The Newsroom rant is one of the all-time famous moments from TV in the 2010s. And that’s saying something, because the 2010s were absolutely packed to the brim with hit series and memorable scenes. But it’s also not exactly a “well-liked” scene, if that makes any difference.
The very start of the series has our protagonist, whatever his character’s name is but Jeff Daniels, going on a sudden unhinged rant about how America as a nation is filled with delusions of self-grandeur about its place in the world, about how it’s totally lost its way and is now lying in mediocrity.
It’s a good character moment for this respected elite TV anchor to suddenly go off in a Bulworth-lite style explosion of (mostly polite) anger and then to almost lose his entire career as a result. The scene is set well for the rest of the series. It’s over-the-top and hammy like all Aaron Sorkin work is, and we love it for that.
BUT… the Newsroom rant also played right into the hands of the giant culture wars that consumed the latter half of the 2010s.
Many voices cried out in anger at the scene when it first aired. Mostly conservative ones, mad about the liberal elites that would diminish America’s greatness or whatever. And then progressive voices cried foul over the character reminiscing about the good old days, when those good old days weren’t so good back then anyway. It sparked a firestorm of controversy, and we should all be infinitely glad that Twitter wasn’t as popular back then.
As time goes on, though, the Newsroom rant starts looking outright prophetic, because the public discourse ended up revolving almost entirely around the ideas laid out in Jeff Daniels’s speech.
Think about it..
“Make America Great Again” is based on the exact same idea as the speech. America is not great now… It’s just the MAGA version of the solution is “turn the country into a strongman dictatorship to forcibly return the country to 1955.”
And on the other end of things, the 1619 Project and a lot of the post-Ferguson, post-Trump, and especially post-George Floyd discussion of American culture has had the central tenet of “America’s greatness was always a false narrative propped up by the few people or groups who had the power to have a say.”
It’s two sides of the same coin, in a discussion and debate kind of way. And it all feels like a continuation of the Newsroom rant.
Was this two-season HBO show really so influential that it could have changed the cultural discussion? Normally, I’d say hell no. I think most of my 2010s Retrospectives with Big Questions end up dismissing any big thesis I might have had in the course of writing the post.
This time, though, I have to say that this speech really did make an impact, I think. I mean, one of my high school teachers, can’t remember the class, seriously showed the clip to my entire class as a discussion starter. People were really into talking this whole thing through, civilly or otherwise, especially after that prior decade with the War on Terror and Great Recession and Occupy Movement looming over everything. It was hard to talk about American patriotism without facing the realities that stared everyone in the face.
The Newsroom rant obviously wasn’t the primary catalyst for all that culture warring, but it was absolutely a match dropped into the large barrel of disgusting, slimy oil known as social media comments sections.
Still a good TV show, though.
Read another cool post of mine: You Only Live Once, so you should spend your time wisely and read it.