The West Wing should be required viewing for every Extemper.
Occasionally, Extempers find it difficult to contextualize the issues inherent to their topics in real-world terms. While reading articles and books provides foundational knowledge about a topic, it cannot easily ground the information in narratives that are accessible to the reader. Story-telling, on the other hand, has reproduced knowledge since the early stages of human history by making information easy to consume and remember.
Television shows and movies, as modern mediums of storytelling, can contribute to the development of a deeper understanding of the issues connected to current events. This is not to say that television and movies should substitute for a commitment to reading the news regularly; rather, these stories are a valuable supplement to the fact-based knowledge obtained from traditional research.
While there is no shortage of television shows and movies built on political intrigue or national security, none come close to matching The West Wing in terms of comprehensiveness and scope. Over the course of seven seasons, The West Wing's viewers witnessed a fictional White House grapple with issues of cabinet turnover, midterm elections, government shut downs, gun control, right-wing extremism, terrorism, nuclear brinksmanship, congressional investigations, Supreme Court nominations, leaks of classified information, and many other topics that Extempers read and speak about daily. In Sam Seaborne's impassioned advocacies, Josh Lyman's political calculations, Jed Bartlet's moral dilemmas, and CJ Craig's careful messaging, Extempers can find a wealth of information about how our government functions (or doesn't) and how power dynamics shape the outcomes of our democracy.
If you don't believe me, give the show a try. Here is a list of a small handful of my favorite episodes:
The West Wing is available on Netflix and iTunes.
Have your own favorite episodes? Feel free to comment below!