Dunkirk NY – I just switched from cable to DirecTV, so I have been able to catch up on Aaron Sorkin’s latest endeavor The Newsroom. I don’t much like it – not because it’s not well-written, or because it’s so smarmingly left-wing, or because not one character has the ability to talk at normal conversational speeds like the rest of us (They’re so smart! They talk so fast! They pick up their cues so well!) It’s because nothing will come of all this. The people who can afford to watch this show because they have the financial means to afford the HBO channel on their cable or satellite bill are the same people too busy or too self-involved to go out and change the system. They hold Mr. Sorkin up as a champion because he says the right things, says them very well, uses terrific facts, takes down the right wing, and soothes the consciences of liberals everywhere. Good deal all around. Mr. Sorkin gets to strut his stuff while picking up a paycheck, and we get to bask in the glory of his politics.
There are 29 million subscribers to HBO in the US. The latest estimate of the US population is 313 million. That means only 9% of the US has the ability to watch the show on HBO as it is broadcast. More people, of course, will eventually watch the show through other means (pirated copies, illegal websites, and eventually through Netflix and DVD release). But who will those people be? I am going to take a wild guess and say that the majority of them will be highly educated middle class white people. Probably the same demographic that attends theatre. And no doubt all of them will be people who already agree with the show’s premise and politics. The Choir.
This, to me, is the great conundrum of our time. The demographic and class divisions in this country seem to get harder and harder. We no longer seem capable of coming to any reasonable consensus on anything, mostly because when we talk to each other, it’s merely to find fault with the other side and execute a “take down.” Day to day we exist in our own enclaves, finding ways to reinforce our own beliefs, rarely going out to engage people we wouldn’t ordinarily engage.
I went to the Chautauqua County Fair earlier this week. I love county fairs. I enjoy taking in the various farm animals and witnessing the pride of those people who raised them to show levels. I spent some time at the sale barn, where it was “Meat Sale Day,” listening to the auctioneer hawk chickens, sheep and goats (very dramatic!). The people at the fair were unlike people I usually meet in the halls of academe. I saw the Dazzling Mills Family do their juggling act (good juggling skills, bad act. I wanted to direct them.). I ate half a BBQ chicken and some fried dough with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Nothing in the midway really interests me, but I like to walk through and observe. In short, I saw a lot of people who are probably struggling to get by in life, and who I am willing to bet do not watch The Newsroom.
These are the people to whom The Choir is deaf. We do not make theatre for them, and we do not care to. We make TV for them, all right, but not theatre. It would be nice if we did make some theatre for them, so they could see themselves reflected in the art, but I doubt that will ever happen in my lifetime. It’s just so much better to watch The Newsroom, nod in agreement, admire the writing, finish the wine, and get ready to work on that play that mostly only your friends and a smattering of like-minded strangers will see. A good life, that. -twl