Friday, November 20, 2015

Best Of: 2010 -- Guest blogger: Aaron Sorkin

Friday Questions return next week.  This is a special ten day look back at my favorite blog postings -- one from every year. 

In 2010 SOCIAL NETWORK came out.  I reviewed it and a reader, Tarazza, posed a question to screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin in the comments section.  Much to my shock and delight, Aaron offered to respond.   This ran on October 10, 2010.  Again, my sincere thanks to Aaron Sorkin.  It's not often I get an Oscar winner to be a guest blogger.   Or even know who I am.   First I posted Tarazza's comment followed by Aaron's response.   


I love your blog!!

I also loved The Social Network, except for one thing-- the lack of a decent portrayal of women. With the exception of 1 or 2 of them (Rashida Jones included), they were basically sex objects/stupid groupies. Even what you say here:
Jesse Eisenberg is what Michael Cera aspires to be. Justin Timberlake continues to be the most talented STAR SEARCH winner ever, And Rashida Jones is just great to look at.

... kinda makes me think that Aaron Sorkin (though I love his writing) failed the women in this script. Kind of a shame considering he's written great women characters like C.J. Cregg!

This is Aaron Sorkin and I wanted to address Taraza's comment. (Ken, I'll get to you in and your very generous blog post in just a moment.

Tarazza--believe me, I get it. It's not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about. Women are both prizes an equal. Mark's blogging that we hear in voiceover as he drinks, hacks, creates Facemash and dreams of the kind of party he's sure he's missing, came directly from Mark's blog. With the exception of doing some cuts and tightening (and I can promise you that nothing that I cut would have changed your perception of the people or the trajectory of the story by even an inch) I used Mark's blog verbatim. Mark said, "Erica Albright's a bitch" (Erica isn't her real name--I changed three names in the movie when there was no need to embarrass anyone further), "Do you think that's because all B.U. girls are bitches?" Facebook was born during a night of incredibly misogyny. The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on their looks and then publicly ranking them. It was a revenge stunt, aimed first at the woman who'd most recently broke his heart (who should get some kind of medal for not breaking his head) and then at the entire female population of Harvard.

More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren't the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80's. They're very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren't women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)

And this very disturbing attitude toward women isn't just confined to the guys who can't get dates.

I didn't invent the "F--k Truck", it's real--and the men (boys) at the final clubs think it's what they deserve for being who they are. (It's only fair to note that the women--bussed in from other schools for the "hot" parties, wait on line to get on that bus without anyone pointing guns at their heads.)

These women--whether it's the girls who are happy to take their clothes off and dance for the boys or Eduardo's psycho-girlfriend are real. I mean REALLY real. (In the case of Christy, Eduardo's girlfriend so beautifully played by Brenda Song, I conflated two characters--again I hope you'll trust me that doing that did nothing to alter our take on the events. Christy was the second of three characters whose name I changed.)

I invented two characters--one was Rashida Jones's "Marylin", the youngest lawyer on the team and a far cry from the other women we see in the movie. She's plainly serious, competent and, when asked, has no problem speaking the truth as she sees it to Mark. The other was Gretchen, Eduardo's lawyer (in reality there was a large team of litigators who all took turns deposing witnesses but I wanted us to become familiar with just one person--a woman, who, again, is nobody's trophy.

And Rooney Mara's Erica's a class act.

I wish I could go door to door and make this explanation/apology to any woman offended by the things you've pointed out but obviously that's unrealistic so I thought the least I could do was speak directly to you.

Ken--Thanks for your really nice words and for giving me a chance to apologize again for my remarks back in 2005. Obviously a star writer on one of the best comedies of all time doesn't need to prove his credentials as a "real" comedy writer.

Aaron Sorkin


Daddy Background said...

Wow. This is extraordinary. Did I miss this the first time around?

Can't wait for the rest of your "Best Of", Ken. This one has my vote maybe for Best Ever.

Thanks again for everything.

Bill Avena said...

The best Sorkin shot pre-Sorkin was in Terry GIlliam's BRAZIL, on Sam Lowry's first day of work at Information Retrieval. A moving gaggle of roaring execs, pointing and shouting, staying contained in a long tracking shot.

Bill G said...

It's nice to see this again on the front page Ken! Tarazza posted this the first year we started dating. She is a smart and sophisticated woman and we are getting married in two weeks. She is the one that got me started following your blog every day. It was great to see Aaron personally respond to her comment. Ken if I ever meet you or Aaron in person I'll be sure to bring this up!

Jim S said...

I'd say Aaron Sorkin has a problem writing women. Just look at the West Wing. He has ONE female character in a main role throughout his run on the show. That's C.J. Mandy flames out in the first year, but not until she cries after the President takes her advice and people get killed in a hostage situation. Donna was not a main lead until season 2, and I suspect that only happened because Janel Moloney was so good. Even when she's a lead, she's more often than not, (but to be fair not always) the person who has to have things explained to her.

Even C.J. is pursued by a stalker and has to be guarded by the hot Mark Harmon Secret Service agent. Zoe, after rejecting stalwart Charlie dates the most offensive French stereotype ever. I didn't mind because Offensive French Stereotypes amuse me. He persuades her to take drugs and she gets kidnapped as a result. I could go on.

Sorkin even writes an episode around all the men standing around saying how great the various women characters are. (It's not like Sorkin only put in C.J.)

It isn't until John Wells takes over that you really start seeing other women. Vinnick's top campaign people are mostly women, same with Santos. It was wells who brought in Janeane Garafolo.

It was Wells who made C.J. chief of staff. So yeah, I am going to say that Sorkin has a problem with writing women. But I could be wrong.

Rock Golf said...

@BillG: You still have time to invite Ken to your wedding. Aaron can be his +1.

Lisa said...

Friday question: What did he say to you in 2005???

*tarazza said...
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*tarazza said...

@Rock Golf--Ha! Indeed, Ken, you and Aaron are welcome anytime. :)

It's always fun to see this again. I've always been a fan of Aaron Sorkin and it was very cool of him to write such a classy response to one of my less-positive comments on his work. (And by "very cool," I mean quite thrilling.) Thanks for re-posting it!

Jim S's comment is an interesting analysis--some good points. Of course, while I agree that West Wing could have done with more women (and perhaps utilized its female characters in better ways), I'd take one Abbey Bartlet over five mediocre female characters any day.


Canda said...

The only thing that bothers me is that much of the writing on the new series on TV goes out of the way to present smart, strong women, as well as minorities without foibles, that it verges on not being interesting. Flannery O'Conner could not get a job today. The human experience, as demonstrated by Hollywood, feels like it's a test to make sure you ennoble everyone, except the usual suspects.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
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McAlvie said...

I enjoyed this very much, Ken. Thanks for reposting.

I think it is sometimes hard to remember how different our world view was even just a few years ago. And harder, perhaps, to acknowledge that in some circles the world view hasn't changed. I've read similar complaints about shows that are a few decades old. On the bright side, strong reactions today to the misogyny of the past underscore how far we have come from where we were.

Jon B. said...

I was a big fan of West Wing throughout the entire run. I found less enjoyment after Sorkin left, but I understand that tastes differ. Apparently, so do perceptions of Sorkin's "problem writing women". Unlike Jim S., I believed at the time that West Wing, although set a male-dominant genre, had a lot of memorable women characters, who were intelligent and capable, and that quality set it apart from most television at the time. Jim S. is entitled to his opinion. I just don't share it.

Angry White Man said...

What? No Friday Questions?! WTF!!!

Hamid said...
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MikeK.Pa. said...

I think you sometimes downplay the impact your blog has, not just on us average Joes and Josephines, but on the greater creative community. There are a lot of great anecdotes, observations and advice distributed in the limited amount of space you have. Give yourself a pat on the back once in a while. Just don't make it a habit. I don't want to have to start paying to read this, as much as I enjoy it.

Zhou said...

So many happy return of memories as these blog writings reappear! Thank you Ken Levine for this happiness. Understanding comes even better as I repeat the reading. I have kept quiet here for some period of time but I needed this expression of respect.

June Sullivan said...

I was really struck by Mr. Sorkin's script background. Not in reference to the women (not for this comment anyway) but his reference to young men expecting sex because of how terrific they were, that they deserved the women, and sometimes took it without agreement. This reminded me of an article in the Christian Science Monitor a little while back, published after a mass shooting. The thesis was that young men are susceptible to such acts because young males tend to blame others when they don't get what they want -- in their anger they lash out. And, indeed, it's been reported on several occasions that the mass shooters was a young men who couldn't get any girls.

Why one young man accidentally invents Facebook to get back at women, and another is motivated to violence, I can't explain, nor did the Monitor article. But there's a link here I believe. This syndrome seems to go way back in man's history. Note the author(s) of Genesis has Adam blaming Eve, and even God, after getting caught doing what he shouldn't. Eve, on the other hand, is described as taking responsibility for her actions.

I'm sure I've opened a Pandora's box with these thoughts. So let the cranky comments fly!