If you don’t like ‘The West Wing,’ who cares what you think?

If you don't like 'The West Wing,' you don't like America.

If you don’t like ‘The West Wing,’ you don’t like America.

Saw this in the Post this morning. The headline grabbed me: “A modest defense of ‘The West Wing’.”

First, it grabbed me because I’ll read anything about “The West Wing.” Ask Google; it knows this, based on the items it keeps showing me. Second, it grabbed me because someone thought it necessary to defend “The West Wing.” Finally, my mind was boggled by the idea that someone who thought it needed defending would would do so only modestly.

As I said on Twitter:

So anyway, I read the piece, and was not mollified. You can tell why from the subhed: “The show was not perfect, but it’s way better than 2019 Democrats remember it.”

Not perfect? Say, whaaaat?

First, my scorn was engaged because the people who criticize the show are apparently the kids who think AOC is cool, and conventional postwar liberalism sucks. They’re the ones who have no tolerance of anyone who disagrees with them about anything. They look forward to getting 50 percent plus 1 so they can cram their policy proposals down the world’s throat, and they blame their elders for having thus far failed to do that. They’re the ones who, laughably, think they discovered social justice and are qualified to lecture people who were alive in the ’60s about it.

They’re the ones who…

… minor digression here…

I’ve been watching the new Ken Burns series about country music, and thinking about writing about it, pondering what I like and don’t like about it (for instance, it concerns me that it only seems interested in Country as an economic phenomenon, starting with the first practitioners to have success with radio and recording, largely ignoring the centuries of folkways that went before). But before writing about it, I was curious what others were thinking. So when I saw there was a review on Slate, I eagerly read it.

The reviewer also has a problem with it. The problem is that it’s made by Ken Burns, “and his compulsion to transform conflict and difficulty into visions of reconciliation and unity is vintage white baby boomer liberalism.”

Oh, give it a rest, kids. That constitutes an argument?

Anyway, it’s people like that with whom the writer in the Post is remonstrating, oh, so gently.

And again, it needs no defense. The only question is, is “West Wing” the greatest TV show ever, or does something else edge it out?

I come down on the side of “greatest ever.” Or at least, greatest drama. Or at least, greatest drama ever in the last 20 years, this Golden Age.

As I said before, the Top Five are:

  1. “The West Wing”
  2. “Band of Brothers”
  3. “The Sopranos”
  4. “The Wire”
  5. “Breaking Bad”

At least, those were the Top Five, back in June. Since then, Bryan got me to start watching “Friday Night Lights,” and I’m really enjoying it (in spite of the, you know, football theme) during my morning workouts on the elliptical. In fact, I’m now in the middle of the 5th season, and sorry that it will be ending soon.

When it does, I’ll report back on whether it makes the Top Five. But I’ll tell you, “Breaking Bad” may be in trouble…

But will it make the Top Five?

It’s great, and I’m really digging it, but will it make the Top Five?

29 thoughts on “If you don’t like ‘The West Wing,’ who cares what you think?

  1. Bill

    It sounds like Burns is doing to country what he did with jazz(Wynton Marsalis’ version):Highly biased revisionist history,and so much left out,BUT,who else is gonna do it? It’s a good overview.
    Dissing,Glen Cambell will get you nowhere.He recorded the greatest “pop/country” song of all time(remember the importance of rock music in splintering the genre,not the money).Etc,etc:

    1. Barry

      I’ve watched every second of it and it’s excellent. It’s the best thing on tv this year, by far.

      No, it’s not 450 hours long with 3 viewers hanging around to watch it all. It’s a 16 hour documentary that hits on the biggest names (and biggest influencers) in the opinion of Burns, his team, and those he interviewed. It’s not a 16 hour long concert film.

      If someone else wants to make something different. Do it already.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Good points.

        One lesson I take away from it is the meaninglessness of pigeonholing. “Country” music, even strictly defined, is extremely diverse — honky-tonk, bluegrass, Western swing, etc.

        Not only that, but there are SO many points where it touches music that is NOT country by anyone’s definition — R&B, rock, gospel, pop.

        It goes to the point I’m always trying to bring to politics, in my efforts to resist tribalism and polarization — that life is complicated, and people especially so. And if you really stop and study ANY field of human endeavor — politics, music, or whatever — with any depth, you’ll see how grossly misleading convenient labels are….

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Speaking of musical labels, I learned one that was new to me, just the other day.

          I found a reference on Wikipedia to the Beatles’ song “For No One” being a “baroque pop song,” which made me go, “Huh?” Baroque? Maybe “Eleanor Rigby” was baroque, but “For No One?”

          And then I saw “In My Life” wore the same label, even though I don’t think of the two songs as being alike.

          Then I learned that the ultimate purveyors of baroque pop were the Left Banke, and I’ve had “Walk Away Renee” stuck in my head for days. I’d never thought much about it before, but it’s really a beautiful song…

          This is an example of a label actually opening my mind to characteristics that various pieces of music share, seeing things I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, rather than limiting the way I saw things.

          So sometimes labels are useful….

          1. Bill

            Listen closely to George Martin’s harpsichord on ,”In My Life” and McCartney’s clavichord,”For No One” and you’ll get the “baroque” reference…

        2. Barry

          True. The revealing thing about the documentary so far to me- a fan of traditional country and bluegrass music- is that many of the most well known artists were not trying to make “country music.” They were just making music they liked.

  2. Barry

    Btw- a few of the negative reviews of Country Music are laughable. Here is one:

    “In those (later parts of the documentary) stages, the documentary feels less connected to the big picture and more focused on its up-close-and-personal stories.”

    This reviewer admits he knows almost nothing about country music. If he did, he’d realize that a negative point of country music from even some of its biggest traditional stars (George Jones, etc) has been that country music started getting away from its roots starting as early as the late 60s and 70s and especially so in the mid to late 80s.

    If Burns had approached this project from their point of view, it would be unwatchable to the American mass audience. Thank goodness Burns knows his audience.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    I probably should start a separate post about the Country series. But as long as we’re on the subject…

    There was one very personal disappointment for my wife and me in the series so far.

    My wife was born in Jackson, Tennessee. So were our three oldest children, as I spent the first 10 years of my newspaper career at The Jackson Sun. Jackson boasts two famous native sons — Casey Jones and Carl Perkins.

    So imagine our disappointment when Peter Coyote said Carl was “from West Tennessee” instead of “from Jackson.”

    Also… Jacksonians know the story of “Blue Suede Shoes,” and it’s different from the one told in the series. The REAL story, as Carl used to tell it, was that he was at a dance one night in the unfashionable South side of Jackson when he heard a guy being a real jerk to the girl he was dancing with, criticizing and complaining, and among the things he was saying to her was, “Don’t step on my blue suede shoes!”

    So now you know…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And of course Jackson is the subject of the famous duet song most famously sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter.

      Funny thing about that. The song paints Jackson as some sort of wild Sin City, which would have been laughable to someone from Memphis.

      But it’s all a matter of perspective. When we moved to Jackson from Memphis, about a year after we got married, we would still go back to Memphis, where my wife’s family lived, on weekends. We mentioned that to someone from Jackson, and he said he’d never go to Memphis without a gun in his glove compartment, which we thought was pretty silly.

      Later, I’d meet someone from one of the smaller communities in West Tennessee who had the same attitude toward Jackson — just too big and wild and dangerous for that country boy.

      … which fits with the song…

      1. Bill

        I have a 45RPM copy of ,”Jackson” by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood,although you’re more likely to remember the “A”-side,”You Only Live Twice”,the Bond theme by Nancy S.
        Lee Hazlewood never got his due…

      2. Barry

        I have to tell you, Memphis has a bad reputation when it comes to crime and tourists. I travel a lot on my job. Memphis ranks very high on the list of places many, many people tell me to avoid from their own experiences.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, I realize that. Memphis has a lot of problems, and has had them for a long time. But if you’re used to it, you’re used to it.

          I suppose back in those days, it was in some ways even worse. This was before the downtown revitalization. Beale Street was not a tourist destination, the Peabody Hotel was closed, and going down that alley to get to the Rendezvous could seem dicey to the uninitiated.

          Before moving to Jackson, I was a copy boy at The Commercial Appeal, and one of my jobs was to make at least one trek a night — driving one of the little company cars — passing within a block of the Lorraine Hotel, where MLK had been killed just six years earlier — to the main Post Office to pick up a bag of mail for the paper, which I would then bring back and distribute. I’d drive with the window down during that hot summer of 1974, and the hookers on Third Street would call, “Hey, Honey — you want a date?”

          It wasn’t exactly “The Deuce,” but it was pretty seedy.

          It’s not like that now…

          Anyway, the point of my tale was that if you lived in Gibson, Crockett or Carroll counties — or any rural part of the area we called “The Golden Circle” — you thought Jackson was the big, wicked city.

          Which was kind of funny, especially if you were accustomed to Memphis.

          And that’s always increased my enjoyment of the song….

        2. Doug Ross

          I spent most of a year in Memphis a couple years ago. My son has done the same for work at Fedex. Both of us agree it is one of our least favorite places to travel for work… and I’ve been to 49 states and worked 3 months or more in at least 20 of them.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Back to my original rant about “The West Wing.” The guy offering the lame defense, in one of his passages trying to made sure that the loony left still likes him, says:

    To repeat myself, the show was not perfect. Any show that presumes one can fix Social Security in a single episode is taking serious leaps of logic….

    Yeah, people criticize that episode a lot. That’s because they, being ideologues, are incapable of understanding the point of the episode, which is: Toby’s effort to save Social Security is doomed by Josh’s reflexive partisanship. THAT’S the point, as I’ve indicated in the past.

    I did’t think Toby was going to succeed, especially not in a single episode. But it was the sordid way in which his effort was shot down that lingers painfully…

  5. Kathleen

    “The West Wing” speaks for itself; it needs no defense.
    Aren’t you glad you followed up on Bryan’s suggestion? “Friday Night Lights” is definitely on my list and, even though it’s probably a strike against me on the Degree of Southernness Scale, I am not a football fanatic.
    You may have put your finger on the reason I am finding Ken Burns country music a bit flat – incomplete may be a better word. The interest in the economics may have overshadowed some of the non commercial history. I appreciate what he has done, but…..

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m definitely getting a lot out of it, no question. I’m learning things about this popular music form that I did not know previously, because I’ve sort of avoided it all my life.

      One interesting thing he does is constantly bring in the other genres. Like last night, when the show brought up “Ode to Billie Joe,” and my mind did something it has done frequently while watching the series: I thought, THAT’S not a country song.

      And yet, it sort of IS, isn’t it?

      But I heard it so much on pop stations back at the time, and it seemed like dark social commentary or something to me, and it seemed so folky, nothing like the twangy, clangy stuff I thought of as country.

      I hated it, by the way. When I was a kid, I HATED depressing songs. And does anything get more depressing than this one?

      And mysterious. I mean, you SORT OF know what happened, but you also sort of don’t — and the “sort of don’t” part leaves you uneasy. Or it did me, as a kid. It was like, “You mean there’s something MORE depressing than that kid jumping off the bridge?”

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Of course, all of that makes it a country song, although an unusually opaque one.

        And that speaks to why country never appealed to me. Most of the songs tended to be about people who had thoroughly screwed up their lives. And isn’t life stressful enough?…

        1. Bob Amundson

          Your comments remind me of a joke I heard many years ago. What happens when you play a country song backwards? You stop drinking, get your girl back, you get your truck back, you may even get your dog back.


Leave a Reply to Brad Warthen Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *