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Life Needs A Better Screenwriter

Friday, 24 August 2012

Aaron Sorkin has a problem with his screenwriting. He doesn't know it, because he's too busy being all brilliant and stuff, but he has a real problem.

I am 13 years late for his journey to the White House known as "The West Wing" and now wrapping up the first season of this brilliant show. With each passing episode, I get angrier and angrier at Aaron Sorkin and his annoyingly intelligent and emotionally well-balanced characters.

You see, the real world doesn't work like his fiction, and at times I hate him for it.

Maybe your real world works like a Sorkin screenplay. I don't live in your real world, so I couldn't say for sure. But mine? Mine works more like the screenplay to "Cheers” or maybe “Modern Family." It's modestly intelligent and occasionally amusing, but it's all kinds of dysfunctional, passive aggressive, and full of unspoken or misspoken sentiments.

In "The West Wing," brilliant, confident people are arguing matters of national and international import. The heated debates have a level of gravitas the likes of which are Jupiter to my Ceres. Veins pop in their necks. Voices get raised. C.J. gets in Sam’s face. Toby verbally undresses Josh. Leo and POTUS boil with intensity in even calm moments.

The arguments in “The West Wing” are often heated, always intense. Yet rarely do the participants make it personal. When they do, both sides generally sense and acknowledge that the line has been crossed, and they pull back a moment before going back after one another’s throats.

These characters seem to get the most insulted when someone else insults their intellect. Very rarely do they hold onto their anger. Often, the air is cleared before two people leave a room; if not, someone goes in and apologizes before the end of the episode.

And I despise them for all their civility, their frankness, their mutual respect.

If this comes across as some damnation of my workplace, it’s only a damnation of my workplace not having Aaron Sorkin writing our dialogue.

No one I know works in Aaron Sorkin screenplay worlds, either. In the world of me and my many friends -- who work in law offices, banks, insurance companies, restaurants and schools -- the biggest arguments, the most important debates, happen only between two people on the same side of things, usually people who feel they have no direct potential to improve a troubling situation.

I wonder how much Aaron Sorkin would charge as a consultant. He could quietly observe a workforce environment for, say, a single week, and then he could write his screenplay version of that week. The staff could have a Platonic ideal of themselves to which they might aspire. Arguments would have a purpose and razor-like focus. Opinions would be well-expressed and sincerely heard. Feelings wouldn’t be baby-bottom sensitive. People would have the courage and confidence to express their concerns without fear of life-altering consequences, and those on the receiving end would welcome such moments and thrive in them, often adroitly parrying and calming the concerns, sometimes conceding a flaw and seeking best ways to right the ship.

If this comes across as some self-superior critique of others, it is not. My own behavior often miserably fails the Sorkin test. I would never make it far up Sorkin’s character ladder. I would get his shows canceled.

But maybe, if I keep asking myself in tight spots, "What would Sorkin have me say?"... I can work at it and eventually earn a recurring guest slot like Joey Lucas.

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