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The thing about The West Wing…

The thing about The West Wing…

by Stephanie on April 15, 2008

I’ve taken to getting up early and studying before midday. (‘Early’ being between 8am and 9:30am, and trust me, this is impressive.) I usually get an chapter or two of some convoluted postcolonial theory read, shoot off a couple of emails, find an article on the university databases and scribble a couple of paragraphs about why I agree with so-and-so about a and b but think they went wrong at z. At about 12:30pm I’ll check the mailbox (the real one) have lunch and watch a couple of episodes of The West Wing.

It’s not the optimum time to watch a television show in the grand scheme of my thesis. After all, the daytime is when I get the house to myself. I can spread my books and paper out all over the kitchen table and under the windows and have direct access to the fridge and be thoroughly – *cough* – studious. But it’s also really the only time apart from midnight when I can sit on the couch or beanbag and watch a DVD of choice without housemate G interrupting / complaining / feeding me / wanting to watch So You Think You Can Dance / wanting to watch Sex and the City, or being relegated to the office to watch it on my iMac instead.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not doing me any harm to break my day up like this. In fact, I think it might actually be helping with my motivation levels. 3pm after all is my traditional nap-time (I am an excellent sleeper. If they had sleeping classes at university I’d blow everyone else out of the water with the enthusiasm of my Zs) and I am not allowed to succumb. To succumb to daytime sleep again so soon after breaking the habit is a slippery slope, so instead of sleeping, I watch The West Wing.

But I can’t watch more than a couple of episodes at once. All those busy people talking at high speed, working 18-hour days, careening through corridors with more things on their plate than they could possibly handle, getting up to come in to work on weekends, public holidays, and still cracking jokes – alright, I know it’s fiction. And sometimes, especially in the first couple of seasons, there would be those sentimental scenes where the music would swell and Martin Sheen may as well have been shrieking “Patriotic moment! Patriotic moment! American pride!” (Although to their credit, that kind of tackiness is very spare, and seems to have been dropped from an episode’s prerequisites pretty quickly. My theory is that they were included in the first season to hook a particular kind of audience, then done away with as too cringeworthy.) But the point is this: after an hour or so of watching the Bartlet Administration at work, I start feeling like one incredibly lazy person. I used to avoid study and favour socialising, because after all, what’s the point of throwing yourself into your work like that? But while watching The West Wing I think, maybe it wouldn’t be so painful to live like that. Maybe it would be mega-difficult and high stress but if you’re doing something you believe is important, you should be relishing the rush, right? The ability to do that work that you love is itself part of the reward.

More than once I’ve stopped an episode halfway through and got up to read another journal article, or the rest of a book, or in this case, to update my quite-often neglected blog. (If I’m stumped on my thesis, I may as well write something.) Quite honestly, I find it reinvigorating. It’s not often that a television show is so engaging and inspiring that it will actually make you feel like you should turn it off and go and do something more worthwhile. I feel like I don’t deserve to indulge in actually watching The West Wing until I’ve put some serious effort into my own responsibilities for the day and worked my brain to breaking point. That’s some kind of accomplished television, right?

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