“The most honest three and a half minutes in television history”

OK, I know this should have been put up on Wednesday, but I wanted to get this one right. Anyway…

This video appeared on my Facebook feed a few days ago, and I have been unable to get it out of my head since. It is, I am told, the opening scene of a new HBO series (The Newsroom), and since HBO’s most famous product, Game of Thrones, is famously the most pirated TV show on earth, I hope they won’t mind me borrowing another three minute snippet too much.

OK, watched it? Good, now I can begin to get my thoughts off my chest.

This video is many things; to me, it is quite possibly one of the most poignant and beautiful, and in many ways is the best summary of greatness ever put to film. It is inspiring, it is blunt, it is great television. It is not, however, “The most honest three and a half minutes of television, EVER…” as claimed in its title; there are a lot of things I disagree with in it. For one thing, I’m not entirely sure on our protagonist’s reasons for saying ‘liberals lose’. If anything, the last century of our existence can be viewed as one long series of victories for liberal ideology; women have been given the vote, homosexuality has been decriminalised, racism has steadily been dying out, gender equality is advancing year by year and only the other day the British government legalised gay marriage. His viewpoint may have something to do with features of American politics that I’m missing, particularly his reference to the NEA (an organisation which I do not really understand), but even so. I’m basically happy with the next few seconds; I’ll agree that claiming to be the best country in the world based solely on rights and freedoms is not something that holds water in our modern, highly democratic world. Freedom of speech, information, press and so on are, to most eyes, prerequisites to any country wishing to have any claim to true greatness these days, rather than the scale against which such activities are judged. Not entirely sure why he’s putting so much emphasis on the idea of a free Australia and Belgium, but hey ho.

Now, blatant insults of intelligence directed towards the questioner aside, we then start to quote statistics- always a good foundation point to start from in any political discussion. I’ll presume all his statistics are correct, so plus points there, but I’m surprised that he apparently didn’t notice that one key area America does lead the world in is size of economy; China is still, much to its chagrin, in second place on that front. However, I will always stand up for the viewpoint that economy does not equal greatness, so I reckon his point still stands.

Next, we move on to insulting 20 year old college students, not too far off my own personal social demographic; as such, this is a generation I feel I can speak on with some confidence. This is, probably the biggest problem I have with anything said during this little clip; no justification is offered as to why this group is the “WORST PERIOD GENERATION PERIOD EVER PERIOD”. Plenty of reasons for this opinion have been suggested in the past by other commentators, and these may or may not be true; but making assumptions and insults about a person based solely on their date of manufacture is hardly the most noble of activities. In any case, in the age of the internet and mass media, a lot of the world’s problems, with the younger generation in particular, get somewhat exaggerated… but no Views here, bad Ix.

And here we come to the meat of the video, the long, passionate soliloquy containing all the message and poignancy of the video with suitably beautiful backing music. But, what he comes out with could still be argued back against by an equally vitriolic critic; no time frame of when America genuinely was ‘the greatest country in the world’ is ever given. Earlier, he attempted to justify non-greatness by way of statistics, but his choice of language in his ‘we sure as hell used to be great’ passage appears to hark back to the days of Revolutionary-era and Lincoln-era America, when America was lead by the ‘great men’ he refers to. But if we look at these periods of time, the statistics don’t add up anywhere near as well; America didn’t become the world-dominating superpower with the stated ‘world’s greatest economy’ it is today until after making a bucket load of money from the two World Wars (America only became, in the words of then President Calvin Coolidge, ‘the richest country in the history of the world’, during the 1920s). Back in the periods where American heroes were born, America was a relatively poor country, consisting of vast expanses of wilderness, hardline Christian motivation, an unflinching belief in democracy, and an obsession the American spirit of ‘rugged individualism’ that never really manifested itself into any super-economy until it became able to loan everyone vast sums of money to pay off war debts. And that’s not all; he makes mention of ‘making war for moral reasons’, but of the dozens of wars America has fought only two are popularly thought of as being morally motivated. These were the American War of Independence, which was declared less for moral reasons and more because the Americans didn’t like being taxed, and the American Civil War, which ended with the southern states being legally allowed to pass the ‘Jim Crow laws’ that limited black rights until the 1960s; here they hardly ‘passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons’. Basically, there is no period of history in which his justifications for why America was once’the greatest country in the world’ actually stand up at once.

But this, to me, is the point of what he’s getting at; during his soliloquy, a historical period of greatness is never defined so much as a model and hope for greatness is presented.. Despite all his earlier quoting of statistics and ‘evidence’, they are not what makes a country great. Money, and the power that comes with it, are not defining features of greatness, but just stuff that makes doing great things possible. The soliloquy, intentionally or not, aligns itself with the Socratic idea of justice; that a just society is one in which every person concerns himself with doing their own, ideally suited, work, and does not concern himself with trying to be a busybody and doing someone else’s job for them. Exactly how he arrives at this conclusion is somewhat complex; Plato’s Republic gives the full discourse. This idea is applied to political parties during the soliloquy; defining ourselves by our political stance is a self-destructive idea, meaning all our political system ever does is bicker at itself rather than just concentrating on making the country a better place. Also mentioned is the idea of ‘beating our chest’, the kind of arrogant self-importance that further prevents us from seeking to do good in this world, and the equally destructive concept of belittling intelligence that prevents us from making the world a better, more righteous place, full of the artistic and technological breakthroughs that make our world so awesome to bring in. For, as he says so eloquently, what really makes a country great is to be right. To be just, to be fair, to mean and above all to stand for something. To not be obsessed about ourselves, or other people’s business; to have rightness and morality as the priority for the country as a whole. To lay down sacrifices and be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good, to back our promises and ideals and to care, above all else, simply for what is right.

You know what, he put it better than I ever could analyse. I’m just going to straight up quote him:

“We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons, we waged wars on poverty not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbours, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men- we aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy.”

Maybe his words don’t quite match the history; it honestly doesn’t matter. The message of that passage embodies everything that defines greatness, ideas of morality and justice and doing good by the world. That statement is not harking back to some mythical past, but a statement of hope and ambition for the future. That is beauty embodied. That is greatness.

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15 thoughts on ““The most honest three and a half minutes in television history”

  1. Very thought provoking. I read your comments after watching the YouTube video. Thank you.

  2. It’s only a movie. The man talking is only a character reading a script. His emotion and courtesy toward the college girl are only theater. Statistics aside, he’s totally right. Your eyes and comments are completely fogged. I would tell you to wake up and smell the roses but that would be futile.

    WOW…what a total waste of internet data space and my time for reading it! As with any bleeding-heart liberal, you have made a feeble attempt to justify the actions and policies that have drug this country into the gutter of history. Until we – the people – wake up and realize what political correctness and liberal idealogy has cost us all, we’ll continue the downward slide we’ve been on since The Great Society was defined. Go ahead; vote in another far-left, ultra-liberal administration. You of the 20-something generation will ultimately get what you and your loser parents deserve: a socialist nanny state that can’t sustain itself and produces generation upon generation of lazy illiterates that contribute nothing but numbers of illegitimate spawn to the popluation.

    • Fair enough, although I wouldn’t normally identify myself as liberal. From my perspective, political views just result in arguments, and I try not to have too many. I also don’t live in America, so no need to worry yourself as to whether my vote will concern you.

    • I find it funny how you believe so strongly against this. So strongly, in fact you would take this site, use long words you probably used a thesaurus for… and try to disassociate fans of this video, and liberals in general. If you hate liberals so much, why must you belittle them? do you feel big trying to make us feel small? That’s not equality, Sir- Eyes Wide Open, your eyes are just barely peered at the sight of what America has come to, if you would just focus your hate on the fact that freedom isn’t what it was anymore (as in we don’t have recordings on our cell phones only certain government associates(or hackers) can use.) And i expect an argument in return, because someone like you has to have the last word.
      – Jared

  3. The great men he was referring to were presumably Walter Chonkite and the other original newsmen of television.

  4. Collapsinghrung, nice write-up. For the most part, I agree with or at least understand, most of what you’ve said.

    “but I’m surprised that he apparently didn’t notice that one key area America does lead the world in is size of economy; ” has me wondering though. I am wondering… if the amount of debt the US holds was factored into the equation, would they still come out as the biggest economy in the world? Last time I check US debt was in the order to 10 to 20 trillion. If we also factor in the amount of the US economy that is actually money spent on war, arms, and other military endeavours, what’s left? I know the exact answer to this question, but my informed hunch is that all of a sudden the US economy might look rather poorly… more like a sink hole with a bunch of tanks and soldiers standing around guarding it, than a the huge success it likes to view itself has. It begs the question, “A success at what, exactly?”

    @ EYES WIDE OPEN,
    I hear what I get the impression is frustration and anger. I also agree with the general thrust of the man in the video. It is not at all clear to me what your point is. Please excuse me for not understanding you clearly. Your harsh tone and judgement seem unwarranted to me.

    • As I have always understood it, the American debt situation is not unique; the UK, for example, has a higher per capita debt than the USA, and despite everyone’s claims that ‘China owns us all’, the Chinese government is in debt too (last time I heard, anyway; feel free to correct me if you have better numbers). The thing is that, although everyone is constantly in debt to everyone else, all of these debts are constantly being repaid and accounted for by making new loans, hence why everyone still manages to have shiny credit ratings yet perpetual debt. The whole business of international debt is rather messier than most people realise, and there are some of the opinion that it’s all going to fall to pieces at some point; I refer you to this article that I saw yesterday: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/01/1001662/-Iceland-s-On-going-Revolution

      I can’t say I really agree with what’s going on there, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

  5. I agree with the premise that liberals lose. That is precisely why Obama ran as a ‘moderate’. If he had run as a hard core liberal, he would have lost in a landslide.

    • I think you and I have a different definition of, and a slightly different frame of reference regarding, liberals. In the UK, it’s pretty much impossible to be a ‘hardcore liberal’, because liberal basically means centrist, believes in freedom and equality etc. It doesn’t really refer to any economic position, so we use conservative/socialist instead. Plus, the political landscape in our current age (although not so much at this precise moment given the economic climate) is, across the western world, more centrist and moderate than it’s ever been, on both sides of the coin. That’s kinda what I meant when disputing the idea that ‘liberals lose’- in hindsight I should probably have considered where the show was made before talking about that.

      I could go on an entire speech here about the relative extremism of politics in times of economic crises, but that’s a post for another time. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  6. I enjoyed your commentary for the most part…You came in strong, lost me in the middle but explained yourself and hit the nail on the head towards the end.
    Looking at the comments, let me try to explain an American liberal…It is one who is considered to lean very far left in all areas of politics: They believe in a very large centralized government. For the most part, they believe that capitalism is evil and believe in financial equality in that the rich should be taxed much, much more than the average person and the government should take care of the people who identify themselves as “poor” (in the form of freebees: healthcare, food…and subsidized living: housing, cars, phones, utilities, etc. As a note, conservatives aren’t heartless in this area, but believe in focusing on “poverty” (creating more jobs through less regulation, starting programs which encourage people to get back to work, and providing for the poor and disabled through charities and faith-based organizations – rather than through the government)). Socially, liberals are left as well (pro-abortion, legalize marriage for homosexuals, pro-amnesty, and generally seem to be anti-Christian…). As a note, they have been propagandized through a very left leaning media that all conservatives are greedy, power-hungry, bigots with no concern for their fellow man (this of course is a lie aimed at promoting division…there are just as many greedy, power hungry bigots who lean left as there are of those who lean right…and there are just as many caring, selfless people who lean right as there are of those who lean left).

    Giving liberals in America all the credit for reducing racism is propaganda lie…and possibly in the UK as well, I’m not knowledgable enough to know… In America, if people would take the time to look at history, it was the Democrats (all liberals are democrats, but not all democrats are liberals) who passed the Jim Crow laws. It was the Democrats who repealed many of the laws (late 1800’s) that gave rights to the black Americans – laws that were passed by Republicans immediately after the Civil War (The Republican party was established a few years before The Civil War, expressly designed to abolish slavery – Abe Lincoln was the first Republican President). It was the Democrats that started the KuKluxKlan soon after the Civil War, an organization designed to keep black Americans from their rights, but most especially from voting Republican. In those days, the large majority if not all blacks were Republican because it was the Democrats who were pro-slavery. I could also give facts about gender equality that would demonstrate that we can’t give the left all the credit for our progress in this area and could also point out many problems in our society that is caused by the feminine movement (and just to be clear, I am female). My point isn’t to point out the evils of Democrats, or that Republicans had it right, it’s to point out that no one side has gotten it right all the time. But if we, as a people, get it right in the end we all win. Towards that end, using the word “decriminalize” feeds the idea and the lie that those who are right-leaning are criminalizing homosexuality. The words “disagreement” and
    “criminalize” are not synonyms! Using that type of verbiage feeds and promotes propaganda and only helps divide us. To be great, we need to find ways to become unified…not focus and promote that which divides us.

    On another subject and just to clarify. Americans did not agree to war with England just because of taxation, (although yes, that is what we have been taught). Taxation w/o representation was the 17th grievance, out of 27 grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence and was the only grievance that dealt with taxation. The truth of the matter is that The War of Independence had very little to do with the American people’s issue with taxation and more to do with morals, rights and justice issues, which bring us to what you ended with…defining greatness.

    All that being said, as I said at the beginning, you hit the nail on the head in your final words: “Maybe his words don’t quite match the history; it honestly doesn’t matter. The message of that passage embodies everything that defines greatness, ideas of morality and justice and doing good by the world (selflessness). That statement is not harking back to some mythical past (I would add here, but it does harken to a past ideal, AND…), … a statement of hope and ambition for the future. That is beauty embodied. That is greatness.

    • Thanks very much for that. I will confess to being only familiar with the basics surrounding American independence and do not have a deep understanding of the issue, so I’ll happily take your corrections there, and equally regarding my poor choice of language. The one point I would like to mention is the whole ‘who was responsible for Jim Crow’ issue; I had understood that somewhere between Lincoln and Wilson’s presidencies, the Democrats and Republicans had actually swapped places on the political spectrum, with Republicans moving right and Democrats moving left. Again, I could probably do with doing some more research on this: I think the point I was trying to make is that the liberal viewpoint (socially speaking) backed the pro-racial equality agenda, rather than any particular party. That fair?

  7. The only thing that stuck with me during thid posting was when you missed spelled organization. ..organsation is maybe what he was referring to as we lack the ability to ensure our own perfection beyond a mythical dream

  8. hey look, there is a forest behind those trees!!!

    you are all splitting hairs and arguing about the bulls*%t, and overlooking the giant f#%$ing gorilla in the corner that is and always has been the problem.

    The point of the rant on “The Newsroom” is not wrong in any way.

  9. Jeff Daniels plays the typical liberal 1%er whining about stuff LIBERALS also contribute to. If liberals think this stuff is so bad, why don’t they stand up and do something about it? Why don’t they join a union? Why don’t they get active in the community (and that doesn’t mean turning out once every 4 years to support fricken Hillary). It’s all very well to point out the problems in our society and how conservatives sugar coat everything, but liberals do that too, and if anyone thinks liberals are going to actually do anything about it, they have another think coming. Obama is president – he promised change, he had the mandate to push change through, but what do we get? The fricken Affordable Care Act, which is just another giveaway to the insurance industry, and there are still millions of people uninsured.

    And the kicker is when the bozo in the video – liberal douchebag Aaron Sorkin’s puppet – starts talking about when the US used to be the greatest country in the world and how it stood up for what was right. NO IT DIDN’T! It was NEVER the greatest country in the world – tell the American Indians that the US used to fight for “moral reasons” and then watch as they laugh (if they can laugh rather than cry about it). Tell the Japanese that were placed in concentration camps that the US had morality as its driving force: tell Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu that the US passes moral laws. Tell it to the slaves that lived in the US for 75 years while slavery in the south was defended by almost every politician who stood for election and by every law that was put on the books.

    Americans think their country is great because Americans get to vote once every couple of years on representatives and issues that an elite few put forward for consideration. That’s not great – it’s EMBARRASSING. True democracy demands CONSTANT involvement in the political process on the part of all citizens and it institutes laws and a society that is beneficial to the people. American democracy – AND LIBERALISM – institutes laws and a society that benefits the rich and their corporations.

    So don’t tell me that this video represents “honesty”. It does not. It’s just a better-sounding lie than the conservative version.

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