Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing”, 1.07, “The State Dinner”

Dudes, these titles are getting a little unwieldy. Not of the episodes, of my posts. Would it confuse anyone if I went with something shorter and simpler?

Just a reminder, here’s what we’re looking for:

  1. Physical comedy is used to undercut a female character’s competence.
  2. A female character’s sexual appeal or sexual/romantic relationship with a male character is primary.
  3. A female character displays “feistiness”. “Feistiness” is a frequent shorthand in liberal misogyny for “See? She’s strong and independent and we find that adorable! What’s the problem?”
  4. Femininity or feminine concerns are disparaged, by male or female characters.
  5. Any character is rude to his/her female subordinate with no consequences.
  6. A male character is lauded and glorified in an unlikely way by a female character or characters.
  7. A female character screws up at her job.
  8. Anger coming from a female character is unreasonable or mysterious, either to the audience or to another character.
  9. A female character plays the Exposition Fairy. Note: Having Exposition Fairies is not in and of itself a problem. It’s necessary in most fiction. But in The West Wing, the Fairy is almost always a female character, and is almost always asking a male character for explanation, and would almost always certainly know the information she’s asking for, so that the fact that she’s asking indicates that she’s not that good at her job.
  10. An episode goes by that does not pass the Bechdel test.
  11. Lip service is paid to female power or agency or simply the existence of females in this world without, oh, say, actually casting one or giving one something cool to do.
  12. A male character or characters act(s) as white knight to a female character or characters.

And,

!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

So, previously on “The West Wing”, Josh obnoxiously asked Mandy to work for “the leader of the free world” and Mandy feistily punched him and I wondered if I could drop a number for a thing that happened in a previous episode and then decided it’s my f-ing blog so why not 3; CJ gave Danny a lead on something because he’s a good guy; Leo insisted that his marriage was not over and his daughter laid some truth on him; Sam was obnoxious to his prostitute friend who “doesn’t plan on getting busted”. 12 because we didn’t have a number for this before and also we’ve found our Chekhov’s pager!

Currently on “The West Wing,” C.J. is in a room, like, behind the press room? With machinery? She’s looking at something I think may be photography-related while a bunch of lady reporters ask annoying lady questions about what the First Lady and also the guest First Lady will be wearing. C.J. is sort of keeping it together but clearly has an “Ugh, fashion” attitude. I’m giving this a 4 because it doesn’t have to be a male character disparaging femininity; it just has to be the show. C.J. even throws shade at the FASHION REPORTERS for not asking about the NUCLEAR TEST BAN TREATY. Which, a) THEY’RE FASHION REPORTERS, C.J., and b) isn’t even mentioned for the rest of the episode. I thought at first that the state dinner had something to do with the nuclear test ban treaty but on further viewing, it doesn’t, so wtf, CJ? Another 4 for you.

Josh follows C.J. out of the room-behind-the-press-room. C.J. continues to rant about how with her 22 years of education (which is K-12 plus four years of college plus five years of grad school, right? So I’ve only had one year less of education than she has? And most of the annoying lady journalists must have had K-12 and most likely four years of college and also a lot of them probably have been to grad school, right? Yeah. Okay.) she has to answer stupid LADY questions about stupid LADY things like fashion and wine. 4. Although it is sort of amusing when she’s all, “And Mirabella wants to know what kind of wine we’re serving, God,” and Josh is like, “What kind of wine are we-” and C.J. snaps, “It’s wine, Josh. You drink it.”

Josh moves on to what he actually wanted to talk about, which is a hurricane headed toward Georgia and the Carolinas and likely to make landfall that night.

Sam tags in to announce that the teamsters have voted to strike and Leo is putting them in a room to hash things out. They have until midnight. (I don’t think he mentions which “team” the teamsters are on here, so I’ll just tell you – it’s the trucking union. I mean, other unions are referred to as “teamsters”, right?)

Toby joins the conga line. There’s a situation in McClane, ID, where somewhere between eighteen and forty survivalists and their children are in a farm surrounded by local law enforcement. The FBI is going in, treating this like a hostage situation. I guess the children are the ones who count as hostages. This is all supposed to remind adult watchers in 1999 of Waco, TX. I’m sure I should understand it in that light in better detail, but I was a kid when Waco happened.

C.J. sums up our subplots thusly: “Let see if I have this: A hurricane has picked up speed and power and is heading for Georgia. Management and labor are coming here to work out a settlement to avoid a crippling strike that will begin at midnight tonight. And the government’s planning a siege on 18-40 of its citizens all while we host a state dinner for the president of Indonesia.” The boys all nod and agree vigorously. “Amazingly, you know what I’ll get asked most often?” she continues. And of course one of those irritating lady journalists pops her head in and says, “C.J.?” And C.J. already knows what she’s going to ask and repeats her description of the first lady’s shoes from earlier. “Black suede and velvet Manolo Blahnik slides with a rhinestone and mother-of-pearl toe buckle.” Then she looks at the boys like, “Women, amIrite?” 4. But thanks for the recap, C.J.!

And, not for nothing, but . . . black suede AND velvet? Suede for evening? Rhinestone AND mother-of-pearl toe buckle? Do these not sound like unrealistically hideous shoes? I mean, I’m no expert and maybe the image in my head TOTALLY does not match the actual shoe, but . . . no?

Credits.

Misogyny Points Thus Far: 6. We’re in for a good episode!

Josh is in his very messy office with stacks and stacks of stuff practically obscuring his face. He’s talking to someone on the phone about the hurricane. He hangs up and calls for “Donnatella Moss!” He doesn’t want to talk to her about the hurricane, though. He wants her to find out if a specific Indonesian official speaks English, and, if not, get a translator from State so that he, Toby, and the Indonesian official can have a pow-wow later.

Donna wants to talk to Josh about a problem she has with “this whole Indonesia thing.” See, she’s been doing some reading on her own, and –

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Josh says.

robert-downey-jr

No, wait, Robert Downey, Jr. It gets worse.

“Why?” Donna whines.

“Because you tend to cull some bizarre factoid from a less than reputable source and then you blow it all out of proportion.”

karen-gif-funny-phone

I know, right, Karen?

5. And 4. What the hell, let’s throw in an 8. Because for real, Josh? For real, Aaron Sorkin?

And of course Donna only proves the point by insisting that she does not do that, and then insists that in some parts of Indonesia, she’s read, they execute you if they suspect you of being a sorcerer. Ugh. Another 8 just for how dip-shitty they had her sound here.

MPTF: 10

Anyway, Josh does not care and goes into Leo’s office, or maybe his, I don’t know, parlor? The staff is gathering. And the scene that follows is actually one of the ones I want to praise Aaron Sorkin for. It’s not a spectacular scene; it’s a working kind of scene that lets us get updated on all the plot points and also advance one minor thing. All of the people in the room talk so that the exposition feels natural and it’s even funny at points, like when they’re talking about the truckers in the Roosevelt Room and Josh says C.J.’s going to need to know what they’re wearing.

So, anyway, the following things happen:

The hurricane is getting worse.

The truckers and management are in a fight over the two-tiered system, in which some workers are considered full-time, with the pay and benefits of full-timers, and others are considered part-time, even though they work the same number of hours, and they get lower pay and no benefits. On the one hand, that seems unfair. On the other, Toby and Josh claim, the younger workforce is interested in flexibility and not willing to make long-term commitments to their companies, so why should those companies offer benefits and higher wages to them? Oh, 1999. A time when the younguns wanted flexible jobs so they could explore themselves and shit. Instead of just wanting jobs that pay them money. We miss you, you simpler, more economically stable times.

Sam wants to be in charge of the McClane thing but Leo wants him working with Toby on the toast because State is going to be very picky about what they can and cannot say.

Josh says he’ll assign it to someone in his department and Mandy says she wants to do it. Josh does not want Mandy to do it because she is a political consultant and this is “an actual, you know, thing.” Mandy and Josh bicker and whine and C.J. makes great faces. Leo decides to let Mandy handle it, but she has to keep Josh in the loop.

I’m giving Josh a and a 5 for his dismissal of Mandy’s abilities to handle this kind of thing, but I do have to ask – I mean, I know that Sorkin had all kinds of actual West Wing former staffers as consultants but – is it realistic that Mandy, who, as best as I can tell, is a freelance consultant and not an employee of the actual federal government, would be given charge of such a sensitive issue? Should she even be in the daily senior staff meeting like this? I don’t know; I’m just asking.

As they lead the meeting, Toby approaches Donna to ask her about the Indonesian dude. He also confirms that they do, in fact, behead sorcerers in some parts of Indonesia. He seems disinterested, though, and Josh fails to apologize for his earlier attitude. 5.

And listen, I don’t know what they do or do not do about sorcerers in Indonesia, now or in 1999. This blog is not about ethnocentrism, or colonialism, or any of that stuff. Because I don’t know enough to be an authority on this issue. I’m sure Sorkin is wrong about something in all of this, but I’m not taking it upon myself to tell you what it is.

Many camera flashes are going off. One cameraman says, “Mr. President,” and C.J. cuts in to say there are no questions at this particular time; they’re keeping things brief. The cameraman says it’s a short question, and the president says C.J.’s not worried about the length of the question, but the length of his answer. True facts, Mr. President. The cameras continue flashing while President Bartlett tries to engage the president of Indonesia in conversation. The president of Indonesia is not at all interested.

Toby goes to Sam to talk about the toast. Sam’s writing a nice, boring, diplomatic speech. Toby wants to toughen it up. He doesn’t want to remind everyone how friendly America is with dictators who “oppress their people while stealing their money.” Sam wants to know how else you could steal their money? Hee.

Sam asks Toby what he’s got going on with Josh. “We’ve got to see a guy about a thing,” Toby says, and no, he doesn’t want help.

Leo goes to the Roosevelt Room where the teamsters are sitting down with management. Leo yells at them for a few minutes and leaves. Well, good, then.

Mandy is waiting for Josh outside his office. She accuses him of not thinking she can do this. She runs down the situation in McClane. The relevant new piece of information here is that the FBI is using the fact that they may have illegal guns with them as a pretext, except that the FBI in fact sold them those guns. Mandy notes that it bugs Josh that the president listens to her sometimes. He says it bugs him when the president listens to anyone who’s not him. Really, Josh? Funny, we haven’t seen you disparage Sam or Toby the way you disparage Mandy. 5.

More cameras flash. Now the two presidents are sitting down and it appears they can take questions. The Indonesian president is no more responsive to the press than he was to President Bartlett.

Danny Concannon is in this group of reporters and asks the president what he knows about the protesters outside the White House. They’re protesting vermeil. C.J. shuts him up by saying they’re covering vermeil at the briefing later and ushers this group of reporters out of the room. Then she and Danny bicker about vermeil for a while, C.J. insisting that she does, in fact, know what vermeil is. Danny calls Carol over to help C.J. with the vermeil story he just made happen. And the Carol and C.J. exchange words! Okay, two lines. But it’s about vermeil! I believe that counts as not-a-man and therefore this episode passes the Bechdel test! -10.

MPTF: 13

Leo steals President Bartlett for a minute. The minute they’re outside the room, the president complains about how boring the Indonesian president is, and how he wishes he were sitting with Toby, C.J. and Sam that night, as that’s the “fun table.” He observes that the only way such boring and/or rude man could win an election is that the U.S. rigs them.

Anyway, Leo just wanted to tell him they’ve ordered a carrier group out of Norfolk to move out of the way of the hurricane. So that should end well.

Toby and Sam are writing together, Toby on a legal pad and Sam on his laptop. Toby hands his legal pad to Sam and Sam does not think they should invite people to dinner and then chastise them. Toby thinks that if you don’t, it’s just a waste of food.

C.J. is now talking to the press about vermeil, which is gilded silver, and which was produced in France under atrocious conditions and then melted down to pay for Louis XV’s wars. In other words, to some people, it’s a symbol of oppression and government waste. To the White House, it’s a good place to put seasonal floral centerpieces.

Danny follows C.J. out of the press room and C.J. accuses him of “rousing rabbles”. Hee. Apparently this protest is composed of six people. Danny wants to know what C.J. is wearing that night. Not his paper, Danny. C.J. does not smack him, but answers him, “An evening gown of gray silk.” Danny says he’ll be looking forward to it.

Yeah, I’m throwing up a 2 here. You can argue with me if you like in the comments.

Sam and his prostitute friend Laurie are at a diner. Laurie is trying to study. Sam is yapping to her. He is also trying to Bogart her sandwich. He insists that in this kind of place, the food is communal. Sam, you’re thinking of Chinese food. Or family-style Italian. Sandwiches are never communal unless you explicitly state that one of you will have one half and the other will have the other half. Laurie is inexplicably charmed that Sam is not afraid of being seen with her in public. 6. Sam wants to know if she has a date that night and she says yes but doesn’t want to talk more about it. She wants to study. Sam throws the answers to her study questions at her and she thanks him sarcastically for his “nerd bravado” while insisting that, whether or not this test is relevant to the practice of law, it is in fact relevant to the passing of law school. I gotta give Lisa Edelstein credit, by the way. I hate a lot about what they do with this character but I like her a lot and she plays this role very well. I do have to ask, though, if you need to be studying, why are you out having lunch with Sam? He’s even stealing your food.

Some dudes are telling the president how militias are an inherent threat. Mandy asks permission to join the discussion. She lectures the men about how kooks and extremists are the byproduct of a free country, much like porn is the byproduct of free speech. Josh points out that guns are different from Hustler. The unnamed men – who I guess are with the FBI – quibble with her about the difference between entrapment and a sting, and Mandy brings up that her concern is the court of public opinion. Josh says there’s no way this will end good, so it’s best to end it fast. Mandy wants to bring in a negotiator. The president dismisses Josh and Mandy, and they go outside to debate the nature of democracy. Well, Mandy talks theoretical abstract bullshit about democracy. Josh is on the side of, “When the FBI says come out with your hands up, you come out with your hands up,” and you can avail yourself of your free country’s judicial system at that point. I hate to say it, but I agree with Josh here. On a theoretical level, in fact, as well as a practical one. An ordered state requires that everyone buy into the state’s authority, as well as requiring that the state not abuse that authority. I agree that we have plenty of problems with the latter. I’m just saying that doesn’t justify problems with the former.

Anyway, Leo comes out and tells Mandy that the president is sending in a negotiator. Josh nastily says, “Well, you’re in the game now.” 5

Donna is tying Josh’s bow tie and talking about the whole sorcerer-beheading thing some more. I don’t know exactly how to justify this but I’m giving this scene a 4. Charlie comes in to ask Josh a favor – his grandparents are in the path of the hurricane and Charlie can’t reach them. Charlie is clearly embarrassed to be asking this favor but Josh insists he not worry about it. He tells Donna, “Call FEMA, use my name. When that doesn’t work, use Leo’s name.” Hee. Josh promises to find them.

Mandy, in evening wear, approaches Josh. Josh says he looks good, even better than her. I disagree with his assessment. I don’t get the white bow tie thing. Anyway, Mandy is worried that the negotiator hasn’t been in contact yet. Josh has no opinions on this. Nor does he know what’s happening with the hurricane or the teamsters. “What is it you do here, exactly?” Mandy asks. “It’s never really been made clear to me,” Josh responds. Hee.

Their perambulations bring them to Sam. Sam and Josh admire themselves and Mandy asks if they want to be alone.

Yeah, I’m calling it. New number.

13. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Damn, and I just redid my post-it with all these numbers on it, too.

MPTF: 18

Sam wants to know if there’s any personal connection between President Indonesia (they keep saying his name but I can’t catch the spelling) and the US. Josh says that he was once almost pushed out of an airplane by a CIA operative. Sam thinks that’s not going to work and departs just as Toby calls Josh over.

Toby is displeased that the interpreter from the State Department does not speak one of the 583 Indonesian languages that the dude Josh and Toby want to talk to does. Josh shouts for Donna 5 who insists she has it under control. She has a kitchen guy who speaks Portugese and the dialect the Indonesian dude speaks, but not English. But the State Department guy speaks Portugese. And English. Toby wants a drink.

C.J., in gray silk, is greeted by Stockard Channing, our First Lady, who compliments C.J.’s dress except for its lack of cleavage and then introduces her to a single cardiologist. Throwing up a here as well.

C.J. pulls the First Lady away to talk about the vermeil. The First Lady – Abbey – says she’s not embarrassed; they didn’t spend new money on it; and it’s their history. They’re not going to lock it in the basement or brush it with a new coat of paint; they’re going to use it to display seasonal floral arrangements. I gotta say, I like that answer.

C.J. walks away and Abbey greets Leo by comparing him to Fred Astaire. Whom he does kind of resemble. She wants to know where her husband is. He’s on a call. The teamsters are still talking. Abbey commands Leo to mingle.

Mandy is meandering nervously. She leaves the party area to go to the Josh area. Donna can’t get anyone on the phone.

Leo wants Toby, Sam, and Josh to schmooze with a big donor. Whose date is Laurie. Who is Brittany right now. Sam is gobsmacked, visibly. If I were the big donor, I’d assume Sam had used “Brittany’s” services.

Donna finds Charlie. His grandparents are safe at a shelter, but are being sent back home. The hurricane has shifted direction.

Leo passes by Donna saying this to ask C.J. what’s going on. Turns out that carrier group is now in the path of the hurricane. But there’s nothing to be done and Leo doesn’t want to tip the press by having C.J. start to work on this.

Josh is in the dining room on his cell as people come in. Mandy approaches him. She hasn’t heard anything.

But Josh has. It’s over. The survivalists shot the negotiator; the FBI came in and arrested them; the negotiator is in critical condition. Because women suck at doing actual, you know, things. 7. Also, although Mandy was assigned to be point person on this, and has been on the phone all evening, Josh is the one that can get through. 11. Mandy is going to be sick. Because girls, they can’t handle this shit like men can. 4. The presidents are announced as Mandy rushes off to the bathroom to hurl.

MPTF: 22

The president is for some reason surprised that the hurricane changed course without warning. Leo says it’s unusual. Is it? I thought hurricanes did this kind of thing all the time.

President Bartlett and Leo go to talk to a captain, who informs him that this carrier group is 12,000 men. That’s a shit-ton, isn’t it? The worst will hit in 20 minutes. They’re going to set up a call to the carrier group so that the president can talk to them. Leo tells the president the negotiator is being prepped for surgery. The only thing for the president can do is go back to the party.

Meanwhile, Toby is in the kitchen with the two interpreters and the Indonesian dude. Donna watches. It’s all pretty dumb. Josh comes in and the nonsense goes on until it is revealed that the Indonesian dude speaks English. Josh is mad at Donna and dismisses her. 7. Toby dismisses the interpreters. They tell the Indonesian dude they want him to let their French friend out of Indonesian jail. They very obnoxiously explain that they don’t want this to be, like, an official let this guy out of jail; they just want the Indonesian dude to put key to lock and get the guy out. The Indonesian guy correctly notes that this is a favor and that Toby and Josh are hardly displaying the demeanor of persons asking for a favor. Furthermore, the speech Toby wrote was “despicable and humiliating.” He also points out the hypocrisy of lecturing the world on human rights when we killed all the Native Americans. I mean, he’s right, but it’s also kind of a childish and unsophisticated point to make. The Indonesian guy tells them to go to hell.

C.J. is working in her evening gown. Danny comes in and compliments her dress, then asks her about McClane. She’s annoyed. She asks if, when he flirts with her, is he doing it to get a story? No, he’s doing it to flirt with her. Yeah, Danny, you’re all about the boundaries. She points out that he’s the one who says she’s too friendly with the press corps. She sends him off but then asks if he really likes the dress. Ugh. 2.

We’re back with the teamsters. They’re arguing. The president walks in. They all stand. The president demands that they talk for five minutes apiece. While standing.

The donor approaches with Laurie/Brittany. The donor wants a “relationship” with Sam and Sam talks like he’s a prostitute. Then the donor walks off and Laurie, inexplicably, apologizes to him. 6. Sam is pissy with her until Abbey approaches them and asks to be introduced to Laurie. Sam does not know what to do but Laurie handles herself. Abbey wants to know where her husband is and when she’s told he’s with the teamsters, she surmises that he’s there because he can’t save a gunshot victim or divert a hurricane. The first lady then calls Laurie “thoroughly charming” even though Laurie didn’t say anything. -6? Then Abbey leaves and Sam continues to be a whiny baby. He offers her $10,000 not to go home with that guy tonight. She doesn’t smack him; she just leaves. 12.

The president cuts off one of the trucking people and says that none of them know what they’re talking about. At 12:01 am, he says, he’s using his executive power to nationalize the trucking industry and draft the truckers into military service.

The president marches through the halls, and Abbey sees him. She says she shouldn’t have stayed away so long; when she does, the president loses his sense of proportion. They have a very loving interaction as the storm rages behind them, causing the lights to flicker. Jed calls it a “metaphor for powerlessness.”

The two of them depart hand in hand, and Leo finds them and tells the president they could only get a maintenance supply boat, and what’s more, they can’t even get the captain. So Jed, in his office, surrounded by his staff, talks to the kid in the radio shack, who is clearly terrified. As well he should be. He’s going to die.

I can’t recap this scene. I’ve got . . . something in my eye. Shut up. It’s allergy season. The president talks to this kid until he can’t anymore and that’s all you need to know.

And that’s the end of this episode.

It seems ludicrous to write about misogyny points right after 12,000 people died in a hurricane. But that’s my job, right?

Total Misogyny Points: 25

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3 thoughts on “Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing”, 1.07, “The State Dinner”

  1. Lorraine Proctor says:

    Hi, I came to the West Wing late, love it and still do. But I quickly loathed the main characters’ incredible rudeness to subordinates. Where is the collegiality that enriches the leads’ relationships? After all, Sorkin shows Margaret, Donna, Bonnie et al working at a frantic pace at all hours, like their bosses. I wondered whether this was perhaps an American thing, an extreme example of a culture that (from an Australian perspective) suffers from an anti-union , heavily individualistic ethos? The sort of ‘I made it and stuff you if you’re less successful’ attitude that American liberals would swear they don’t have?

    You are spot on with the show’s treatment of senior women, too. Here in real life you guys are doing better than us, however. Our conservative Prime Minister has just doubled the number of women in his Cabinet – from 1 to a massive 2. And our recent, first female Prime Minister was given a viciously hard time by our media, other politicians and many, many ordinary men and women.
    Regards, Nana Lorraine

    • perica1981 says:

      Thanks for reading! And yeah, I still love the show, too.

      I don’t know if the nastiness to subordinates is an American thing or what. Partially I think it’s a Sorkin thing. He thinks that this kind of banter is adorable, rather than nasty and wildly inappropriate (and sometimes, it is adorable). But I do think there may be an allowance for that kind of thing in American workplaces. I don’t really know. I haven’t been in that many American workplaces, and I’ve never been in a non-American one.

      I think there also may be a gender thing (which may or may not be an American-specific gender thing). In more woman-dominated workplaces I’ve been in, that type of constant rudeness would definitely not fly. In the more male-dominated workplaces I’ve been in, there’s definitely more room for it. (I once had to inform a male superior that I preferred he not fling the folders he wanted me to file at my head, but instead to place them neatly in the box on my desk. He seemed surprised that I was taking issue with the flinging.)

  2. mjd says:

    I admit I find some of the Josh/Donna banter a bit adorable. At least she is a participant in the banter. What I find more upsetting is Leo’s treatment of Margaret. Leo, unlike Josh, is actually a pretty nice guy, which makes his rudeness more jarring. I don’t think he has ever said one word to her that is not rude. And it is not jokey rudeness it is just mean.

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