There’s this scene in The Newsroom where Jeff Daniels’ character goes on this compelling and eloquent rant about why America isn’t the best country in the world. It’s the opening scene, actually, and it alone was enough to keep me tuned in for two-and-a-half seasons.
I remember thinking two things when I first saw it: (1) Wow, that was really fucking badass, and (2) I need to become that good; that good at being eloquent, that good of being aware of the facts and the issues, and that good at giving a shit so I’ll start trying to do something about it.
I even started beating myself up subconsciously every time I watched The Newsroom‘s team of fictional journalists stand up for democracy. Come to think of it, I beat myself every time I read something really smart like Hunter S. Thompson, or Christopher Hitchens, or some other contemporary thinker, dead or alive, whose ideas have worked their way so far into the prevailing zeitgeist that they continue to shape many popular opinions without anyone really realizing or noticing it.
I try to remind myself, though, that those journalists are fictional characters whose words were carefully crafted in advance, and by one of the most renowned screenwriters of dialogueÂ on the small and big screen alike. Then again, all those other thinkers who get under my skin in the same are not fictional; they lived and they breathed (and many of them still do), and they actually said those words that so impressed me when I first read them — even if they had time to ponder them and revise them and polish them long before they ever let them out into the wild.
These persons who inspired me were not the whole of who they really were, though. Rather they were the best that that person had to offer, and that best-of-them omits their vices and other wickednesses. But that best-of-them was still very real. It actually happened, and it’s something that they actually gave to the rest of us to benefit from. It’s something that we are all the better off for.
It’s the same thing for Sorkin’s fictional characters on The Newsroom (especially Jeff Daniels) because even though they were fictional, they were breathed into existence by the best of Aaron Sorkin. He might’ve created these characters out of thin air, but he did it using the best of ideas and intentions that he himself has to offer the world.
And the same thing can be said about any work of fiction: as fictional as the characters and events may be, they are not imaginary. No, they’re part of the very real character of their author, and to that extent, are something real and worth aspiring toward.
That’s why it’s no good to write off aspiring toward any kind of ideal because it was the product of fiction. It might be the product fiction, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a fictional product. It’s originator might’ve been fictional, but its author was not. No, the author was (or is) a very real person, and they were put on this earth to kick-ass and help their fellow man as much as the rest of us were, and they clearly have something we can learn from.
This is why we should all go out into the world trying to be as good (or better) than the fiction that inspires us. No matter what we do, we should be doing it as well as the heroes that inspire us, because even though they’re living or dead or fictional, they’re still very real.