Seriously, what happened? When did he become a proponent of the “Great Men” theory of history?
Okay, in some ways, Sorkin has always written about men. From A Few Good Men and The American President and from Sports Night to The Newsroom, Sorkin has always had male leads, but they used to work for and with powerful women.
The leads of Sports Night are the anchors, but the sports show belongs to Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman). It’s her show, and she’s the one who lives and dies by the show’s success. The leads are, in a way, just the pretty faces. And the driving force for justice in A Few Good Men isn’t Tom Cruise’s Lt. Kaffee, who just wants to slack off. It’s Demi Moore’s Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway, who presses for a fair trial against the wishes of basically everyone.
But something’s happened. Some time between The West Wing and The Newsroom, Sorkin stopped writing women. He stopped writing women that matter. Women are barely in The Social Network or Moneyball. Amanda Peet’s Jordan McDeere was the nominal boss in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip but her storylines reduced to her to “love interest,” and “mother.” And Sarah Paulson’s Harriet Hayes, the nominal star of the show within the show, was “love interest” and “mouthpiece/straw man for conservative views”.
And now we have The Newsroom. And Warren Ellis’s piece on the pilot is pretty goddamn damning. The Newsroom opens with Jeff Daniel’s Will McAvoy launching into a polemic against a college student he calls “sorority girl,” that praises, literally, “great men.” What. The. Fuck. Aaron? Is this your hero? Bitching out a college woman for asking an admittedly stupid question isn’t talking truth to power. It’s bullying. It’s punching down.
The last time you wrote a speech with that kind of hateful rhetoric, praising the great men who made America great and deserve, demand your respect, that was for Colonel Jessup. Remember him? The one who thought we couldn’t handle the truth? That was the bad guy in A Few Good Men. The one we hated. The one that felt we should promote women because “there’s nothing sexier than a woman you have to salute in the morning.” And then you realize that Sorkin has never written a female boss who is just allowed to be the boss. She’s always someone the male lead, the great man, is trying to fuck.
If I thought that The Newsroom was the story of McAvoy’s humbling, of his misogynistic bullshit being exploded every day by the team of women he relies on, then maybe maybe maybe I’d be on board. But every indication is that Sorkin actually believes his own bullshit. Read this interview, where he literally tells a newspaper reporter, “Listen here, Internet girl, it wouldn’t kill you to watch a film or pick up a newspaper once in a while.” That’s the pull quote, but more damning is his assumption that the only reason that a woman might watch the pilot twice was because she loved it, or she didn’t understand it. Not because, you know, she’s a television reporter and that’s her goddamn job.
Again. What the fuck? When did Aaron Sorkin become Colonel Jessup? When did Sorkin decide that what was wrong with America is that Great Men stopped being in charge? Or that the Great Men in charge weren’t getting the respect they deserve?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the man who created C.J. Craig and Sydney Ellen Wade is still there. Maybe we’ve all just caught him on a bad day. But right now, and I mean right the fuck now, Sorkin needs to write a female lead. Someone who is powerful for being powerful, not sexy for being powerful or powerful for being sexy. A woman who wants to change the world, not by influencing the Great Men around her, but by being a Great Woman all on her own.
It’s 2012, Aaron. Could you please, please, please, be as progressive as you were twenty years ago when JoAnne Galloway called Auny Ginny to get herself put on the case? That’s all I ask.