It’s been bouncing around my head since The Newsroom debuted, and I’ve been searching for the right explanation to the titular question, and after not thinking about it for a while, the answer seems to have popped up spontaneously in my mind, and I hope that, after so many words on the subject, this is my final answer and I won’t have to revisit this topic. The simplest way I can put it is this:
Real artists write about the way the world is. They write about how people really are. They write about real human struggles and deep human motivations and the great questions that we all ask ourselves.
Aaron Sorkin writes about the way he wishes the world was. He writes about the way he wishes people really were. He writes about the problems he wishes people had and the ways he wishes they were motivated and the ways he wishes they resolved their problems.
It’s a nice diversion for people who wished they lived in Sorkinland, but it doesn’t offer anything beyond that. Just because he has an ear for dialogue doesn’t mean he’s making art. It’s escapism.
Because it’s not about our world, it doesn’t offer anything applicable to the world. Because it’s based on one man’s fantasy instead of his experience, it’s impossible for other people to relate to it– appreciate it and long for it, maybe, but not truly relate to it. (They might say “I wish I were like that”, but they will never say “I’ve been like that.”)
It’s pure fantasy– Not in the way that Game of Thrones is fantasy, because what makes GoT compelling is that the people in it are still people, and we relate to them because they behave in the way humans might behave if transported into a medieval/magical fantasy world, because the things that motivate them– survival and power primarily– are things that apply to all humans (whether or not they choose to use them in their decision-making process, these motivations exist for everybody).
Sorkinland isn’t a separate realm that reveals that people really are the same regardless of where you set them. It’s the opposite: it takes real people and filters them through the prism of Aaron Sorkin’s mind, then sets them back in our world. That tweak makes them behave in a particular way and obsess over particular things and follow particular thought processes, and, not surprisingly, evidence suggests that these are Aaron Sorkin’s behaviors, obsessions, and thought processes. The tweak makes them behave in a way that may produce some emotionally effective swelling-strings-backed moments, but this perspective doesn’t reveal anything true about human behavior or the universe which we inhabit, and thus, I must conclude it is not art.
To put it this way, at 16, I loved Sports Night, because I loved the way those Sorkin moments made me feel and inspired me to act. Fifteen years later, I struggle to watch some of those episodes (to say nothing of his later work), because they ring hollow, as my experience has taught me they don’t have a foundation in real human behavior or situations. Which honestly disappoints me, because I think Sorkin could be compelling if he rooted himself in reality. Sadly, and based on how out-of-touch the interviews I’ve read seem, he has no plans or interest in that.