A Few Good Presidents

I think we can all agree that so far this election season is the most insane in living memory. If this were a West Wing season, we would all be complaining that Sorkin was jumping the shark and creating only caricature Republicans to push his left-wing agenda. But it’s real. It’s all real. And whoever wins in November is going to get the keys to Air Force One for real.

The current political mess inspired me to reflect on some of our best political leaders – the fictional ones. Yes, before we had the catastrophic Selina Meyer and philanderer Fitz Grant, a few fake presidents were actually pretty good. I give you my favourites…

1. Laura Roslin, Battlestar Galactica

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Though perhaps not the most democratic leader, with only a reluctant acceptance of the set-term presidency that Lee instates, Laura Roslin leads a dwindling civilisation to a fruitful new life: the dying leader who leads her people to the promised land. That’s pretty good going.

The Secretary of Education who has the presidency thrust upon her after a nuclear attack wipes out everyone else in the line of succession, Laura Roslin navigates her new role with increasing adeptness as the series develops. She is dealt a terrible hand when she comes into power, and handles the near-total destruction of her people with grace and poise. She’s tough, though, more than proving herself capable of handling the demands of governing a race whose survival depends on her every decision (while her own survival deteriorates). As a leader, she is compassionate, she is pragmatic and she respects the people she represents. These are, in my humble opinion, the fundamental qualities of a good president.

Also – and I realise this may not seem particularly relevant but stick with me – she is an ace at flirting. Congrats to BSG for being the first narrative to get me invested in a middle-aged love story. No matter how adorable Admiral Adama is however, Roslin keeps her eyes on the prize always. She resists his charms, always focusing on her endgame: Earth. She selflessly puts her own happiness aside and endures about twenty different cruel plot twists that would make anyone else straight-up finish Gaius Baltar and comes out the other side a moral, uncompromised, revered president. Her legacy is so much bigger than her, and she always recognises that. She is single-handedly responsible for saving every life in that poignant wide-shot of a fertile land at the end of the series finale. (I guess that also makes her responsible for the Lil Wayne myspace page that’s advertised in the ‘100,000 years later’ scene, but we’ll let her off.) Without Laura, basically all the humans would have met their nasty end. Good job, Prez.

(FYI, “How long do you have to live, Karen?” was the original “What’s good?”)

2. Jed Bartlet, The West Wing

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Everyone’s favourite power-walking president with a penchant for national parks trivia and a subtle air of superiority, Bartlet has often been heralded as the liberal fantasy president. No one puts on their jacket with more flair than our man Jed. And that’s what you want in a president, right? Flair? Well, he also has the best administration of any White House narrative – a charming band of idealistic lawmakers ready to make a difference and talk fast doin’ it.

Highlights of the Bartlet administration include: appointing Bill Adama Roberto Mendoza, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, and the first female Chief Justice, seeming to successfully negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, his not-so-secret (or real) plan to fight inflation, that one time he rocked the debate, and probably other things involving jobs and education and, hang on, did they ever follow through on that idea about making college affordable? Or curing cancer? Anyway, point is, he did a lot of good, lefty things and said a lot of good, lefty things. Perhaps most iconic was his ‘Dr.’ Jenna Jacobs smackdown on the issue of homophobia:

Martin Sheen elevated Aaron Sorkin’s writing every time he was given a speech and together they created one of the most memorable, compelling characters on television. Bartlet was a reminder of what a president could be during the bleak days of the second Bush presidency. He revived people’s interest in the political narrative. Flawed, but so charismatic and so affable that you couldn’t help but love him.

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Internet Friends

262872_10151055031855698_432420098_nIn the years since my pre-teen fingers hooked the telephone line up to the computer only to hear the garbled static of the dial-up tone, I’ve formed many friendships via the magic of the World Wide Web. It’s like having the ability to pick ‘n’ mix your friends, weeding out the fried eggs from the jelly worms. Instead of situation-enforced friendships with people who you don’t necessarily connect with, you have a whole world of potential friendships that are formed through mutual interests. These friendships don’t occupy a physical space, but a metaphysical one. It is the ideal solution for anyone with introvert tendencies and niche interests. For me, that’s a check and check.

 I came to know my best friend, Hannah, after happening upon some of her creative writing online. It was our own platonic version of love at first sight. A writing crush quickly developed (and has since snowballed), and I shyly reached out to her expressing my respect and admiration for her obvious talent. Having written many different pieces for online publication myself, I know how daunting it can be and how far a kind message can go. That one little email ended up being a life-changer. After exchanging a few messages, we added each other on Skype and kept in contact over instant message, often participating in group chats to live-heckle West Wing episodes together – one of life’s great bonding activities.

 At the time that this all occurred, I was going through a particularly tough time personally. I was deeply depressed at university, facing the reality that after two years of work and a scary amount of money, I hated my course. The idea of accepting that was terrifying, but I knew what I wanted to be doing: I wanted to be writing. When I met Hannah, it felt like the world was giving me a whopping great sign and a best friend to boot.

 We were chatting via Skype instant messenger in the early hours of a Friday morning, still on student sleep schedules, when my finger clumsily hit “call”. It was 3:30am and we had never spoken on the phone before. I assumed her reaction would be to shut the call down and say goodnight. She assumed I was so excited about what we were discussing that I had intentionally called her up to continue. It was 20 minutes before I admitted my mistake as she obliviously extolled the virtues of Donna Moss. At 7am, I heard my brother and parents waking up for their days of school and work respectively but Hannah and I were still going, drifting cyclically between drowsy and hyper.

 We talked about The West Wing, where to find the best cookie recipes, the US election, an obscure miniseries that Bradley Whitford was in once, words for vaginas, our differing accents and a thousand other topics, as though it was all of the utmost importance. And it was. It was urgent that we knew each other inside and out. For me, coming out of the toughest period of depression I’ve ever experienced, it was invigorating. The emotional lethargy that had developed over a number months seemed to lift overnight and every person I knew commented on my immediate shift in mood following that day. I had found the best friend I had always been looking for. That phone call ended at 8pm the following night, lasting a total of 15 hours (ignoring a few connection failures). We slept, we washed, we ate and then we called each other again. The next day, we began bouncing around ideas for my application essay for a new university course. Sometime during our first week of incessant phone calls, I accidentally referred to Hannah as my best friend in what felt like our premature “I love you” moment. Thankfully, she felt the same way.

 Two weeks later, she visited me for the first time – a mere seven-hour journey. The day she arrived, I received notification that my course change had been accepted and I was to start studying English the following September. We celebrated together, my victory sweetened by having shared it with my brand new best friend. Hannah was meant to stay for three days on that trip but it ended up being nine. It would probably have been even longer were it not for her pesky graduation ceremony and the fact that she had to keep buying more underwear.

 Ever since, we’ve spoken a little or a lot (mostly a lot) every single day. We are constantly travelling to see each other, having logged many hours napping on stuffy coaches travelling up and down English motorways. Even without the luxury of time spent together in person, our hours together on Skype ensure that we are, at least metaphorically, inseparable. There will be times where we go long periods on the phone without saying a word, as though casually hanging out in real life. There will also be times when conversations don’t start with a hello, but a “Here’s a thing that happened – tell me your thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams!” Though we live on opposite sides of our small country and are apart most of the time, we aren’t really, aside from those times when Skype refuses to co-operate. The internet giveth and the internet taketh away, I guess. For us, though, it has given most generously.

 When I graduate this year, it will be in no small part thanks to Hannah. From helping me perfect my application, to sending me a “What Would Donna Do” necklace as a ‘first day’ present, to supporting me every step of the way, I owe my best friend an enormous debt of gratitude.

 While meeting friends online is still a taboo, as I know well from the many times people have asked Hannah and I how we met, it has enriched my life immeasurably. It doesn’t matter how you meet people, it only matters who you meet. Having a best friend strengthens every other relationship because you have someone that takes care of the heavy stuff, enabling the best version of you to shine through for everyone else.

 I am my best self thanks to my best friend.

Pawnee Forever: A Farewell to Parks and Recreation

fdgfParks and Recreation is the last remaining of NBC’s beloved, though criminally under-watched, sitcoms from their old Thursday night comedy block, but soon it too, hot on the heels of The Office (ended), 30 Rock (ended) and Community (rehomed), will conclude its run. I have to admit, I write this post with more emotion than can usually be found on this here page. As the finale date draws closer with alarming velocity (anyone ever told you, you’re the worst, NBC?), I am struck by just how missed this comedy will be. It’s rare that a cast of characters is so universally warm, energetic and loveable, reiterating the message, time after time, that no one achieves anything alone. That is Parks‘ heart and soul.

If there is one thing to take away from the critically acclaimed comedy, it’s the value of creating rich relationships with every combination of characters that you have in your arsenal. I imagine half the fun of writing this show was pick-‘n’-mixing character pairings for subplots. I mean, think about it. Think about any two characters and, if you’ve seen the whole series, you’ll know their dynamic. From Ben and April (“She’s like the little sister I never had, because the little sister I do have is normal and not terrifying.”), to the mutual respect between Leslie and Ron as they settle their differences over breakfast foods, to the juxtaposition of super-fit Chris and, well, Andy, to the inspiring masterminds behind “Treat Yo Self”, Tom and Donna, everyone fits together and, crucially, provides an endless source for comedy. One relationship above all others really steered the show and that was the friendship between Leslie and Ann, unique in its platonic nature as the focal relationship. Given how female friendship has been portrayed within the media when it’s portrayed at all, Parks was a rare treat, celebrating the way that women can support and inspire one another – often over breakfast food. This started with Leslie and Ann but quickly seeped into every female dynamic the show has to offer: the mentor relationship Leslie has with April, the love-hate-but-secretly-just-love between April and Ann, and the ladies’ casual and constant admiration for Regal Meagle.

The reason these friendships are all so special, of course, is because the characters that make them up are a wonderful bunch of weirdos, just as any comedic cast should be. When shows end, often it can be hard to say goodbye to a beloved favourite character. How do you keep it together when you’re saying goodbye to so many favourites at once? If anyone knows, share with the group. I’m desperate here. As I haven’t figured it out, here are my heartfelt goodbyes to each one of Pawnee’s finest…

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The 10 Best Moments of The West Wing’s Josh and Donna

140796482_10January has been a crazy start to the new year, with illness and assignments both sentencing me to full hermit status. As February beckons and we reach the end of my house arrest, it feels like a good time to have a big ol’ fangirl sesh and there’s nothing quite like reminiscing over the best moments of The West Wing to lift everybody’s spirits. I could watch a hundred shows and I’d still come running back into the arms of those beautiful liberals. It’s a show about the best of politics, a fantasy, an alternate world where those at the top care about those at the bottom. Within this magical universe exists the greatest love story ever told, that of Josh Lyman and Donna Moss.

Maybe you’re skeptical. Maybe you disagree with my statement of fact. Here are 10 moments that back me up big time…

10. “You’ve got health and strength.” – Guns Not Butter

vlcsnap-2013-01-09-17h14m01s124 copyAt the end of a day that has been packed full of punches, Josh walks out of the Oval Office to find Donna sat outside waiting for him. “It’s getting harder,” he says, conveying immeasurable frustration with the process that he’s devoted his life to. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were long-time marrieds as you watch their tender exchange.

Donna: You took funding for remote prayer to the president?

Josh: Oh, I did it with gusto.

Donna: That’s because you don’t know the story of Fishhooks McCarthy.

Josh: Is this a real person, or a Donna person?

Donna: Corrupt politician on the Lower East Side in the ’20s. Every morning he stopped at the St James Church on Oliver Street, and said the same prayer: “Oh Lord, give me health and strength. We’ll steal the rest.”

Josh: Not that there needs to be, but was there a point?

Donna: You’ve got health and strength – both of which, coincidentally, I prayed for after hot lead was shot into your body.

Josh: (getting agitated) Yeah, and you’re going to need some kryptonite, by the way–

Donna: Okay… settle down.

Josh: (whispers) Alright.

Donna: So you’ve got health and strength.

Josh: And we’ll steal the rest?

Donna: Bet your ass.

I feel like all Josh needs at the end of the hardest days is to stop and take stock for a minute. In a single moment, looking at Donna and listening to her, he is refuelled. Hope is restored. Whether or not you read this moment romantically or not, it’s evidence that it’s Donna who keeps him going, which should really be a shock to nobody at this point.

On Donna’s part, there is also something incredibly revealing in her reference to the shooting. Little is said about the trauma of nearly losing him but this modest comment, hidden behind the story of Fishhooks McCarthy, reminds you of her ordeal. It’s the ghost of a pain bigger than any ‘bad day’ could bring. It seems to be her point of reference when it comes to challenges or pain or disappointment. It doesn’t hurt as much as the day Josh nearly died, therefore, we can get through it. Together.

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2014: A Year in Review

1920336_10152035606485698_205299555_n2014, for me, was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of year. There weren’t any big life-changers. Time just passed me by and before I knew it, we were on the cusp of a new January. Looking back over the events of the year is a happy reminder that it wasn’t all just a waste of time, so allow me to reflect on the last 12 months…

  1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?

I went on a little holiday without the parents. It only took 22 years. You quickly realise that within a group of friends, everybody quickly adopts the archetypal family roles in a holiday situation. I think I was probably the dad that no one really listens to and often mocks, but who still gets to sit in the front seat of the car. My friends might argue I was the grumpy teenager but don’t listen to them, they are all known liars. These kids don’t gimme no respect!

  1. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I’m not really a new year’s resolutions type of gal, but I definitely went into the year with the hope that I would continue to progress in my running, having run my first 5k on Christmas Day. I can happily say that all of my fitness goals were achieved. I’m training harder than ever and I’ve run nearly 40 races this year. And I won my little trophy for my efforts.

For next year, I have no resolute goals but I would like to keep the running going strong. I hope to run further and faster over the course of the year, with my eyes on a quarter marathon or perhaps even further.

  1. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No.

  1. Did anyone close to you die?

No.

  1. What countries did you visit?

None. I’m rather deficient on the wanderlust. Also quite poor.

  1. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

Given that I’m about to drop off the end of a big ole cliff, finally reaching the end of my degree, a heavy dose of confidence wouldn’t go amiss. I can feel the anxiety rising in my body, stress coursing through my veins as though my transformation into the nerve-killing superhero I always knew I could be is imminent.

I hope that finishing university will also give me a little time to just enjoy being a person in the world again. So much of the last five years has been consumed by essays and exams and journal articles; I can’t wait to just take a breath. Not that the prospect of finishing education isn’t also terrifying.

  1. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 14th. HAIM. UEA LCR. Not only was it an incredible experience to watch my favourite musicians absolutely slay on that stage, but seeing three incredibly talented women at the top of their game was energising. They can do anything with their guitars in hand, and why shouldn’t I be able to do the same with a pen in mine? Sharing it with my best friend, my soupsnake, the platonic love of my life made it every bit more beautiful. I believe that seeing the band you love the most is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The hope that we’ll be able to repeat the experience enthuses me no end. Este, Danielle, Alana – your move. Tickets please.

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Este Haim performing Go Slow at the LCR. Photography by me.

  1. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Probably my little running trophy. Surviving my second second year of university was no small feat, though. Both of my experiences in second year have been rough but knowing how much more it mattered this time, both personally and professionally, made the knocks harder to take. I’m proud of how I dealt with it, though – by taking the advice of the wise women in my life and lacing up my trainers, which brings us full circle to my original answer: my little running trophy. Not only was it an acknowledgement of my efforts on the track, but it represented overcoming the challenges I faced and continue to face at university. It made me feel like I could accomplish anything I wanted. I felt strong.

  1. What was your biggest failure?

Maybe the mark I got in February for an essay that I thought I’d nailed. I remember picking it up first thing in the morning and having it hang over me throughout a day of lectures and seminars. Nothing stifles creativity like being on the verge of tears, and so I left my creative writing seminar feeling totally defeated and spent about an hour in the uni toilets. The real kicker was that I was weeping in the cubicle so long that the motion censor lights switched off. Picture me sniffling away while performing star jumps in an effort to get the lights back on. I wish I could say it was the most pathetic moment of my life.

  1. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I went over on my ankle at the end of a Parkrun in April, landing arse-first in a muddy puddle, putting me out for a few weeks. Later in the year, the saga of my terrible toe began. No, Taylor, we are not out of the woods yet.

  1. What was the best thing you bought?

Cinema tickets for Guardians of the Galaxy. Spending the last hours of my birthday with a giant Chris Pratt, watching him dance-off into a new day was very special. It was a new dawn, a new day, a new life for me. And yeah, I felt pretty good about it.

  1. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

This answer would probably remain constant whether you asked me this year, last year, next year. My best friend, Hannah. She is there for me day in, day out. No matter what is going on, I have someone to go through everything with me. Every best memory I have from this year, and from the moment I met her for that matter, has Hannah at the heart of it. And if I think about my bad memories from the year, it’s Hannah who was helping me deal with them – that, or texting me cute things about Josh and Donna (e.g. “Today I thought about Josh and Donna’s child having a first crush and Josh offering advice. I did other stuff too but that was important.”). On top of that, she really nailed my presents this Christmas. I’m still reeling from her gift-giving prowess. (more…)

10 Reasons to Love Josh and Donna

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You probably didn’t need reasons, but I’m giving you them anyway, as the wise philosopher Billie Piper once sang, because I want to, because I want to. Indulge my shipping heart a moment and allow me to reflect on what made the White House romance quite so special.

1. They were a beautiful accident. 

Much about the success of The West Wing has a touch of serendipity to it, but nothing more than the relationship between the deputy chief of staff and his assistant. Bradley Whitford, who played Josh in the White House drama, said: “They’re completely in love. What’s great is Aaron Sorkin never wrote it as a romantic thing. It just sort of came out.”

In fact, because Rob Lowe is reeeeal pricey, folks, Whitford was originally asked to play Sam (perish the thought!), and he had to fight for Josh. He won the part in the end, of course, but back then, no will they/ won’t they tension was intended between Josh and Donna; rather, Josh was supposed to romantically spar with White House media consultant/professional disappearing act, Mandy Hampton. Donna herself, Janel Moloney, had originally auditioned to play CJ and lost out to the wonderful Allison Janney before being offered a few lines in the pilot episode as everyone’s favourite deputy deputy chief of staff. Chemistry happened, and those few lines earned her an extra scene in the pilot episode. She continued earning herself extra scenes throughout the inaugural season until Moloney was promoted to a series regular for Season 2. By this time, all hope had been lost for a Josh/Mandy romance, praise be.

Moloney explained: “I decided early on that this was a passionate, deep love relationship where my character was mad, head over heels in love. Because that’s drama, that’s fun. A little bit of love’s not fun for anybody. I think it made the relationship special because there wasn’t really anything like that on the show. And you can’t get rid of a hot, burning romance on your hit show.” True dat.

2. The best things come to those who wait.

Josh and Donna take their sweet time to get together, eventually locking lips in a moment of euphoria, mid-Season 7. Yes, I’m sad that we had so little time to bask in the post-consummated glory of a Josh and Donna relationship. But the beauty of the slow burn is that all of the little moments feel like big ones. Any time they flirt or gaze at each other or basically outright declare undying love (“If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights”), it’s a huge effin’ deal. The best thing is, these delightful occurrences come on the regular.

A particularly sweet, very downplayed moment occurs when Josh is telling Donna’s prospective boyfriend, Jack Reese, some dorky stories about her. She’s mortified; he’s confused. He insists, “Those are good stories about you, though. Those stories would make me like you.” It still burns me that she doesn’t notice the intense googly eyes he’s making at her as he says it. Yes, I took every single piece of bait they threw at me for seven seasons. Expect no less. I WAITED FOR THEM FOR SEVEN YEARS.

3. Individually, they are two of the most dynamic, complex, heartbreaking and amusing characters in their show – or in any show, period. 

It’s perhaps unsurprising that separately Donna and Josh (in that order) make up the top two on my list of West Wing faves, but it would be a poor show to overlook their respective brilliance.

Donna is witty, confident, brave, compassionate, determined, and incredibly good at all the jobs we see her have. As Josh’s assistant, she begins under-qualified and ends up over-competent. Donna embarks on an arc of empowerment through the later seasons of the show, a storyline that sees her all the way to the office of FLOTUS chief of staff. Whether she is pursuing her ambitions, bringing the comic relief or providing a moral compass, Donna Moss is a constant joy. It’s really no wonder that Josh couldn’t bear the idea of losing her, professionally or personally.

Speaking of Josh, he’s plenty interesting himself. Desperately loyal, committed, intelligent, funny and just a little broken, Sorkin expertly juxtaposes his amusing arrogance with such deep vulnerability that one can’t help but fall hard. One minute he’s declaring, “I drink from the keg of glory, Donna. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.” and another he’s flying all the way to Germany at a moment’s notice to be at Donna’s side.  I would argue that Josh is the most complex character (while Toby’s the most nuanced) and by mid-Season 2, the show has inadvertently made him its very compelling lead. Whitford’s Emmy for Noel, an episode that explored Josh’s post-traumatic stress disorder, was about as well deserved as Emmys get.

4. Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney.

bradjanelThe actors who play them are candid about their characters’ onscreen relationship, openly expressing support for it. Moloney said of their collaboration: “I really feel like that’s my central relationship on the show. Any scene I do with Brad is particularly enjoyable.” Whitford obviously shared this sentiment, having told the director, “God, I love her!” immediately after their first scene together.

On their characters, both conceded that the pair belong together. Whitford admitted that “they’re absolutely crazy about each other” despite their jobs, adding that, “I think I know deep down that emotionally, as a human being, I can’t function without her and I think professionally, as a human being, I can’t function without her, either.” Geez. Now I’m struggling to function.

Moloney commented that, “I think they’re absolutely mad for each other. I think it’s probably something that they both struggle with personally and they don’t really know how to express it and they don’t really want to admit that they have the feelings that they have.”

At a reunion, the duo was asked what they imagine their fictional counterparts are doing with themselves several years on. Married with a kid, they agreed.

5. War Crimes.

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HE BROKE THE LAW TO PROTECT HER. HE MAKES THE LAW. HE IS THE LAW. HE BROKE THE LAW… FOR HER.  Don’t tell me to be calm about this! I will not be calm.

6. They bring the funny.

Their witty repartee never ceases to entertain me. Always a delightful dose of sharp dialogue and sizzling chemistry, biting sarcasm permeates their every exchange. At times, most times really, they resemble an old married couple – reluctantly sharing food, dressing each other, having their petty squabbles and sharing the most over-familiar rapport.  They play tricks on each other (the “XW-9 warhead in a silo 93 feet below the Eisenhower putting green”) and they play tricks on their colleagues (“I framed Roger Rabbit!”). They fight (“You know, there are times when, to put it quite simply, I hate your breathing guts.”) and they flirt (“You are a very powerful and a very handsome man”). It’s hard to know which is more enjoyable to watch. Both actors have a knack for understated physical comedy and superb comic timing, which lends itself beautifully to the lightness of their scenes.

7. “She was the one who guessed.”

They get each other. When Josh’s symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder begin to manifest, Donna is the one to notice and get him help. When Donna is caught in a roadside explosion, Josh drops everything and flies to Germany to be with her. In a more low-key display of the bond between them, after Donna hears of the suicide of Donovan Morrissey in The Benign Prerogative, she tells Josh that she “needs to learn how to […] keep things at arm’s length”. He replies simply: “I hope not.” The sincerity of the line’s delivery shows his affection for that part of her, her deep-rooted compassion as a driving force of her character.

It’s hard to talk about Josh and Donna “getting” each other without referring to her conversation with Amy in Commencement. “You have to get Josh,” Donna states, the implication being that Amy does not. “His sister died in a fire while she was babysitting him. She tried to put it out; he ran outside. He went off campaigning; his father died. He wakes up in the hospital and discovers the president’s been shot. He goes through every day worried that somebody he likes is gonna die and it’s gonna be his fault. What do you think makes him walk so fast?” She gets him, like really gets him. She’s thinking about all the factors that have shaped who he is and how he behaves on a moment-by-moment basis. She takes the time to wholly know him and so when an outsider comes to her for some insight on the mind of Josh, it’s as simple as: “You have to get Josh.” But she’s the only one who does.

8. They don’t even try to hide it.

lots of airplanes

They are more tactile than married Jim and Pam, to be quite honest. If Josh can find an excuse to touch the small of her back or hold her hand, by golly, he’ll do it! And likewise, Donna makes a nice home for herself in Josh’s personal space. There is an episode, Stirred (a favourite of mine for many reasons), where she positions herself in his office with her legs up on his desk. Scandal! In-universe, it’s made clear that there are rumblings around DC about the nature of their relationship as outsider Amy flatly asks, “Are you dating your assistant? […] I heard you might be.” His mind’s telling him no, but his body’s telling him “IF ONLY!”

Did anyone else kind of want it to become a Mary Marsh-involved scandal that tested their relationship but ultimately brought them closer together? My best friend and I talk about this so often that it’s become real to me. I feel like Taylor Swift wrote ‘I Know Places’ about this very dream.

9. Their first meeting and THAT stage direction.

Josh is immediately a smitten kitten when this charming, audacious Wisconsinite shows up “at my desk, reading my calendar, answering my phone and hoping that I wouldn’t notice that I never hired you.” From that very moment, he’s a goner. And judging from one rather touching stage direction, so is she:

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Goddammit, Sorkin.

10. The struggle is real.

The obstacle in their relationship is legitimate. It’s not that they won’t admit to themselves that they’re in love; it’s not that they are with other people; it’s not that they are cop partners who can’t risk complicating their working relationship. If they were to enter into a relationship, they would risk tarnishing the Bartlet presidency with a pretty big scandal that the administration could very much do without. Obviously they know the term is going to be four or eight years, and potentially that’s what is in the back of their minds whenever they confront their feelings. The backlash to any potential romance would be catastrophic if it were to happen while Donna was still his assistant. It would seem as though he was taking advantage, or that she was sleeping her way to the top.

Romances from Sorkin’s other shows have had comparatively insubstantial obstacles – Dana and Casey’s nonsense, Matt and Harriet’s nonsense, Will and Mackenzie’s nonsense. I’m just saying, he’s good at romantical nonsense. Dana and Casey’s felt like a real low point until you caught Season 2 of The Newsroom and were introduced to the second round of Mackenzie and Will. Seriously, their obstacle was mindless stubbornness and literally nothing else. If there had been a Josh and Mandy romance, I have a feeling it would have resembled the aforementioned list of nonsense.

The fact that Josh and Donna were a blessed surprise to even their writer may have actually worked hugely in their favour. Throughout the show, their situation, their problems, their struggle is real – making it all the sweeter when you reach the delightful final chapter.

Ladies I Look Up To

I decided to talk a little about my role models. I’ll admit, my choices are a little varied. They range from fellow bloggers to First Lady, from actress to activists, from fictional to fashionista. The one constant, though, is feminist.

In no particular order:

Tavi Gevinson

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Yes, Tavi Gevinson is four years younger than me. I don’t like to limit my role models to my elders. Blogger, feminist and teenius (new word), Tavi is everything I’ve wanted to be since I had vaguely any grasp on my identity. I mean, I didn’t always know it was her specifically but she’s many of the ideal characteristics in one human: incredibly intelligent, politically-minded, fun and funny. She can also rock the block fringe.

Tavi started off, at the age of 11, as a fashion blogger, but has more recently commented: “I even think that fashion can be a tool of feminism and of self-expression and individuality and empowerment. But clearly there are flaws with the industry that still really grind my gears.” Fuck, yes. Early on, people thought that Tavi’s writing style was too mature to legitimately be a young girl (= she’s really, really good, you guys).

The reason I’ve taken such a liking to talented Tavi, though, is her attitude regarding the media and the many pressures it puts on teenage girls. She decided that the best thing that a fifteen-year-old could do to improve the media that she consumes was to be involved in creating it. So, she founded Rookie. “On Rookie, everything is through a feminist lens and we’re a feminist site.” Hurrah! I like you.

In summary: this lady has to balance school and being editor-in-chief for an online magazine. I can’t even balance school and my freaking diet (shit, when was the last time I ate a vegetable?). Also, one time she said, “my brain is farting” and it was beautiful.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

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One of the primary qualities I respect about Hillary Clinton is her ability to handle criticism. For any person in the political arena, this is vital. One of my favourite quotes of hers is: “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.” I think that’s a really valuable lesson to learn. I’m not particularly thick-skinned and probably pay too much attention to criticism, but I think it’s so important to differentiate between constructive criticism and hatin’.

As First Lady of the United States, her focus was universal healthcare. That’s a pretty good policy from where I’m sitting – which is the UK, where we have the NHS (would recommend to friend). She’s been First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States (the main First Lady of all the First Ladies), a New York Senator and Secretary of State. Sometime in the midst of all that she tried running for President. Maybe she’ll do it again sometime. Maybe.

Joe Biden actually said once: “Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America. Quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me.” I actually had a better job in mind for Hillary, Joe (but I do love you).

How she hasn’t lost her mind over the running commentary on her hairstyles alone is a mystery to me. She hasn’t had the easiest time from the right wing media but she’s still standing. Fingers crossed that soon she starts running.

Malala Yousafzai

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Malala Yousafzai might perhaps be the most courageous person on earth. Malala is the youngest person on this list, in fact, but may well be the most impressive of all. Malala started off blogging for BBC Urdu about the Taliban banning girls from receiving an education. Thus began her fight for a privilege that we all take for granted. I love to write more than anything, but I’ve so often wished I didn’t have to go to school or take an exam. Here is a person fighting to be able to do just that. It’s a lesson in appreciating what you have and recognising the privilege that you have.

Malala had to blog under a pseudonym for her own safety. However, after the truth of her identity came to light, she became a target for the Taliban. In October 2012, as she was travelling home from an exam, a Taliban gunman shot her. Thankfully, she survived the assassination attempt, but she and her father both remain targets of the Taliban.

Hillary Clinton has commented on Malala’s bravery “standing up for the rights of girls” against those who threaten “that kind of empowerment”. In response to the shooting, aforementioned Tavi Gevinson organised a Get Well Soon card for Malala.

Malala was also nominated for the Nobel Piece Prize. Let me just remind you: she’s fifteen years old.

Amy Poehler

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Amy Poehler is one of my favourite people on the planet, just simply because of how happy she makes me. Her comedic talents are, quite frankly, unparalleled. She is, at the core, a badass feminist. She created Smart Girls at the Party, the motto of which is “change the world by being yourself”. On SNL, Amy was the co-anchor on Weekend Update with Tina Fey – the only time two women have anchored. She also played Hillary Clinton opposite Tina’s Sarah Palin, as well as playing Regina’s colourful mother in Mean Girls. Currently, she stars in the truly brilliant Parks and Recreation as the show’s only lead (and is overdue an Emmy). It’s also great to have someone on this list who didn’t achieve all of their awesome by the age of, like, ten. I DON’T NEED THE PRESSURE.

So, remember that time Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes? Yeah, me too. It was awesome. Highlight: when Bill Clinton appeared, I tweeted “OMG, it’s Hillary Clinton’s husband” and then she made the same joke. When I say highlight, I mean of life, not just that night.

Amy Poehler is fearless. I think it’s such an important quality for a comedic actor to have. She pays no attention to the boxes she might be put in, always performing with the bold confidence that is so irrepressibly Amy Poehler. There’s no one else like her. Her co-stars unanimously adore her. She kind of has a free pass to lightly insult anyone in Hollywood, so long as she’s doing it with a cheeky grin on her face and that perfect cackle. She just exudes sunshine. You know who else does that? Leslie Knope (and Donna Moss but we’ll get to that in a minute).

Amy plays Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec. She’s the tireless, optimistic government worker of her beloved Parks and Recreation department in fictional Pawnee. To express my love, I will simply share an anecdote from watching a recent episode. There was a storyline about Leslie being obsessed with gift-giving and my best friend just turned to me and said, “She is you.” Greatest moment of my life.

Other reasons to love Leslie Knope:

  • “My ideal man needs to have the brains of George Clooney, with the body of Joe Biden.”
  • In response to, “I believe one problem with hiring women is that they’re frail and breakable.” she said: “Is it possible you’re thinking about lightbulbs? Or your hip?”
  • “Barack Obama said yes we can and now he’s president. Ben says no we shouldn’t and now he’s working for his girlfriend.”
  • “I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself.”
  • “You know my code. Hoes before bros. Uteruses before duderuses. Ovaries before brovaries.”

Donna Moss

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Donna Moss is my favourite fictional character of all time. Let’s start with that. She’s often overlooked because of the brilliance of Allison Janney, as is everyone else on The West Wing (and in the world), but there’s room enough for more than one complex, talented, smart woman in this White House. It can sometimes feel like she is viewed as an appendage to Josh, or that her character is analysed only as a direct comparison to Amy. Why? We don’t pit male characters against each other in the same way. So, I propose an end to this. And a beginning. The beginning of the midnight train to Donna appreciation. Hop on board.

She is deeply compassionate, patient and kind. These qualities are displayed time and again: from realising when Josh had PTSD and her reaction to finding out the president had MS, to standing up for the people – not names – on the list of potential pardons. And, remember Molly Morello?

Donna’s funny, too – let’s about talk about the funny. Every bit of banter she and Josh share is quick-witted and brilliant. There was also the thoroughly enjoyable, “Knock, knock! Who’s there? Sam and his prostitute friend.” and that time Donna found out she was Canadian. She’s so great (*gush*).

The real reason she’s on this list is her character development. She’s shown to be Josh’s much-depended-upon assistant for the first five seasons, always wanting to do more. She proves her competence endlessly and it becomes clear that she’s too good for the job. Eventually, she puts aside her personal feelings for Josh and quits, gets hired on the Russell campaign, gets promoted to spokesperson and White House point person and later lands a job on the Santos campaign after he gets the candidacy. When Santos wins the election, a very proud me gets to watch my baby girl Donnatella get hired as FLOTUS chief of staff and walk into her beautiful, big office. Congrats, show, on the one good thing you did post-Sork. Appreciated.

So, who would make your list of ladies you look up to? Share, share.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

My university is really hot on plagiarism. Not in a fangirly way. In a NEVERYOUMUSTNOTEVERDOTHISNO kind of a way. And don’t get me wrong, I’m down with that. Plagiarism = bad. Especially on an English course (yes, I’m doing English, can’t you tell?). Thing is, we’re not allowed to plagiarise ourselves. Once we’ve said something in an academic work, never again. It’s basically the stuff of Aaron Sorkin’s nightmares…

While it amuses me that Sorkin rarely writes an original sentence these days, I think it is interesting to consider how effective recycling old material really is. Sorkin’s writing has received great acclaim, most notably for A Few Good MenThe West Wing and The Social Network – Emmys, Oscars, Golden Globes flying everywhere (accurate). Big Sorkin fans will no doubt have been aware of the high dosage of “Sorkinisms” that these works contain before the supercut video came along. So, question is: does all this recycling – while great for the planet – truly benefit the respective screenplays?

When Isaac from Sports Night quotes, “I don’t always know the right thing to do, Lord, but I think the fact that I want to please you pleases you,” does it make it less powerful when Leo from The West Wing does the same thing? Hmm. No. I don’t think it does. That said, the prominence of “Gather ye rosebuds…” in The West Wing does undermine its use in The Newsroom for me. If not just because The West Wing’s use of any of the dialogue immediately makes it law – it IS the White House after all! The show is too iconic to steal from as often as Sorkin does. Or maybe it didn’t fit the characters because they weren’t Josh and Donna, and use of the quote is cemented in my head as those characters saying it that way.

If you’re a big fan of The West Wing, you associate the words, “I go home when you go home” with Leo and Margaret (IT IS LAW, like I say). When Studio 60 tries to get all up in that, it begins to irritate me. I like Studio 60 but it needed to go further to differentiate itself from The West Wing by delivering memorable dialogue of its own. The Newsroom: take note.

So many fans of The Newsroom have commented on their frustration about the number of comparisons people make between Newsroom characters and West Wing characters. Well, surely Sorkin’s to blame for that.

There is a part of me that delights in it. I smile and think, “Oh, Sorkin,” as another, “Not for nothing” or “I’m really quite something” is delivered. It calls on memories of a TV series that truly was the crème de la crème. While it’s yet to really work for me on The Newsroom, there were certainly points in Studio 60 where cross-referencing made me giddy. That was largely related to casting choices though. He capitalised on something that The West Wing didn’t get a chance to: the chemistry between Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford (at least 80% of the appeal of Studio 60). As well as that, in a genius move late in the series, Sorkin opted to have Allison Janney play herself alongside fellow West Wing alum, Timothy Busfield. It goes to show, West Wing callbacks can seriously pay off.

I think The West Wing beautifully showcased the potential of Aaron Sorkin’s writing. The simultaneous complexity and simplicity of the dialogue was utterly genius. References to other aspects of the series are fond reminders of the dizzying heights of TV brilliance. Recycled dialogue, however, is often a wasted opportunity for exciting, refreshing new material.

What do you think, though? Besides being an amusing supercut, do you think Sorkin needs to be a little more original in his writing? Or should quoting The West Wing be endlessly encouraged?

What the fic?!

Fan fiction. This is a topic I’m likely to return to from time to time. It’s something that gets a bad rap, in my opinion. In fact, this struck me during one of my adaptation lectures, for which my lecturer had picked some excerpts for her slides. Now, when I say these were bad, I’m not kidding. But it’s like picking a bad Twilight quote and suggesting that it represents literature. Fan fiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Not all of it is good. Probably not even most of it is good. But in my experience, some of it is magnificent. And it serves a very valid purpose.

Part of the reason I’m uncomfortable with the misconceptions about fan fiction is because I write it, and I know better (yes, that’s the sound of me getting on my high horse). I’ve been writing fan fiction since I was fourteen years old. You may think I’m being defensive and you may well assume that mine is as bad as the very worst. I will accept that I may not be the best; I may even be the worst. One thing I know for certain, though, is that I’m a damn sight better at writing than I was when I started. In my mind, that’s what it comes down to. You are in a situation where there’s a receptive audience; there are people to please. You write and write, and that process comes with natural improvement.

You build upon universes created by other writers. Some of them are the best in the world, of their time, within their genre. There are worlds like those of Harry Potter, Doctor Who and, in my humble opinion, The West Wing that introduce minor characters that deserved a back-story and leave subplots open-ended and tease all the shoulda-beens that never were. There is nothing wrong with wanting to explore all of that. My experience of reading fan fiction has only served to enrich my experience of the source material. Sometimes you come across fan fiction that is better than the canon material. I can’t adequately express the delight I take in being able to give someone that kind of feedback. Even if it isn’t “better”, how many film adaptations are regarded as “better” than the book? They simply serve a different purpose, provide for a different audience or expand the material for the same audience.

What fan fiction does that creative writing more generally doesn’t do is come with a pre-existing audience. It creates an immediacy to the process, removing the involvement of editors, publishers etc. This means that the writer themselves has to serve as all of the above. It teaches the individual to become an editor, to develop the skills of proofreading. In this respect, the learning curve is steeper. It also allows the writer total control over what they are putting out into the world. While this can be done with any online writing, fan fiction also comes with communities that are readily interested in reading the work. Your market, so to speak, is there waiting for you.

The platforms upon which fan fiction is shared vary. There are general fan fiction websites; currently the largest of these is Fanfiction.net (FFN), with in excess of 600,000 stories for Harry Potter alone. There are fandom-specific websites that are often home to other relevant media for a fandom, a modest example is More Than That which exists entirely for fans of The Office’s Jim and Pam (with over 750 active members). Finally, there is the personal blog format, utilising sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr to post fan fiction amidst other blog material. Use of all these outlets is increasing all the time.

Fan fiction is not new, though. Fanfiction.net was launched in 1998, LiveJournal in 1999. Shows like The West Wing, a series that ran from 1999 until 2006, are not exempt from the world of fan fiction, proving that not only has this format endured, it is far from exclusive to worlds of science fiction or fantasy. In fact, The West Wing fan fiction is a mix of old and new with the main resource for older fan fictions, National Library, hosting over 6,000 different stories. These fandom-specific websites often include guidelines and challenges that, despite the bad press, may be used to stimulate ideas. This speaks to the two-way dialogue that occurs in this setting between the writers and readers.

Given how much the experience of fan fiction has enriched my writing process, the disparaging remarks made against fan fiction communities elude me. Writing fan fiction involves a process of deconstruction to the source material. It forces the writer to analyse the importance of character development, distinguishing each character as an individual, pace, perspectives and narration, the layers between page and screen and so much more. It’s often unconsciously done, but the best works are those that successfully and subtly explore those elements. It allows one to understand the same importance in one’s own creative writing. You begin to look for ways to create unique character traits and distinctive voices on the page. You begin to contemplate what narrative voice will be most effective for different contexts. You begin to explore how chronology can affect storytelling. It’s simply another way to learn from the pros.

While you’re writing fan fiction, you’re learning about what is good and bad about the characters you love. In the process, you’re learning about what is good and bad about the characters you create. It allows you a wealth of insight into the creative process, simultaneous to the experience of receiving feedback. Constructive feedback can hugely shape the way a person writes, while vague but encouraging feedback can simply inspire you to write more (and thus improve!). Most of the time, it’s done within a community. It allows you to learn from your peers, which only adds to the motivation. You want to entertain these people, and they want to be entertained. It’s enormously rewarding in this respect. Unlike in the classroom, the reader is willing and motivated entirely by personal interest.

Ultimately, it was my fellow fans that taught me how to write. I promise this: no teacher ever read my work as attentively as some of my readers. For a girl who gets by on mustered faux confidence, the encouragement has been energising. As one of my lecturers frequently stresses, it’s important to identify who the reader is. This experience provides that first-hand. You have a direct discourse with those readers. Once you accept the importance of readership and feedback to a writer, how can you possibly deny the value of fan fiction?

I’d be really interested to read what you think about this, whether a reader of fan fiction or not, so please feel free to leave comments below.