Thursday, August 10, 2006


Who was it that said “Life imitates Art.”?

Almost inevitably, it was Oscar Wilde. Actually what he said was “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.”. This saying jumped into my mind the other day when reading about Blair and Bush inadvertently leaving the microphone on after their discussions in America recently, and getting into an embarrassing state as a result of what they thought were their private conversations becoming public.

One of my life’s great pleasures is watching “The West Wing” on TV. No Ifs and no Buts, I think it is the best series I have ever seen on television, and if ever anyone wants an example to show that America is not all about “Dumbing Down”, here is a classic case, in spades, of the USA “Dumbing Up”. I have still to watch the last ever two episodes, which are still untouched to date on my Video recorder, a bit like a child does with the last, best bit of an ice lolly by eating around the edge, leaving the bit with the thickest centre for the final mouthful.

One of the real joys of the programme is the way that the fictional storylines are often acted out and then months or years later, suddenly occur in real time in real life – part of the skill of Aaron Sorkin, a Grade 1 thinker and storyteller. Such a case is this with the Blair and Bush private/public dialogue getting out. Not one but two West Wing episodes, dating (how worryingly sad it is that I know this) from December 2000 and March 2002, some 4 years before the recent Blair/Bush gaffe, make me think immediately – “I’ve seen this before!”.

The first story starts with President Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) giving an interminable series of local US TV Station interviews, and at the end of one of them, he unwittingly does not notice the “live” recording light on the TV Camera, and passes some highly inappropriate comments about his prospective opponent in the forthcoming presidential elections, unaware that they are being broadcast. The rest of the programme deals with the developing political consequences of this error.

The second episode has President Bartlet and his entourage listening to a Christmas recital in the West Wing, with the world-class cellist Yo Yo Ma playing one of the Bach Cello Suites for the assembled gathering. The occasional involvement of “real” people such as Yo Yo Ma, Jon Bon Jovi, James Taylor in what is a fictional drama gives an added reality to a programme which is, to many people, already very real.

Cue Bush and Blair a few weeks ago, at Camp David. Bush left the microphone on, and the glorious, previously unknown style of greeting between these two political giants immediately became public knowledge – “Yo, Blair…..”.

This was immediately picked up by the UK Conservatives in Parliament, who, to a man, rose when Blair entered the chamber for Prime Minister’s Question Time, and, in a Texan style unison drawl greeted him with, yes you’ve guessed it – “Yo Blair”. Apparently, the pundits couldn’t decide whether Blair’s subsequent facial expression was a smile or a wince.

This followed a similar episode a few days previously when John Prescott, who had been caught out “allegedly” accepting inappropriate favours, including the gift of a real Stetson and a pair of fully tooled Cowboy boots, from a rich American donor/investor – an image that tumbles around in one’s mind for quite a time. Once again, to a man, the whole of the Tory side of the House rose and welcomed him onto the front bench with a cry of “Howdy!” – both cases being hugely childish, but something to make you proud of being British. Can you, in your wildest dreams, imagine something similar happening in the USA if the circumstances had been the other way round. I think not.

Anyway, back to Batman and Robin (Which is which, you may ask?). Sitting here quite late at night, with a couple of gins circulating inside me, my thoughts, if that’s the right name for them, start to roam. What if instead of Blair, it had been Tim Yeo, ex-member of the Tory Shadow Cabinet, to whom Bush was talking. It would then have been “Yo Yeo.”

That’s even better. And, with another Gin in circulation, if they had both met at the Christmas West Wing Recital, it would have been better still – “Yo Yeo, Yo Yo Yo.”

And even better still if Andrew Marr had been there from the BBC to meet them and report the goings on, it could have been “Yo Yeo, Yo Yo Yo Ma, Yo Marr.”

Where did the man get his language skills from? There really is no-one quite like him. Except that having just said that, the thought of John Prescott, in a Stetson and Cowboy Boots, appeared and remained irremovably in my mind.

Actually, the real twist in the tale in the West Wing episode is that Bartlet’s last spoken line, coupled with a fleeting, knowing look from Martin Sheen, makes you realize that his “error” was not an error at all, but an exquisitely deliberate ploy to wrong foot the opposition and get them on the back foot – Excellent.

Now, I just wonder about Dubya……….. Does he watch the West Wing? I don't think so, he’s not that bright.

Or is he?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I don't think so, he’s not that bright.

"Or is he?"

No. Of course not.