The “West Wing” as Civics101

I arrived today in Budapest for a course called Media, Democratization and Civil Society. Its put on by UPenn Annenberg School of Communications and Central European University.

I’m really excited about it and will be posting about it (maybe live blogging a little, too) over the next couple of weeks.

There was a lot of required readings (most of which were not posted to the course’s website until a couple of days ago), so I spent a large part of the plane trip making my way through the 4 inch stack of papers.

I have to say, I have really enjoyed these readings! With the exception of one (which just got a little too ethereal for my poor tired brain at 10,000 feet) I have found myself getting excited about the content!

I was planning on writing about some of them, but of course I left them upstairs and my roommate is sleeping, so I;ll have to write in more detail tomorrow. But one that was interesting was from Politicotainment; Television’s Take on the Real (Popular Culture and Everyday Life) by Kristina Reigert.

One of the chapters dealt with the tv show, The West Wing, and studies how (or if) it affected American’s perceptions of the White House or of American politics in general. The chapter goes into interesting detail of just what made the West Wing so interesting, not only as an entertaining story, but also as a study of politics. And, would that study be lost on the viewing audience?

For the most part, people did feel like they learned a little more about American politics, and even though there’s no indication that the West Wing was responsible for people voting for the first time, or changin majors to polisci.

But the West Wing did make clear the struggle between ideology and pragmatic politics. Often characters were enthusiastic about a certain issue, but would run into roadblocks before they could veto the bill, or stay an execution, or bomb another country… They would deal with the roadblocks as best as they could, but more times than not, the next week those issues just kind of disappeared.

An interesting study the author did was to catalog (during the first four seasons) all of the ideological goals  that the Bartlett administration had (often given to the audience through arguments between characters or monologues). Then the author compared it the number of “solutions” to the problems.

Let just say, the show wasn’t about getting results, it just talked about getting them.

How the show dealt with foreign policy was particularly interesting. For a long time there was no foreign policy team. No advisors from the State Dept, no Secretary of State – there was just Leo and the Joint Chiefs. That changed after the show started focusing on more foreign affairs issues in some of the later seasons. The show had 2 fictional countries – the Republic of Kundhu (Rwanda) and Qumar ( an Afghanistan of sorts)- and it used these to portray atrocities such as genocide and some terrorism.

But the show also names real countries, and lambasts them – Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, to name a few. The monology from CJ was one piece of script that was examined in this chapter:

So how about it, did you ever feel like you learned something from the West Wing? Or felt closer to American politics? Or felt like you understood the nature of politics a little better?


2 responses to “The “West Wing” as Civics101

  1. I learned a lot from the West Wing in terms of the rules regarding public disclosure and succession. I definitely learned more about the nature of politics in terms of all the posturing that goes on behind the scenes, even among supposed allies. And I sooooooooo wanted to be CJ….

  2. Hee-hee! CJ rocked! I just thought it would be fun to have such fast paced conversations with all your colleagues every day.
    Which reminds me, there is a funny parody from MadTV on the West Wing…

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