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One of the most important peculiarities of civic culture is the fact that it is not just civic culture influences citizens but citizens also influence civic culture in the society. The West Wing can easily prove it on its example. It presents the formal American presidency institution on the one hand, and human drama on the other hand: “This discourse of duality drives much of the show’s dialogue and mis-en-scene: the show’s infamous “walk and talks” often involve characters quickly moving between pools of light and dark as they debate the pros and cons of a myriad of complex issues, suggesting that in the creation of public policy, even the most altruistic motives can have nefarious consequences” (Dumlao, 2005, p. 2). The film has been the topic of heated debates and has received dual note, however, it delivers a very important civic message: it teaches to be a citizen of the modern American society. On the one hand, its creator, Sorkin touches upon all important American problematic aspects today: gun control subject, national security problem, Africa-American tensions, nuclear weapon implementation and some others. In such a way, this drama fulfils the first function of civic culture: presents citizens knowledge about actual American events and problems. Possessing this information, people may make their own conclusions and take this or that position considering these problematic aspects. On the other hand, this film shows The White House from a new perspective; a “high-minded, conscience-haunted upgrade of the Clinton White House”, as Lehmann states (2003, p. 214). Director’s idea to make politics closer for people has proven to be a success. The film has a deep political and social message: it shows strong and weak sides of the American ruling class and the American society, as its mirror. It presents themes that are actual and make people react on them. Nobody can stay apart. The drama causes numerous reactions, some of them are positive, others are negative. Nevertheless, the most important thing is this reaction itself. People express their civic position. They react somehow, compare new facts with the facts that they had before, analyze, criticize and react. It means that the film gives lessons of citizenship and fulfills its civic function as a mass media tool. Dahlgren writes: “The civic culture prism does not promise that we will get any easier answers, but it can help us to formulate questions and stake out research directions, while also possibly providing an enhanced conceptual toolkit” (2006, p. 131). This is the main task that has been achieved in the TV drama The west Wing.
To sum up, this drama makes a great deal depicting these events in a new light for Americans. It promotes all four aspects of the civic culture to this or that degree. First of all, it presents historical facts from American history, such as President’s impeachment, 9/11 attacks, etc, so it supplies people with “knowledge”. Choosing an unusual way for political facts depiction, the director appeals the audience’s interest and makes the drama very attractive for them. What is also important, this series shows values which are dominant in the modern democratic society. Tolerance, respect of other rights and peculiarities, peaceful co-existence, etc are propagated in The West Wing, so it is concentrated on the second aspect of civic culture. These important components of human existence are shown on both personal and state levels in the drama and due to this fact, their importance becomes even more evident. The other two aspects of civic culture also take place in the film, however, they are shown not so clearly.
The drama The West Wing represents the presidency from a new corner. On the one hand, the drama, which has run during seven years, shows real modern history: the episode of seven years starting from Clinton’s impeachment, the 2000 elections, and ending with terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq. All these events have played an important role in the American national consciousness formation and they are part of civic culture. “While The West Wing was never intended to spur Congressional letter writing or public marches, as an answer to Putnam’s assertion that television (particularly entertainment television) is one of the predominant detriments to social capital, it does provide a claim to the medium’s potential to educate while maintaining its commitment to entertain” (Dumlao, 2005, p. 23). On the other hand, this drama is really touching, moving and compelling. It deals with real human lives and relations and makes political characters closer to common people. People start realizing that politicians are just human beings with their weaknesses and strong points and as all humans they may take right decisions or make terrible mistakes.
Dahlgren, Peter and Olsson, Tobias (2006) “Internet et engagement politique: les jeunes citoyens et la culture civique’. Sciences de la Société no. 69 pp. 115-135.
Dumlao, Michael. (Spring, 2005). The West Wing Legacy : Rescuing Democracy and Civic Engagement. Critical Approaches to TV
Lehmann, Chris (2003) “The Feel-Good Presidency: The Pseudo-Politics of The West Wing” The West Wing: The American Presidency as Television Drama, Peter Rollins ed. New York, NY: Syracuse University p.213-221
The West Wing Season 1 DVD
Waxman, Sharon (2003) “The West Wing’s New World” The West Wing: The American Presidency as Television Drama, Peter Rollins ed. New York, NY: Syracuse University Press p.203-212