The West Wing Revisited, Episode 30

There are no blow-jobs in The West Wing; discuss. There is not even the lingering hint of one. This is in contrast with Homeland, The Sopranos, Deadwood and Breaking Bad in which the possibility is always, I would submit, your Honour, inherent in any story, blowing, as the man says, in the wind.

I may be wrong about this. But after thirty episodes watched, in order, in maybe twelve days it occurs to me that Sorkin’s purpose is more puritan, civic, and, as it were, Rotarian, prim and High School in flavour than it was cracked up to be. No infidelity occurs; no falling off the wagon; no use of cocaine in office hours or afterward. There is a sexual act with a hooker but Sam didn’t know she was a hooker and their dealings thenceforth are as proper as those of Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle.

All the men, moreover, are SNAGs, and all the women mocking and strong and mostly taller than those awkward males they delectably tantalize. In any dispute the woman comes out on top, especially the President’s wife, who from time to time injects him with something to maintain his vital functions, and also calm him down. No discussion of sexual position or member size afflicts the dialogue, unlike any other modern television series. There is no non-specific urethritis, as in the JFK White House, no situational impotence, no unattained orgasm. It is as proper in this regard as a novel by Trollope or Galsworthy. Though the President has a degenerative disease, he has no trouble in getting it up.

What, then, is going on here? In the ‘detached’ 9/11 episode at the start of Season Three there lies, perhaps, a clue. In deepening silence the staffers tell visiting high school graduates how Democracy works, in tremendous local Washington detail, and the students pay attention.

It is possible Sorkin’s aim, like Shaw’s, was educational; and he banned the two-backed beast from his pitch and his deliberations on storyline, theme and character arc, and his producers agreed with him and out it went.

He was wise perhaps to do this. Begun in the wake of Lewinski’s infamous eleven blow-jobs of a sitting lascivious First Magistrate, and continued in an era when Edwards, Spitzer, Foley and several top righteous Christians were unveiled in varying sexual postures and complications, and Hillary Clinton was accused of murdering her lover, it may have seemed advisable to leave the odour of ill-gotten semen stiffening on bedsheets out of a Liberal Democrat administration.

But there you go. It is the one flaw in a great, long-running work of art: that the way of a man with a maid in it is more like that of Doris Day and Rock Hudson than it is like George and Martha, or Blanche and Stanley, or Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln. It is rinsed and airbrushed, fondled a bit and then put away in a toybox under the bed, not thought of again. They josh, they tease, they flirt, but they keep their clothes on, always; even the President’s horny daughter and the black young aide she so yearns for.

I do not particularly criticise it, but I note it; and I invite contributions.

Leave a comment ?


  1. I bought on Ebay last year a used box set of the entire West Wing on DVD. I got it for a bargain, refusing cleverly to pay full price for a Leftie TV soap that I may only watch once or not even get through.

    So I started watching it from the first episode and it must have been either too much red wine late in the evening or the cheese, but I hung in there watching the first few episodes, trying desperately to keep my eyes open, before that dull weariness began to wear me down and I would nod off only to be awoken by the theme music credits. Whenever the wife suggested we watch another episode, I began to get increasingly resentful.

    I’m not sure why I lost interest, but it must have been that annoying American political correctness as you say Bob and lack of sex or anything remotely genuine. Too much perfect teeth. Too much earnest propaganda. It wore me down like all those evangelical global warming spruikers on the ABC. I had enough of it.

    I still have the West Wing covered in dust, all 154 episodes, mostly unwatched. Some other poor bastard can have it on ebay for what I paid. Its going cheap.

    Now, the Sopranos TV series! That’s a different kettle of fish. You’d never get me nodding off on that…

    • Have to agree with you about the Sopranos, Frank. One of my favourite eps is the one after Melfi has been raped and she’s found out the the rapist will get off because of the botched chain of evidence.

      In her session with Tony he twigs something is wrong and pushes her on it. She is dying to tell him because she knows he can and will rip that runt to pieces. But she doesn’t. For better or worse she believes in the social contract. And she puts her money where her mouth is. She is civilised. What a woman!

  2. Indeed Frank, my copies I gave to my mother as a garden ornament.

    Half a dozen discs hung together with fishing line. They spin in the wind and dazzle your eyes with beautiful colours, each one acting like a prism.

    Yep, fictional political series are as boring as bat shit.

    Frank only last week I tried to purchase on disc, the great speeches of past politicians.

    The owner of the store informed me he did have a quite few copies of the speeches of John Winston Howard.

    Well not so much quite a few copies, you can order them by the ton, much like fire wood. Only Howards discs were much cheaper.

    By cheap what I actually meant is they’re free. With the added bonus you get a voucher from the store for some real interesting stuff, like rock music. The store owner informed me not does it clean up the place environmentally people get a new awareness and taste of some Australian culture.

    I mean Jimmy Barnes and John Howard there is just no comparison really.

  3. I seem to recall that in “The Feminine Mystique” Betty Friedan said that older, rich, tertiary educated, idle women only felt really alive during sex.
    It’s easy to believe, from the media, that this outlook has become quite widespread.

  4. Great analysis. West Wing is a great work of art and political drama (or series of dramas) but its one draw back was its occasional mawkishness, which one can attribute to the American character. Sheen held the whole series together in an astounding tour de force of acting. Richard Schiff as Toby, Bradley Whitford as Josh and the late John Spencer as Leo McGarry were also truly great in every way.

  5. The Veep was adulterous, Leo fell of the wagon during the primary and Donna certainly seemed to spread it around, at least before she was blown up in israel.
    PhilAdams reviewed it a decade back as “the US Presidency as we wish it were…” but I found too many elements unpleasant, the unbridled militarism, the exceptionalism, the paint-by-numbers pro Zionism.
    One point I did enjoy was that though some of the males were very pretty, none of the female stars were drop dead gorgeous but, rather, normal looking working women.
    Fun but fatuous.

  6. Interesting point. Oddly, I never noticed the absence of sex because I was enthralled by the other stuff - the dream of what might be, as it were.

    I don’t notice the absence of sex in Ibsen, either, because I am taken up by the boldness of the other stuff - a dream of what the future would be.

    I don’t mean to draw a comparison (or conclusion) between the two, just musings after too much wine and the drone of Tony on Lateline. Not much sex there, either.

  7. Rich Hall had this covered with his comedic line, “As every red blooded American male knows that if the leader of the free world can’t get a blow job, what chance have I got?”

    Maybe there are parallels between expenses rorts, sexual impropriety and what Sir Les liked to call “indiscretions on the bankcard”.

    After all I suspect what Sorkin probably realised most of all was just how perverse it is that a politician is so readily taken to task over an accounting irregularity or inappropriate use of a cigar yet so seldom for running an economy into a state of global financial crisis to pay for having started an illegal war.

    • Sorkin?
      The media in our times:- the rightwing media particularly, have dragged us into the dirt.

  8. My guess is Sorking refuses to buy into the current rabbit-in-the-headlights mesmerised fascination with talking about (and reading about and watching) sex in our society.

    It has become a subject nearly impossible to discuss in adult terms in the mass media.

    I suspect that Clinton’s activities with the damaged, vulnerable Lewinsky are a perfect example of how the ‘freedom’ of the last few decades has given a lot of immature men of all ages a licence to behave like the adolescents they still are emotionally.

    Except as it reflects his general weak and shallow worldview, which was pretty clear already, it sheds no light on the political side of his life, unless one wants to dig into the silliness of how it plays into the general absurd frenzy such trivialities can raise

    • “Sorking” really!

      I think what you may have meant was that it lacked titillation. That is to say an obsession that quite a few people consider extends right the way back through history.

      There was certainly sexual tension in the West wing mainly between Josh Lyman and almost every woman he worked closely with. It was just that as in many TV dramas that to consummate the affairs would have been to make needless the ongoing flirtation, which for a guy who clearly loves words so well as Sorkin would have been the ultimate insult.

      As for Clinton his wife, admirable as many find her, wears comfortable shoes. I very much doubt she cared that he allowed the staff to blow him, but I’ll bet she was livid that he was so dim as to keep getting caught.

      But this isn’t the freedom of the past few decades! The very institution of the modern British state is founded on the family values of Henry VIII. Kennedy was a pants man before the past few decades, FDR had five mistresses and Thomas Jefferson a black woman Sally Hemmings.

      And if you mean to say that none of it mattered except perhaps on a more personal for these men, their women and the children they fathered then I think they were no more or less capable leaders for their dalliances than they would otherwise have been, and we may at last agree about that.

  9. I find it weird that where absence of realistic sexuality and grit is seen as a strength in Crowes deeply conventional and old fashioned films (Gladiator, Master and Commander and Cinderella Man), the same critic can see a flaw in the obviously idealised goings on in a fictitious White House.

    • Oh, cut Ellis some slack will you gay boys? I do. Don’t you hate these carping lefties looking for a chink in the armour to sink their flaccid jaws into. All three of Russell Crowe’s films are vastly different. We are talking 154 episodes of the West Wing and not one shot of the masturbatory president wanking into a blue skirt? Very weird. Perhaps the girls blouse, Canguro or Dali please step forward and explain?

      • Right, “vastly different” films. Punctuated over a thousand years of history viewed through the same old boring 1950′s idealised prism. Cut the viewer some slack. The West Wing or Crowes films- major yawns.

        • No. Stand up to the plate and argue your case with me. Don’t wimp out K, Bites. You seem to be blanking out on me. Keep alert Oh vulnerable but naive leftie. You are welcome to your thoughts but argue them with passion. I am ready to take you on… pummel me with your logic…but do not bore me..

          • Hit me but for fuck sake, don’t shit me.

            Monica takes her dress in to the dry cleaners and says ” Can you clean this/”

            The owner of the store a bit mutton says ” Come again”

            Monica says “No Ketchup”

          • Frank….. I always had you figured for a Sound of Music man not shoot em ups and shallow drama.

            The Van Trapps/Crapps being a typical right wing family with laudable values in your world, would have been real turn of for you.

            Yea I could see you sitting there in tears wetting your pants in awe of a sing song by Julie Andrews.

            Or maybe Mary Poppins , I could see you getting a real hard boner you could hang a beach towel on, watching that.

            So it’s fuck. fuck, fuck from me, as boring as can fucking be.

        • Jesus now there’s a critic I could read.

        • Well, Frank surprise, surprise a film or tv series often reflects the producers valves or ideals.

          So if you were to produce a tv series about a fictitious Liberal PM I’m sure you wouldn’t have him humiliating his wife by having an raunchy affair with his chief of staff. Perhaps you would want to portray him in a better light. Shocking isn’t it!

          I may prefer a different focus again were I to make something on the same subject.

          The West Wing is a bore. Not because it doesn’t take grubby shots at politians but because it is in love with the bogus notion of democracy in America.
          It’s a pathetic similacrum right down to the stupid WASP name of the president- Josiah Bartlet.

  10. dunno much about O’s sex life, but there’s probably a good script in this:

    “In the Obama administration’s Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press.”

    “It quotes New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane as saying that sources are “scared to death.” It quotes New York Times reporter David Sanger as saying that “this is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered.” And it notes that New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan previously wrote that “it’s turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.” ”

    • When the reporters are whinging about their sources drying up, the flip side is that the Obama government has stopped the leaks which bedevil governments, at least for the time being.

      It only takes one or two disgruntled employees to leak stories to the reporters, usually those who are soon to leave (or be sacked) and thus have little to lose from leaking.

      Reporters/Editors like Margaret Sullivan (quoted above) seem to think it is their right to have leaks!

      I would have thought a tight ship should be admired rather than bagged.

      • an incredibly foolish comment;
        a self-proclaimed leftist (or even just a supporter of democracy) who believes the press should only report what the government wants reported is either stupid or actually a fascist

        • Or a supporter of the most left wing regime the USA is ever likely to get.

          You johnsalmond look at the world and imagine it as you would like it to be.

          I see the world as it is.

  11. By the way has anyone here seen The Newsroom yet?

    I’m watching a few YouTube clips and liking what I see.

  12. I always felt as if Sorkin and the other writers imagined a Whitehouse that acted and was motivated by “love” and fealty and respect, loyalty and altruism, but love in its very traditional straitlaced Christian concept, it being the fundament upon which America was founded.

    The main characters all stemmed from 1960’s Kennedy idealism and perhaps in the back story flirted with the periphery of the revolutionary, hippy, yippy, free love acid drenched marijuana hazed counter culture, nevertheless at any time they would have been party adherents, public service dedicated soldiers with an inculcated belief in the “system” answering the call by JFK of “don’t ask what your country can do for you but……”

    Josh’s and Donna’s finally mutually requited love affair was a real sub-elemental hook in the Westwing, which in the end was as much soap opera as political idealism, but their love affair pales against the much more superior unrequited love affair between Tim and Dawn in Gervais’ “The Office”.

    The same motivations of “true love” are found in Toby’s undying love and eventual remarriage to his Senator Wife, the love between Charlie and Zoe, the love between CJ and Danny, Jed and Abigail Bartlett, Will and Kate.

    This was then further reflected in the love of Santos for his wife, and even here they gave Santos and his wife a sexual energy based in monogamous relationship with the tale of the broken hotel bed while on the campaign trail.

    A blow job taking place anywhere within the vicinity the Westwing, inserted in any episode would have brought down the whole perfectly constructed edifice of the entire series.

    America and Americans can only stand so much reality and the Westwing could have been an extremely long animation film by Disney.

    It’s true strength lies in its American Wit, the beautiful jokes, the faultless timing by an ensemble cast. I have watched the series a number of times and laugh more each viewing, it is a comedy tour de force with moments of drama, more than a drama with funny moments.

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