The Autumn of '99: Sometimes, you just have to chuckle.
Wisely, that's the way we chose to react to the material shown below.
This is the way David Sims started his peculiar interview piece in the Atlantic last month. Sims is describing Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird:
SIMS (12/17/19): ...Sorkin’s dramatization of Harper Lee’s novel, which opened on Broadway last December, is an unexpectedly probing work that refuses to let an American classic go unchallenged. Instead, it stages two trials: One is from the book, in which Scout’s attorney father, Atticus Finch, defends Tom Robinson, an African American man accused of rape in 1930s Alabama, and tries to combat the community’s entrenched racism.Some of that passage is perhaps a bit too fuzzy to parse.
In Sorkin’s play, the other trial is of Atticus’s own nobility, and how it doesn’t always square with his grander vision of justice. Though the adaptation broadly follows the narrative arc of Lee’s novel, it uses Scout, her brother Jem, and her friend Dill (all played by adult actors) to cast a wary eye over some of the book’s more idealistic details. That framing encourages the audience to ponder the limits of Atticus’s impulse to empathize even with vile racists such as Bob Ewell, a man who’s trying to pin his own assault of his daughter Mayella on Tom. The play beefs up the relatively anonymous parts given to black characters in Lee’s work, gives Atticus’s kids a more argumentative nature, and sheds harsher light on the book’s somewhat pat ending.
The stage adaptation is nonetheless made with appreciation for Lee’s novel, and that mix of homage and update has translated into a family-friendly Broadway hit...
"Atticus’s nobility doesn’t always square with his grander vision of justice?" Even after reading the full interview piece, we don't really know what that means.
Meanwhile, does Sorkin's Broadway adaptation "cast a wary eye over some of the book’s more idealistic details?" Presumably, that fuzzy formulation means that Sorkin is looking askance at "Atticus’s impulse to empathize even with vile racists such as Bob Ewell."
Rather plainly, the impulse to empathize with Ewell doesn't exist in Lee's famous book. But neither do many other actions and attitudes which Sorkin seems to have placed in his "family-friendly Broadway hit" which, we're told in that passage by Sims, "is made with appreciation for Lee's novel."
Does Lee's novel actually end with Atticus Finch covering up the murder of Bob Ewell? Does Ewell get murdered at all?
It would take a very strange person to understand Lee's novel that way, but Sorkin and Sims excitedly voiced these very strange thoughts before their session was through. And despite Sorkin's "appreciation" for Lee's book, he makes other vast rearrangements in the basic events of the book, as we've been noting all week.
Today, we'll quickly note one more. In Sorkin's adaptation, Bob Ewell apparently rapes his teenage daughter, an act for which Tom Robinson is accused and convicted, and dies.
Does Bob Ewell rape his daughter, Mayella Ewell, in Sorkin's "adaptation?" So several reviewers explicitly say in their reviews of the play.
That said, no one gets raped in the Harper Lee's actual book. But once Sorkin decided that Atticus Finch reminded him of Donald J. Trump, he apparently set out to create a family-friendly, hall-of-mirrors version of the famous novel.
Bob Ewell gets murdered after raping his daughter! Atticus dumbly convinces Tom Robinson to renounce the plea deal which would have saved his life!
And not only that! In the actual words of the overwrought Sorkin, the Atticus Finch of Harper Lee's novel "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists."
In short, Sorkin seems to have created a version of To Kill A Mockingbird on acid. Most significantly, it seems to us that you have to be very dumb to believe the various strange things this guy has said along the way.
In fairness, no animals died in the course of adapting Harper Lee's novel. But what does it mean when our major cultural and political figures seem to be so dumb?
Sorkin strikes us as quite limited. For example, it seems to us that he completely misses the moral arc of Lee's intertwined (fictional) stories when he tells Sims this:
"Atticus isn’t the protagonist in the book or the movie; Scout is—her flaw is that she’s young, and the change is that she loses some of her innocence."In Lee's novel, Scout doesn't just lose some of her innocence; she gains a deeply important understanding, an understanding which escapes many of Maycomb's adults.
At the end of the book, she comes to see that Boo Radley is an actual person. He isn't a figment of her imagination, or a source for the childish fantasies she and her childhood companions have always spawned.
Boo Radley's an actual person! This understanding escapes many of the town's white adults with respect to the scary, dumb stories they tell themselves about their black fellow citizens, including the innocent person who gets convicted of a capital crime.
That's the moral arc of the book's two intertwined narrative threads. Scout comes to see something very important. On the whole, her town's white adults do not.
Sorkin seems to have missed this. Setting such denigrations to the side, let's move ahead to The Autumn of '99.
What does it mean? What does it mean when our culture's most influential thought leaders are simple-minded, substantially limited in their insights, perhaps even just a bit dumb?
What does it mean when our Sorkins are so dumb that they can read To Kill A Mockingbird and think it ends with Bob Ewell's murder? Among other things, it means that our major thought leaders were doing things like this in The Autumn of '99:
Sorkin conceived the political drama The West Wing in 1997 when he went unprepared to a lunch with producer John Wells and in a panic pitched to Wells a series centered on the senior staff of the White House, using leftover ideas from his script for The American President. He told Wells about his visits to the White House while doing research for The American President, and they found themselves discussing public service and the passion of the people who serve. Wells took the concept and pitched it to the NBC network, but was told to wait because the facts behind the Lewinsky scandal were breaking and there was concern that an audience would not be able to take a series about the White House seriously. When a year later some other networks started showing interest in The West Wing, NBC decided to greenlight the series despite their previous reluctance. The pilot debuted in the fall of 1999 and was produced by Warner Bros. Television.Sorkin and West Wing met cute! He pitched the show "using leftover ideas from his script for The American President," a family-friendly, sit-commy film about life inside the White House.
In The Autumn of '99, Sorkin debuted his next collection of family-friendly TV fare. As he did so, a lynch mob was running through the streets of Washington and New York—a mob which would send George W. Bush to the White House, plus Donald Trump sixteen years later.
Hillary Clinton was being slandered in The Autumn of '99, often in plainly misogynist ways. Candidate Gore was being slandered too, but so darn what? Flyweights like Sorkin were flitting around, entertaining us, and dumbing us down, with silly TV piffle.
How did Donald J. Trump reach the White House? The silence and dumbness of flyweights like Sorkin very much helped put him there.
Some of these people were in entertainment. Many others were in the upper-end press.
The Creeping Dowdism had taken hold. But so had the Sorkinism.
This week, we've been telling a Rational Animal Tale about a person who's so dumb that he can read Harper Lee's famous book and think Bob Ewell got murdered. Also, that Atticus Finch "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists."
You have to be extremely dumb to go around saying stupid shit like that. Are you prepared to see how dumb, and even perhaps maybe how dishonest, our own tribe's leaders have been?
There's a whole lot more where Sorkin came from. The spectacular dumbness of this unchallenged group helps explain how we got where we are, with Donald J. Trump in high office.
"Man [sic] is the rational animal." Aristotle is said to have said that, long ago. Are you prepared see how wrong this famous figure was, if only on this one point?
It's anthropology, all the way down. Are you willing to go there?
Next week: The next in our award-winning string of Rational Animal Tales.
We expect to continue with some Little Women Snub Complaints. We'll move on to recent striking accounts of The Reasons Why Hillary Lost.