Book review: Walk with us – How The West Wing changed our lives, edited by Claire Handscombe

wwbookIt’s about 17 years since the screening of the pilot episode of The West Wing. What with the current US presidential election it’s quite understandable that there should be a revival for a series that showed, as Toby Ziegler first said, government as a place where people can come together, where nobody gets left behind. I say ‘first said’ because the scripts of Aaron Sorkin and his successors have been much mined and used in real life (indeed, that line of Toby’s is almost certainly buried somewhere on this website).

It’s worth remembering that there has been a political and cultural impact here in Europe. British politics has been affected. The Conservatives, then in opposition, used a tactic from the show to defeat the Labour government. For their own part, the upper reaches of the Labour party were obsessed, to a fanboy extent. Let’s just say that ‘Let Miliband be Miliband’ is an actual phrase, and leave it at that. I think that Aaron Sorkin is also to blame for our love for the outdated filibuster. And, of course, Adam Price has stated that the West Wing was the inspiration for Borgen.

Popular television is supposed to have an impact. Any series worth its salt has a following – as we’ve seen this week with the furore over Bakeoff-gate. The Whovians, Sherlockians, Trekkies, Borgenistas (etc.) have just as much passion as the Wingnuts. What is slightly unusual about the West Wing is that the quality of its writing means that repeated viewing is rewarded; it is old enough for its original fans to be able to analyse what if any impact it has had on their lives; and that for some reason West Wing geekery is seen as respectable (even though the ’shipping is just as bad). When I explain my cat’s name nobody looks at me any more strangely than they did already.

The real Lord John Marbury

What I love about Claire Handscombe’s new anthology is the mix of results that the show’s inspiration has caused. We get a real sense of a cross section of a community. Yes, a couple of people made it to the staff of the White House, or became speechwriters. But for just as many the show was a backdrop to their lives, a special lens through which they could understand the world, a shared experience with loved ones. Or they used the qualities they saw in the characters to chart a different path through the world. I know what I have in common with these people is more than a shared love of a television show. Handscombe’s deft editing helps to build a community from its disparate parts. And these stories are in turn inspirational and thought-provoking.

As regular visitors here will know, I first read Walk with us the day Jo Cox was murdered. The book contains chapters by those who used The West Wing as a light that shone through some of their darkest times. In its turn I was reminded of the episode Undecideds as the Santos campaign tries to respond to a killing. I’m grateful the book was with me that day.

At its most basic, Walk with us will, if you are an existing fan, reacquaint you with the show and your fellow fans. If you aren’t familiar with the show it is in any case an excellent portrayal of a fandom. As such, it deserves the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.

Thanks to CH Books for the review copy


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s