So first, I was going to spend way too much time rewriting this ranking of Sorkin characters by the Vulture. The Santoses are missing, Sportsnight’s Natalie deserved better, Dan Rydell doesn’t deserve quite as high a spot, Timothy Busfield was hilarious as Cal, and the bromance from Studio 60 should really be its own character.
But then I read this interview piece that Sarah Nicole Prickett did with the Sorkinator himself and damn.
At first, I was undersold by Prickett’s deft aligning of the What About The Menz camp with Sorkin’s choice of writing subjects (generals, presidents, network execs..men in “top down” power dynamics). I thought her prose felt a little too escalated for what, after all, is still “just a TV show.”
As many of us (who watch HBO, at least) long ago stopped believing in God, a God who for all Christian and capitalistic intents and purposes was male, it could not be much longer before we also stopped believing in things as theistic as neutrality and objectivity and omnipotence in journalism. I do not want us to stop believing in heroes; only in heroes who think, as Sorkin’s heroes think, they’re truth-raining gods.
But then she kept illustrating Sorkin’s sense of the Truthiness Mission of his work…beauty may be truth, but does that mean art always is? And then it became obvious that Sorkin’s patronizing interruption to ask whether she watched the pilot of “The Newsroom” twice because she liked it or because she “didn’t understand it” should have been waaaay more of a tipoff than it was. Even for me, who has been asked/mansplained more times than I can count about things I GET, I just don’t LIKE.
For some inexplicable reason, Sorkin chose to close the interview with the pull quote heard round the world, followed by the echoing strains of a million feminist foreheads being slapped in unison:
“Listen here, Internet girl,” he says, getting up. “It wouldn’t kill you to watch a film or pick up a newspaper once in a while.” I’m not sure how he’s forgotten that I am writing for a newspaper; looking over the publicist’s shoulder, I see that every reporter is from a print publication (do not see: Drew Magary). I remind him. I say also, factually, “I have a New York Times subscription and an HBO subscription. Any other advice?”
He looks surprised, then high-fives me. Being not a person who high-fives or generally makes physical contact with interview subjects, I look more surprised.
“I’m sick of girls who don’t know how to high-five,” he says. He makes me try to do it “properly,” six times. He also makes me laugh; I’m nervous, and it’s so absurd. He loves it. He says, “Let me manhandle you.” Then he ambles off, hoping I’ll write something nice, as though he has never known how the news works, how many stories can be true.
I would like to skillfully high-five Pickett for not losing her shit. Had I gotten the chance to interview Aaron Sorkin, whose shows I watch like bibles on How To TV Effectively, I would have probably been too star-struck to really let him have it in person, but I would have wanted to write something way more blistering and way less noble than she has written.
Sorkin’s dismissal of her as an internet “girl” because she mentioned Gawker is demeaning enough. His assumption that because she is a girl who has heard of this fellow, Gawker, means she doesn’t read…is bizarre. His decision to high-five a reporter for passing his Informed Citizen Test, could have been ok in a completely different context (but probably not).
Making her do it 6 times to correct her form, and saying the word “manhandle” like it is something she is obligated to allow him to do? Good fucking lord. That is not a TV thing, not a writer thing, not a famous thing, that is just an arrogant asshole dude thing.
If Aaron Sorkin was a character on one of his own shows, he wouldn’t get to be Josh Lyman or Matt Albee or even Casey McCall. He’d be the asshole football player who “manhandled” Natalie after exposing himself to her and then swaggered into her workplace to taunt her with it.
I’d rank that even further down the complete list than that fashion journalist on the West Wing who kept commenting on CJ’s suits during a shooting crisis.
Sorkin is just damn lucky that actresses of really high calibers are willing to come be in his shows, to develop the women of the TV studio and the political office with force, intelligence and humor. Because it seems like maybe Sorkin doesn’t actually think women are capable of exhibiting all three on our own.