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The Prime-Time Presidency

The Prime-Time Presidency: The West Wing and U.S. Nationalism

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Prime-Time Presidency
    Book Description:

    Contrasting strong women and multiculturalism with portrayals of a heroic white male leading the nation into battle, The Prime-Time Presidency explores the NBC drama The West Wing, paying particular attention to its role in promoting cultural meaning about the presidency and U.S. nationalism. Based in a careful, detailed analysis of the "first term" of The West Wing's President Josiah Bartlet, this criticism highlights the ways the text negotiates powerful tensions and complex ambiguities at the base of U.S. national identity--particularly the role of gender, race, and militarism in the construction of U.S. nationalism. Unlike scattered and disparate collections of essays, Trevor Parry-Giles and Shawn J. Parry-Giles offer a sustained, ideologically driven criticism of The West Wing. The Prime-time Presidency presents a detailed critique of the program rooted in presidential history, an appreciation of television's power as a source of political meaning, and television's contribution to the articulation of U.S. national identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09209-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Presidency, Prime-Time Popular Culture, and U.S. Nationalism
    (pp. 1-20)

    On december 13, 2000, millions of Americans turned to their television sets at 9:00 p.m. EST to view a program about presidential politics. NBC promised viewers that Wednesday evening a gripping and insightful exploration of an assassination attempt on senior White House staff members. Not only were eager viewers to learn about the psychological toll of presidential assassinations but they were also to experience, as they did every week, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what life is like in the West Wing.

    Those millions of viewers that cold winter night may have been disappointed when their weekly encounter with presidential politics...

  5. 1 The West Wing as a Political Romance
    (pp. 21-53)

    In 2001 the Council for Excellence in Government conducted a survey that asked Americans for their perceptions about government employees. The study discovered that elected officials had the “second most improved image” among all occupations, moving them ahead of business leaders and teachers in public esteem. The council attributed this rise in esteem to the positive portrayals of government officials onThe West Wing. Because of the “depth of its [TWW’s] characters,” the council concluded, and because of its focus on “real issues and sincere commitments” that reject the “cynical” vision of politics,TWWhas done much to rehabilitate the image...

  6. 2 Gendered Nationalism and The West Wing
    (pp. 54-86)

    For many scholars the concepts of nationalism and gender are inextricable. As Jean Pickering and Suzanne Kehde argue, “Nationalism is the field over which gender differences are played out, making possible what otherwise seems an irrational if common disposition of putative gender differences.” ¹ Conceptions of gender and nationalism transform over time, indicating the legacies of past ideological commitments. Nationalism and its ideological components are historically grounded and simultaneously connected to on-going political discussions, the emergence of new ideological trends, and overall cultural shifting in ideological battles over intransigence and change in public conceptions of national identity.² In order to...

  7. 3 Racialized Nationalism and The West Wing
    (pp. 87-117)

    From its very constitutional beginning, race and citizenship were contested issues for the United States. In Article 1, section 2 of the Constitution, significantly, the measure of taxation was calculated “by adding the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Indeed, the authors of many of the nation’s founding documents wrestled with the persistent conundrum of slavery. Further conflating whiteness and citizenship, the Naturalization Law of 1790 mandated that “any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within...

  8. 4 Militarized Nationalism and The West Wing
    (pp. 118-150)

    Article 2, section 1, of the Constitution declares, “The executive Power shall be vested in the President of the United States,” who will likewise serve, section 2 commands, as the “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militias of the several states, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” From the nation’s earliest years the presidency and militarism have been inextricably linked, especially as the nation was born out of war and the country’s first presidents were some of its first war heroes.

    The relationship between military experience and...

  9. 5 The West Wing’s Prime-Time Nationalism
    (pp. 151-172)

    On the morning of September 11, 2001, a worldwide audience watched in horror as the World Trade Center collapsed, a portion of the Pentagon was destroyed, and another airliner crashed into a Pennsylvania field. That date has joined other extraordinary moments in U.S. history—December 7, 1941, November 22, 1963, and April 19, 1995—dates that signal a shift in the American imaginary of its national identity. Predictably, the presidency, and George W. Bush as the occupant of the office, became a focal point of national attention and a repository of national hopes in the aftermath of September 11. In...

  10. Appendix A: The West Wing Episode Directory
    (pp. 173-178)
  11. Appendix B: The West Wing Character Directory
    (pp. 179-182)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-202)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-222)
  14. Index
    (pp. 223-232)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)