Sunday, June 5, 2012 was the premier of the fourth episode of HBO’s The Newsroom and we’ve been hearing a lot about it, ironically, from the news media itself. What I’ve come across is a lot of negativity towards the show. Everything from the general premise, the plot devices, and the writing; all held in contempt by reviewers and media persons alike. A television series about the news, in critique of the news media, can certainly be expected to catch a certain amount of flak from aforementioned news media. I am not surprised but I do still believe that we must draw attention to what we can constructively learn from the series, that it does indeed have merit, and that that merit is based on the message the series broadcasts to its viewers.
What it is: Jeff Daniels stars as Will McAvoy, the anchor of a fictional cable news show. The series begins with Mackenzie MacHale starts as the new executive producer on Will’s network, and institutes a new way of doing news with facts, straight, to the point.
John Gallagher Jr., Alison Phil, and Dev Patel join them as supporting staff in the newsroom. Dev Patel making a mind-bending 180 from his former role on Skins. Olivia Munn also appears as Sloan Sabbith, a co-anchor and she is much more enticing playing office politics in dress suits than she ever was pretending to really like videogames.
Together this crew of newsmen and women work to undo what their industry has become; a bloated, ineffective entertainment outlet and it makes for good T.V.
Why I dig it: I wanted to point to a particular review I read in which the author, Michael Wolff, wrote in the role of fact-checker, pointing out the various flaws within the story line of the show’s first episode, which centered around the break in the BP oil spill story. Would I be naïve to question the purpose of an assessment of the truthfulness of a historical fiction piece? I missed the point. The purpose of The Newsroom is to make a statement; to draw attention to the cracks within modern journalism and doing so through our very own world events. The creators of a dramatic television show are allowed some creative license and it should not be the cause of detraction from the show’s following. The Newsroom walks a line between its message and its medium. Nit-picking the facts of the show does not make these issues go away, but if your in Mr. Wolff’s camp here are some facts for you: modern news media is lousy with salacious reporting. It is by and large ineffectual, sensationalist, and generally fails to properly inform the public, (I am specifically thinking of the media’s coverage of politicians and their antics rather than their philosophies). The show brings these issues into focus and will continue to do so as the season progresses.
Next I challenge Mark Lashley, who writes for that rag we’ve all been duped into calling news, The Huffington Post. Mr. Lashley agrees that the show isn’t that bad, which I should point out. His issue lies with the beginning of the first episode, in which the main character unleashes a diatribe upon college students for assuming America is the greatest country in the world and it makes Mr. Lashley uncomfortable. Here it is in its entirety for your reading pleasure, but I highly recommend watching it at some point, (the performances are spot –on and smart).
“And with a straight face you’re going to tell students that America is so star spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world that have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, BELGIUM has freedom.
So, 207 sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.
And you, sorority girl, just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day there’s some things you should know. One of them is there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, Number 4 in labor force and Number 4 in exports, we lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.
Now none of this is the fault of a 20 year old college student, but you none the less are without a doubt a member of the worst period generation ever, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Yosemite?
It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chests. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men, we aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior.
We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed, by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. Enough?”
He describes the monologue as “suspiciously statistic” as if numbers can lie. The reality is that the figures given by Jeff Daniel’s character are correct, and they speak volumes to where America is.
With statistics like that, how can you argue that we are not? What is it? We’ve been the greatest country for so long and we are having a hard time admitting it to ourselves that we may, in fact, not be anymore. The damning monologue should be seen as a wake up call, it should slap you into focus, it should invoke a visceral reaction, and it should make you think. If it does none of those things for you, if you feel insulted, cheated, or outraged you may need to stop and think critically; try arguing with your TV. Like it or not, America is a broken thing that is in dire need of fixing. What the show does is highlight this phenomenon taking place right here, right now. That is why I wanted to bring the show to everyone’s attention. It’s wonderfully done and has a truly powerful message for us. It’s a how that makes us think which is ultimately the real purpose of the entertainment we consume; to transmit thoughts, ideas, and concepts. The Newsroom has something great to offer us and I’d hate for you to miss out on it.
Graeme likes telling you what you like and more of his ramblings can be read on Twitter: @Mad_God