THE BACKLASH ERA: SMELLING SORKIN BLOOD
The knives are out. With the bloodlust-crazed Twitter lynch mob prowling the streets, fresh blood must be provided. It has been several days since Adam Carolla offered himself as a human sacrifice so a new victim was needed. And there is no more backlash-ready target than America’s Bard of Smug and Safely-Distant Meritocracy, Aaron Sorkin.
As this blog has previously noted, sometime in the past year our society crossed over from the Hype Era to The Backlash Era. The Hype Era began roughly circa Snakes on a Plane and was a time when society was guided by clusters of self-enclosed social media powered echo chambers cheering on the film, tv show, band, candidate, fragrance or resurrected icon of their choice. During the Hype Era, the enthusiasm became the object in itself; the excitement the echo chambers showed for their various fetish objects came completely unmoored from the reality of those objects. With social media creating a cacophony wherein opposing views were drowned out to those in a chamber, the enthusiasms found no natural predators and grew on their own gasses.
Eventually, however, the walls of the echo chambers had to crack. From the inside, they rotted as the hangover from the enthusiasms kicked in; the sordid, banal realities seen in the cold light of day made yesterday’s hype feel like an ill-advised binge. Looking themselves in the mirror after their walk of shame, the Hypesters swore never, ever again. And simultaneously, from the outside, the tools emerged to make sure no Hype could go unanswered. Twitter with its micro-messages at first seemed the nearly the next generation of Hype Era machinery, but very quickly it became clear that the 140-character format was much better suited for rapid-fire take down than sustaining excitement. The Twitter masses became a roving lynch mob, demanding the heads of anyone who strayed from reigning orthodoxy, anyone who looked boring or foolish or like a loser.
The turning point came in early 2011. We can date the birth of the backlash era to the brief period when Twitter claimed two skulls, bringing down journalist Nir Rosen for his remarkable comments about the assault on CBS’s Lara Logan, shortly followed by the delivery of designer John Galliano’s head on a platter for his publicly shared pro-Hitler sentiments.
A transitional period followed running roughly Feb 2011 to June 2012 where the Hype Era and the Backlash Era co-existed, wound together in what quickly became a familiar Hype/Backlash cycle. However with the forces of the Backlash Era gaining strength, the co-existence fell away as the reaction soon outpaced the original hype. As previously noted, we have entered a period when there is no good publicity. All attention, becoming hype, provokes a Backlash even greater than the inciting enthusiasm. This is a time when the best a new product launch, a Presidential campaign or a television debut can hope for is to come onto the public stage almost unnoticed. We have referred to this as the LDP (or Lou Diamond Phillips) strategy.
Enter stage left, Aaron Sorkin; a writer/producer for whom the concept “Below the Radar” would be as foreign as shooting his scripts in Esperanto. Dripping with self-regard, a self-styled member of America’s “elite”, Sorkin parades through the streets of the Backlash era like a giant water buffalo strolling through a town suffering from famine. Worse still, today’s projects ride on the heels of yesterday’s hype. No dramatic film was a greater darling of The Hype Era than Social Network, which across the internet was declared the greatest film ever made, moments after its release. The hangover from that love fest still lingers.
And so, before it has even aired, Sorkin’s Newsroom has become the first true launch of the Backlash era, denied even the Hype/Backlash loop on its own, it has been instantly and savagely trashed across the internet by America’s finest television critics.
The question arises, however, perhaps this is just critics responding to objective reality. Perhaps Newsroom is that bad and Girls was that good and the critics are merely calling it as they see it. And the fact that they ALL see it exactly the same and proclaim it damned as one merely proves how bad it really is.
Perhaps. I saw the first episode and it was often bad with some good moments. It was objectively not at all a trainwreck but had ominous signs aplenty. The critical establishment however, has viewed the first four episodes and it is installments 3 and 4, which I have not seen, that take the heaviest artillery barrage. However, the fact is that prior to the Backlash Era, in fact prior to the Hype Era, the idea of “giving shows time to find themselves” was the rallying cry of television intellectuals, who decried instant cancellations, recognizing that shows often floundered and flailed before they finally found their footing. Even after four episodes, it is almost impossible to know how a show will be at the end of its first season, let alone at the end of its fifth. A show that is horrible in its opening episodes can easily spot its faults and still have plenty of time to set itself straight. On the other hand, the elements which make a show seem spell-binding four episodes in, if they do not evolve, become completely tiresome six hours later. There are rare exceptions where the show is such a breathtaking departure that the future does seem pre-ordained. On the negative side, John From Cincinnati was so bizarre in a not-fun way that by the fourth installment, it was impossible to see a path to high ground. On the positive, The Sopranos was instantly such a tonal departure that it created a new genre almost at first sight. On the other hand, the pilot of Seinfeld is so uneven and awkward that it is nearly unwatchable…
But now there is the need, in The Backlash Era, to be the first to declare the show a disaster, to set down the definitive reading of its faults and declare it DOOMED. I’ve got no objection to people disliking Newsroom. In the end, I probably will too. I am no Sorkin defender (except for Moneyball). However, I would say this, anyone who declares a show either The Best or The Worst of the anything after four episodes, does not know their television history, does not understand the potential of television as a responsive, adaptable medium and thus has no business working as a television critic.
But in the Backlash Era, no exceptions are allowed. No possibilities of redemption or mixed reviews can be tolerated. Aaron Sorkin would have been far better off writing this show under a pseudonym and rolling it out at 2 AM Tuesday mornings. Once the Twitterati and their storm troopers doing their work across old media have weighed in, no second hearing is possible.