The Newsroom: Symbolism – 0; Mythology – 3

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait a little bit longer for my review of The Land of Stories (although the giveaway on my Tumblr continues apace), because my personal, non-giveaway copy got nabbed along with my bag and my wallet at Pride today. Luckily, a friend is lending me their copy, and I should be able to get that in by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, tonight was the first episode of The Newsroom on HBO. In many ways, it’s not the type of show I’m inclined to write about, because it doesn’t particularly trade in symbolism. No one is secretly Death’s beloved servant, and we’re probably not going to be able to predict episode structures based on what colors people are wearing.

But I do like Sorkin, a lot. I like the hyper-verbal quality of his stuff and the degree to which he’s good at making it clear how much certain types of intelligence can be really agonizing to functioning in the world. When our main character Macavoy recounts, in detail, what happened at a baseball game he went to with his ex’s father years ago, this doesn’t just tell us about the lingering feelings he has for her, it tells us about how he retains information, holds grudges, and develops wounds unable to heal. It’s vastly informative about the character, and for some people, unpleasantly realistic.

What’s super interesting about Sorkin though, isn’t the incredibly dense language and racing pacing (although I thought the first episode of The Newsroom got severely bogged down during some of Mackenzie’s speeches), it’s his ability to amplify, beyond reality, the importance of things that are already pretty important.

The evening news, for example, is pretty damn important, even in this age of cable and the Internet. It sets the media agenda through trickle-down into other mediums and broadcasts; even if it doesn’t reach an audience directly in the same way it used to, it absolutely reaches an audience indirectly with remarkably similar power. The linkages between TV broadcast tonality on the economy and the Consumer Confidence Index, for example is marked, and news tonality in fact usually leads the CCI by a couple of weeks. When the news tells people it’s bad out there, people decide it’s bad.

Yet, despite this, Sorkin’s romanticism makes the news somehow even more important in his world. Some of that is a result of the breaking news pacing, but a lot of that, in the case of this show, is in the initial set up. As Patty said to me tonight so succinctly after I made her watch Macavoy’s initial statistical tirade, “Does America really care what happens at some random J-school forum?”

Well, no. But… but it could! Right?!?!? Sorkin convinces us his world could be, and perhaps even should be, true, even as we all know better. His fantasies remind us that we know better.

The West Wing, in some ways, is an even better example of this exaggeration of importance. What could be more important to Americans than the US presidency? Well, a lot, actually, and I don’t even have to make a catty remark about American Idol for that to be true. The American presidency is not nearly as central to the thoughts of most people most days as The West Wing makes its viewers feel, and that’s one hell of writing trick, creating a show in which the only sensible response is to say it’s blowing the US presidency out of proportionate significance.

So, despite many very rough edges both in execution and content, I think I am totally on board for The Newsroom. I may or may not write about it much here, as it’s not a particularly symbolic world, and we know how I love that, but I’m interested in its existence, both because it shares so much in common with many of the other things I write about here and because my original degree is in journalism.

The Newsroom is a backstage story. It’s about performance, competition, awkward people, and the fiercely, unpleasantly ambitious. It’s about romance. And, even without symbolism, it is about mythology — American mythology: newsmen, politics, and baseball.

It’s about the business of the truth, but it’s also about our lies. Like Glee, I suspect it will require us to do as much work, if not more, than its creators to make it work in the contexts we want — or even need — it to work in. But, like Glee, I suspect that work may be a lot of fun, at least for me.

Did anyone else out there tune in?