On the Lasting Impact of The West Wing

Happy birthday, Aaron Sorkin, and thank you for everything

Claire Handscombe

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For Sarah McConnell, it started like this: living in Japan more than a decade ago, she was desperate for something in English to watch. Anything. It so happened that the something she found lying around her apartment was a set of West Wing DVDs. A few moments in, she hit pause: “did you see how long that shot was?” she asked her husband. “It blew me away,” she says now, speaking with something like awe.

It’s more than twenty years since The West Wing first graced our screens. In 1999, we were worrying about the Millennium Bug, paying $700 for DVD players, and using pagers. When we talked about “the Congressional Facebook”, it was without a hint of irony or any reference to a website that, for good or ill, is now a ubiquitous part of life. 9/11 had yet to cast a shadow over the world and cause America to deeply re-evaluate its own identity.

And yet, the show continues to have an impact that is arguably unique. If you live or work in DC, references to it are inescapable. People have walked down the aisle to the theme music. Or they’ve named children, pets, GPS systems, and even an iPhone app after the characters. Or they’ve started Twitter accounts as the characters to continue the storyline and comment on current political events…

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Claire Handscombe

Editor of WALK WITH US: How the West Wing Changed Our Lives; author of the novel UNSCRIPTED and of CONQUERING BABEL: a Practical Guide to Learning a Language.