Near Yellow Mountain

Monday, January 21, 2013

The West Wing

Today is Inauguration Day in the US. By custom, the President makes a speech to begin the new term followed by a parade and other festivities to reward the faithful for their hard work in getting him elected or, in this case, re-elected.
This is the first time since 1997 that I have been in the US on Inauguration Day. I am listening to President Obama's speech as I write this. Our current President is a great speaker and a pretty good gum chewer if today’s performance is typical. I only wish he was even a mediocre President but let’s give him his second term to try to make good on one or two of the many campaign promises he seemed to have forgotten between trips to the golf course and Hawaii during his first term. My grandchildren (not yet born) may have the historical perspective to properly rank President Obama’s performance vs others that have held the office. At this point, I rank him somewhere between Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter.  It is hard to respect anyone who after four years in office is still blaming George Bush and Congress for his inability to get things done. If today’s events were a “West Wing” episode - it would likely have been titled “Past is Prologue” and would probably have been more interesting than the real Inauguration.
I have been revisiting the West Wing series via Netflix. The 70 minutes I am on an elliptical each morning in the gym allows me to watch about an episode and a half before I have breakfast. The series ran during George Bush’s time in office and seems to have been Hollywood’s attempt to fantasize of a world without a republican in the Oval office. In any case, I love the show – good characters and good writing. Watching on a daily basis (I have watched 75 of 156 episodes) makes me hearken back to TV watching binges shared with my daughters when we were expats. Watching while on an exercise machine limits my guilt over wasting time watching TV – 70 minutes on an elliptical would be torture without some diversion.
The first few years we lived in Japan, we did not bother getting Satellite TV. My mother in law would tape a few popular shows (yes, it was a long time ago so it was VHS tape) and mail them on a regular basis. I liked getting my TV fix by tape because we could watch three or four episodes in a row. A habit I continued when we moved to Shanghai and could buy entire seasons of TV series at the DVD store for $5 in a nice boxed set. The Chinese DVD copy industry provided even more entertainment by usually misspelling the names of the stars on the packages and sometimes having a picture from “Lost” in the background when label said:  “’24’ Kevin Southerland is Jack Bauer”. Keifer Sutherland probably always wanted to be named Kevin anyway.
My elder daughter and I watched an entire year of “24” in less than 3 days when a typhoon turned our year end sojourn to Australia’s Gold Coast into several days of hunkering down in our beach front condo in front of the TV in between walks in torrential downpours. We powered through Prison Break in similar fashion during a smoggy weekend in Shanghai when venturing outside was not advisable.
Watching “West Wing” episodes filmed over ten years ago that are focused on gun control, terrorism, school shootings, congressional grid lock, and a tanking economy  serve as a reminder that nothing much has changed in Washington in a long time no matter whether a republican or a democrat is in the Oval office.
“West Wing” focuses on a fictional President whose wife routinely criticizes him for his lack of international engagement. When Asia is referenced in the show it is typically with well-worn stereotypes – the “evil” communist Chinese, the “hard to understand” Japanese, etc. Of course being an American show, there is invariably a happy ending after we are taken to the brink of some disaster each episode which is why I like the fictional West Wing more than the real thing.