As a family we’ve been watching West Wing from the beginning. Our daughters are 14 and 11 and it’s been a wonderful experience, with a few hard conversations. We’ve just begun the third season. As we watch, I’ve been trying to listen to West Wing Weekly, a podcast by Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway. They spend one episode (usually) of the podcast on each episode of the show. I’m a bit behind. As usual.
Today I was listening to the podcast about episode 20 in season 2, The Fall’s Gonna Kill You. It’s a fun episode of the podcast, as usual. But I was struck by something in it that really has nothing to do with the podcast or with West Wing. Joshua Malina mentions a briefcase in the episode that looks well used and not brand new. He really likes that as it feels real and he talks about how his wife was a costume person for many years and how she notices when things are too new. He said something along the lines of: She’ll say, that shirts brand new. That’s not a shirt that character’s been wearing for three years. Malina said that makes a difference in building the world in which a show is set.
Never in 40+ years of watching tv and movies have I ever noticed that something looked too new for a character. Never. However, I recognize that it is quite possible that subconsciously such things have bothered me, even without my being able to identify them. It takes pretty egregious problems for me to get consciously annoyed at a show or movie. I’m very happy to suspend reality and just enjoy.
It struck me that this is true in life as well. Even when we don’t identify something as racist or sexist or ableist or whatever it might be that suggests that one group of people is less than another it is influencing our view of the world. Just as our view of a fictional world may be impacted by many things we don’t consciously notice, our view of reality may be as well.
You may not notice that people of color and women are always secondary characters in movies and tv shows but it impacts your understanding of the world. You may not notice the demeaning comments made to others but it impacts your understanding of the world. You may not notice the characters in all of the books you read but it impacts your understanding of the world.
As humans we take in so much that we don’t notice and it all becomes a part of how we view the world and others around us. If we don’t at least attempt to notice when that happens we are continuing the status quo and continuing to ensure that many are treated as less than others in our society. Question what you see. Question what you believe. Keep asking. It’s not always easy for me but it matters.