Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Art imitating life imitating art

Bill Lewellis, Missioner for Communications and Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Bethlehem sent this video around the DioBeth listserve this afternoon:

I wrote back to the list the following:

"Funny you should post this, Bill."

Last fall, journalists and others began to notice a strange coincidence between the show "The West Wing" and then candidate and later president-elect Obama. As NPR said, "it turns out to be less like a case of life imitating art. It's more like art imitating life." According to the same report, the parallels really begin at the end of the shows run:

The final season of The West Wing centered around "a young, charismatic candidate from an ethnic minority [Matthew Santos], daring to take on an establishment workhorse with a promise to transcend race and heal America's partisan divide."

Hmmm. Sounds like something I've heard about ... maybe that's why the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama seems like deja vu all over again.

On October 29, 2008, Brian Selter of the NYTimes wrote "Following the Script-Obama, McCain and the West Wing:"

Mr. Attie, a former speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, and Mr. Axelrod, a political consultant, had crossed campaign trails before. "I just called him and said, 'Tell me about Barack Obama,' " Mr. Attie said.

Days after Mr. Obama, then an Illinois state senator, delivered an address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the two men held several long conversations about his refusal to be defined by his race and his aspirations to bridge the partisan divide. Mr. Axelrod was then working on Mr. Obama's campaign for the United States Senate; he is now Mr. Obama'a chief strategist.

Four years later, the writers of "The West Wing" are watching in amazement as the election plays out. The parallels between the final two seasons of the series (it ended its run on NBC in May 2006) and the current political season are unmistakable. Fiction has, once again, foreshadowed reality.

The Guardian interviewed Attie who admitted that he drew inspiration for the Congressman Matt Santos character from then-Senator Barack Obama.

"I drew inspiration from him in drawing this character," West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie told the Guardian. "When I had to write, Obama was just appearing on the national scene. He had done a great speech at the convention [which nominated John Kerry] and people were beginning to talk about him...."

..."Some of Santos's insistence on not being defined by his race, his pride in it even as he rises above it, came from that," Attie said.

The scriptwriter also borrowed from Obama's life the notion of a superstar candidate. "After that convention speech, Obama's life changed. He was mobbed wherever he went. He was more than a candidate seeking votes: people were seeking him. Some of Santos's celebrity aura came from that."

Not only that, the inspiration for "West Wing" Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman was drawn from a one-time Clinton staffer and now Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. The Times of London said:

The inspiration for The West Wing's fictional deputy chief-of-staff, Josh Lyman, the most unlikely moments in the character's story are plucked straight out of Mr Emanuel's reality.


Although Mr Emanuel shares his Jewish heritage with Lyman, his faith runs far deeper than that of his on-screen counterpart. A devout Jew, he reportedly obtained a special waiver from his rabbi in order to work through the holiday of Rosh Hashanah during the $800 billion Wall Street bailout.

In Ronald Reagan, we had a president who was an actor. We have seen many actors portray many past-presidents. We have even seen actors play imaginary presidents. But in Obama, we have a president who portrayed by an actor (Jimmy Smits) even before he ran for president!

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