I’m late to the The Newsroom party, but not as late as I was to The West Wing. The West Wing was quite a show, and among other things, I was highly titillated by the walk and talks, the snappy dialogue, the impossible-to-be-real witticisms. I was one of those about whom Thomas Schlamme said, “They say they hate our politics, but love the show.”
Actually, I didn’t hate the politics. I just disagreed with some of them. Where some people agreed with the politics, they seemed not to like the dialogue. They thought it just wasn’t realistic, and that it was turn-off, and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But I thought that the dialogues were realistic – we just don’t often operate at that level, though perhaps we should. I think that’s one of Aaron Sorkin’s morals in the series. Do better (better angels).
Anyway, they were entertaining to this viewer.
We (my wife and I, and our housemate) just watched the “Bullies” episode of The Newsroom, which comes to a head when Will McAvoy berates a black, gay man, Sutton Walls, on primetime television for advising the campaign of Rick Santorum. Santorum, of course, is against gay marriage in real life …and on the show. (I think this point is not as obvious as it seems).
The line of McAvoy’s questioning suggests that Walls has failed an implicit ethic that he should never support or work for a candidate who opposes gay rights. Doing so makes him a traitor to the cause.
Finally, Walls dispenses with his canned responses and forbearance and turns on McAvoy with a fury. How dare McAvoy, Walls wants to know, decide for him what is important to his life and what is not? How dare McAvoy make him nothing more than “black” and “gay”? And he throws back the charge that McAvoy assumed he was immune to – stop being so narrow-minded.
One can almost feel Walls’ breath, his unconscious perturbations in space and time, coming through the screen.
And this is something like what I mean by being wholesome.
Or, as the poet Marc Barnes has said elsewhere, you are not a walking erection. You are not your genitalia.
The best demonstration of wholesomeness I have seen – that I have the privilege of seeing – is in young children. They are not yet left-handed or right-handed, not yet defined by sexuality, not yet even defined by religion or lack thereof. (Ours are baptized, as fits children of Catholic parents, but none of them would tell you that he or she is Catholic)*. They are not even defined, not really, by their likes and dislikes (the credit or blame for which probably falls on their parents). Our eldest does not like tomatoes, but she is not defined as “she-who-does-not-like-tomatoes”.
In fact, none of this makes any sense to them. I dare to say that when you ask them to think self-reflectively, the thing that comes next in their minds is best described as “essence.” They can only conceive, vaguely, that they exist, and that they think and do and feel certain things. They could tell you about their family and friends, their social happenstance. And then – at least if my memory serves me – the rest is pure potency.
They are whole persons, and not the sum of their parts (which sum always seems to add up to less than a whole person).
But ask many people today, and you’ll get descriptors flattened out and sterilized – political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, gender. You will hear them listed like height, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. They don’t describe a person, they describe 3/10 of a caricature. No one brings their biologically significant statistics to a first date or a job interview; nor should they walk around as though their socially “significant” statistics are at all indicative of the kind of person they are, or the kinds of things they would die for, or the true content of beliefs they hold.
You are – in all likelihood – sexual, but you are not only sexual. Only the fool, or the coward, or worse, the devil, emphasizes it beyond proportion. Sutton Walls understood this, and I admire him, even if he’s fictional. He’s at least one person speaking the truth, even if we need to remove him from reality to give him a platform. (The irony – that he’s actually a caricature, properly defined, doing better at speaking the truth than real persons – is not lost).
And circling back to the fictitious Mr. Walls – why was he supporting Santorum, anyway? He was crusading against abortion. He said, with all possible fire and conviction, that he believed as strongly as Santorum did about abortion, and he would fight to protect the rights of the unborn. What do we make of a gay, black, pro-life man?
Make this of him – he is a whole person. Even if Walls does not exist, that man does. You have not, by identifying three characteristics, somehow portrayed the whole man.
I know that particular line – the stance against abortion – merely comes from the pen of Aaron Sorkin; it also comes from the heart of men like me, “white” and “straight,” who try to be complete human beings. It speaks of recognizing personhood.
*I hope it will not be interpreted that I am wishy-washy about religious education. Why would I believe what I do, unless I thought it was the truth? If I think it’s the truth, why wouldn’t I tell my children about it? But my point is that we do not emphasize beyond proportion that we are Catholic, and that children do not innately gravitate toward a religious identification. Though…if I may extend the footnote…they may implicitly gravitate toward a catholic – in the sense of universal – religious sensitivity.