Friday, February 29, 2008

I'm Right, You're Left, She's Gone...

I’ve been watching the West Wing a lot recently. By a lot I mean every hour that I’m not sleeping or boozing. When it first came out I was at school and I didn’t have anything like the free time to watch an episode at the same time every week but now, thanks to my casual approach to voluntary lectures, I’ve been able to watch two seasons of West Wing (totalling just shy of a day and a half solid viewing time) in two days and I’ve emerged on the other side slightly confused.

For starters it’s a great show. The writing is so fast that you wonder whether the writers were sitting in a room with burnsen burners placed directly under their arses which were turned to full power if they didn’t produce another hilarious, historical and relevant fact about Truman for the script. Actually, it’s not writers but writer. Creator and all round nutjob Aaron Sorkin wrote pretty much every screenplay for the first four seasons which isn’t that impressive until you watch a few episodes and realise that this man must have a brain that’s more greased and wired than a cyborg Lance Armstrong bike-thing.

You do end up feeling slightly sorry for the Republicans though. The wonderfully partisan nature of American politics means that all the apparently free-thinking, liberal types in Hollywood have to be democratic. The number of contributions to the Democrat Party from Hollywood stars is endless, while the only Republican celebrities I can think of are Kelsey Grammar and Chuck Norris, a disparate group at best, most likely to decapitate you with a roundhouse kick whilst making witty comments comparing the colour of your blood to a fine Italian Merlot.

This means that the politics of the West Wing is so far to the left it’s gone completely full-circle and obliterated any semblance of sound right-wing policies. All the characters are portrayed as heroic, virtuous types who spunk out world-saving ideas on a weekly basis and rarely put a foot wrong. Even when they’re assassinating ambassadors from friendly nations who are suspected terrorists or lying to the public about the President having a serious illness, the moral weight of the script is behind the main characters so you end up supporting them through whatever pickle they’ve got themselves into.

Meanwhile the Republicans are portrayed as absolute bastards who get kicks out of handing guns to children and spitting on poor people. The Republican/Democrat divide is shown to be on the one hand people that care and just want to give peace a chance, while on the other full of crazy Christian rednecks who wouldn’t understand liberalism if it sauntered up and kissed them upside the cranium with an aluminium baseball bat.

But hang on, wait a minute. I’m no expert on American politics mainly because I don’t live there and can’t vote (and yet suffer as a direct result of America’s foreign policy decisions) but I’ve seen pictures of Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and John McCain and I’ve subconsciously absorbed a lot of the technical jargon that flies around on the West Wing and something worries me slightly. In fact it’s not just a thing with American politics but given the climate I’ll talk about it in that context.

There must be an answer to this but I’m too lazy to work it out so can someone please explain why ideas like free-market economies and the rights of the individual have to be hijacked by bastards who also believe the Earth is five thousand years old and that freedom to express yourself sexually is the Devil’s Work, while those who want to legislate and tax people back to the stone age tend to be much more free-thinking and open-minded when it comes to society?

I’m not saying it’s true in every case, you get moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats, but in terms of perception of right and left wing politics it seems to be true. It puts me in a nightmare position because whenever I tell people that I believe in right-wing politics they tend to look at me like I’m about to don a swastika and start beating up anyone who doesn’t look like me, although for some reason when people tell me that they’re on the left I don’t presume they’re about to slaughter millions of their own people and send the rest to the gulags.

Anyway, the point is that I believe in the right of the individual and free-market economics meaning that the government is there on a minimal level purely to protect individual rights through the law and levy the occasional moderate tax in order to protect those who can’t protect themselves. Beyond that, the state is a bloated, bureaucratic, statistic driven, poll mad mess that hinders more than it helps.

However, and I can’t stress this enough, this does not mean that I’m sexist, homophobic, racist, religious or just wish that everything was the same as it was 1000 years ago before all those damn immigrants arrived. Why is it that the right-wing is loaded up with these self-righteous pricks when surely the ideas of individual liberty and minimal state intervention would lead one down the jaunty liberal path of an individual being entitled to do whatever the hell they want as long as they don’t harm anyone else?

I don’t know, I guess I’d vote Democrat if I had a choice because I’d rather be a weak leftie liberal than a racist hardcore conservative but either way I’d be unhappy. It’s the danger of media politics and the problem that I’m suffering from right now. If there were more of an actual, practical interest in politics and the way governments shape our lives then perhaps the unnecessary stigmas of the left and right could be forgotten. But as it is, when bombarded with soundbytes and stereotypical views of hippies on one side and rednecks on the other it becomes more of an intuitive decision than a well thought out declaration of political views.

I wonder if it’s possible to vote for the Democrats but insist that they take on the Republican economic plans? Or vote Republican but only on the condition that they stop going on about this abortion and God horseshit? I neither know nor care, it’s just that politics seems to be so bloody central in the UK nowadays that I have to start worrying about it in other countries. Here’s an example of how rubbish our politics is: the US gets the West Wing, we get the Thick Of It.


Lucy said...

And 'Yes, Minister'. Both of which are awesome shows. All they tell us compared to the West Wing is that we're much more realistic and self-deprecating. Which we knew anyway, 'cos we're British, and, well, we don't really have the right to big ourselves up, y'know, um, sorry...

Devil's Kitchen said...

Vote Democrat? Pah! I'd vote for the third biggest party: the Libertarian Party...