The boy and I have progressed in our binge-watching to Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. We’ve made no secret of the fact that we love television about television and movies about movies and the combination of this subject matter and Aaron Sorkin’s almost aggressively witty dialogue makes it an easy hit in this house. The show is far from being one of Aaron Sorkin’s best-known works and indeed is the only television show he ever made that did not last beyond a single season before collapsing under the weight of unrealistic expectations.
The show is set in the underbelly of a Saturday Night Live-type sketch comedy show and while funny, is not actually a comedy. Despite SNL’s long history of taking political shots, the show within a show of Studio 60 is, like most Sorkin works, more intelligent, more thoughtful, and more tortured by its eternal quest to do what is right and what pushes its audience into introspective thought. Sorkin is astute and has been too quiet in the past three and a half years, but fourteen years ago, stories warned against lulling the American public into idolizing and emulating Donald Trump, delved into our country’s deeply problematic systemic racism, and danced around the rising threat of the evangelical Christianity. Not a bit of it feels stale or dated to the fresh eyes of my Gen Z viewing companion.
Given how prescient the show seems to have been, I did not expect that what would hit hardest was a small, throwaway joke tossed somewhere in the middle of the season. Due to a technical mixup, the show-within-a-show ran short, leaving its guest host having to improvise and she finished the night with a plea to “pray for peace in the Midwest”. The characters’ collective eyeroll at the dumb, blonde actress wasn’t particularly inspired writing. “I think we should all take a moment and consider the suffering in Des Moines…” So ridiculous. The Midwest is absolutely nothing like the Middle East. How could anybody possibly confuse them?
Here in 2020, it seems as though somebody, somewhere, spins a giant wheel to name the next place that the fabric of our democracy will unravel and this week, the wheel spit out Kenosha, Wisconsin. About halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago, Kenosha is about two and a half times the population and half the density of our own Culver City (which I have always asserted is deliberately kept as a small town for filming purposes). Kenosha is overwhelmingly white, with Black families making up only around 10% of the population. Racism is everywhere, though, and on Sunday, Kenosha police officers gunned down Jacob Blake, an African-American resident of Kenosha, in front of his young children.
There were immediately protests, because Black Lives (still) Matter. With Blake in critical condition and at best, paralized for life, Kenosha quickly fell into violence and looting. Much as we saw in June across the country, and in Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas this month (and possibly in Chicago, which saw protests and looting as well), most of the violence seems to be incited by white supremacists who are curiously invisible to the police and military forces except when they need help or directions or a bottle of water. The double-standard has held consistently through this summer with peaceful protesters arrested and tear-gassed while a blind eye is turned to the roving gangs of angry white men.
This has emboldened the white supremacists, and thrilled the accelerationists (the particularly hateful group that wants to hasten the start of a second Civil War) and they have been increasingly showing up armed to threaten and intimidate protesters.
It took less than three months to escalate from looting and setting dumpster fires to using those guns to murder the protesters for having the audacity to raise their voices in pursuit of justice and equality. Three people were shot in Kenosha tonight and two of them are dead. The National Guard is mobilizing to march through the streets of Kenosha and the warnings are flying across the internet, “Stay home, stay silent, or you, too, could wind up dead.”
It’s not a war when only one side is shooting. That is what we call a massacre. Jacob Blake’s family has been on the news, pleading for people to keep the protests peaceful but that will never happen while this country maintains its infinite supply of angry white people with guns they haven’t gotten to play with. The rights of the Second Amendment cannot and should not outweigh the rights of the First Amendment. When we let our Constitution become so skewed, then it becomes one person’s right to speak up against another person’s right to kill. Whether any member of our society might, in the most extreme circumstances, have the duty to kill, no member of our society should ever have the RIGHT to kill.
By now, the sun has already risen in Kenosha. I cannot begin to guess what the next few nights will bring. How do you ask someone to bring conviction and freedom of expression when you know that the other side is ready to open fire? Maybe with all the schools closed because of the pandemic, and the subsequent drop in US school shootings, we could divert those bullet-proof backpacks that were all the rage after the Parkland shooting to the protesters? No…that won’t work. Kenosha is resuming in-person schooling in two weeks. They’re going to need those backpacks.
We are tearing ourselves apart. Our country has gone insane. I feel like I can’t even recognize it anymore and I can’t guess what part of our so-called union will unravel next. Night falls, protesters march, guns come out, and safe inside my home, I search for what we could have been on a flickering screen.
Sixty-eight days to the election.
Pray for peace in the Midwest.