Saturday, April 17, 2010

A West Wing post: Reaching for the stars


I take the second half of the subhead of this blog directly from my favorite episode of the West Wing, the Season Four premiere, “20 Hours in America.” During a campaign stop, President Bartlet gets word of a terrorist attack at a swim meet at Kennison State University. Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborne writes the following speech in the car, which Bartlet then gives to the black tie crowd:

…More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. 44 people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men's team were killed and two others are in critical condition. When, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran into the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United State of America. Thank you.

We can all agree that this is stunning oratory, fiction or not.

During the 2007 Oscars, there was a medley of past Best Actor award recipients’ speeches. After getting to 1993, I immediately got a phone call from Jacob, a gchat several others. See here for his speech:

Did Aaron Sorkin really just plagiarize from Tom Hanks’ Best Actor speech?!

After subsequently watching the episode, I realized that the dialogue between Sam and Mallory at the end of the episode illustrates just how aware Sorkin was of what he was doing.

See the following dialogue:

"This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars."? I'm weak.

Yeah. I think I stole that from Camelot.

Let me get you home. I don't think you're going to make it.

Yeah. I don't think I'm going to make it, either.

They walk out to the COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE and continue to the HALLWAY.


Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.

To the keen eye, Sorkin alludes to the fact that this speech indeed came from Hanks! You, my friend, are a great writer.

Well played, indeed.

This coming week is Yom HaZikkaron and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Memorial and Independence Days), the Civil High Holidays of Israel, as some refer to them.

In the coming days I will reflect on the subhead of the blog, looking toward the stars.

1 comment:

  1. Just watched this episode! So good! Excellent analysis!