful optimism).