I have just about finished watching all 7 seasons of The West Wing, which is a fair investment of time for someone who almost never watches television.
One thing I love about good art is when it stops you in your step, when it makes you think differently. The show is one of the few that has reached deep – one of the few that made me really stop. Months after watching an episode I would often still be thinking – even dreaming – about the themes it explored.
One thing the show really opened my eyes to was just how hard it is to be, or work for, the leader of a country. How hard it is to campaign, to negotiate legislation, to get just about anything done. If you think your day gets interupted…! If you think you have a lot on your plate…! The show gave me a lot more respect for the profession than I had had previously. My brother once said to me that he had great respect for Bob Brown - for the years of service he had given to Australia. One of the shows main themes echoes that very sentiment.
I love how the show has so much going on in it – but still manages to squeeze in character development. Like life really – we might have too many balls in the air, but somehow we still manage to fit in friends, families, personal growth. As part of this, the show considers why people in these high stress positions continue to be there – what it is that drives them to be on call at all hours, to sacrifice their families, their health and highly lucrative jobs outside of civil service. Ryan Adam’s song “Desire” plays poignantly in one of my favourite sequences of the series – showing staff members at the end of a long day – reflecting on what they have to come home to.
The show also made me laugh about some of the ridiculous causes out there – like the special interest group focused on getting the world map turned upside down and the alternative energy lobby group who couldn’t decide on a single positive group message that would represent all their interests. And then the negotiations about debate negotiations during an election campaign.
The show reminded me that existential crises I might have are “neither great, nor unique” – as a friend once put it. One of my favourite lines from the show is “Sometimes I think, what if I were at UNICEF or United Way pulling together the AIDS fight, or back in New York turning the public school system around, would that be a more effective use of my 24 hours? Not this. Not pushing on the ocean.”
Pushing at the ocean – a sentiment I’m sure we’ve all felt at some time or another. It’s of some comfort to me that others, even those with great power and ability, have felt the same, and have found it within themselves to keep going.