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The Farnsworth Invention

by Aaron Sorkin

I heart Aaron Sorkin. The quality of his writing is such that I know I will never be disappointed. I was super excited to read this play, since I didn't get the chance to see it when it was on Broadway a few years back. As expected, I was not disappointed. Sorkin's quick-witted dialogue is right up my alley. Admittedly, this could just as easily be on the big screen, and perhaps should be, but that doesn't make the story any less entertaining.

The Farnsworth Invention is television. This title leads you to think that there is no doubt about who actually invented it but the action of the play revolves around the competition between two men - Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff - to be the first to put TV on the map. Sarnoff is mostly in the radio business but he has men who are working on TV, albeit slowly. Farnsworth is a guy from rural Idaho who just happened to be a genius.

It's not just about two men battling it out. The play also touches on media ethics. In reference to the surge in advertising on the radio, Sarnoff argues that time on the air shouldn't be sold. He feels that radio should be a platform for education and reforming cultural taste. He is asked:
Who gets the final call on what public taste should be, to say nothing of education and information?
These sorts of questions should still be asked. We take for granted that what we see and hear around us - on TV, in advertising, on the radio - is informative and beneficial. We know in the back of our heads that regulations are in place and that people follow rules and therefore all that we see is fair, and true. UH. We also know that this is NOT true. One only has to watch certain entire networks to know that bias is out there. It is up to us to educate ourselves from multiple media outlets and then determine what is the truth.

By the end of the play it almost doesn't matter who invented television, what matters is that it exists. Sarnoff explains to his wife:
It's gonna change everything. It's gonna end ignorance and misunderstanding. It's gonna end illiteracy. It's gonna end war. By pointing a camera at it.
If only.

For the West Wing fans in the house, Sorkin recycles (well, slightly changes) a quote from an episode about travelling to the moon. On WW it was Sam Seaborn, here it is Sarnoff who tells us:
I don't understand people who say what business do we have going to the moon when people around the world are starving. First of all, people aren't starving because we went to the moon, one doesn't have much to do with the other. But you go to the moon 'cause it's next. We came out of the cave, went over the hill, crossed the ocean, pioneered a continent and took to the heavens. We were meant to be explorers. Explorers, builders and protectors.
Just thinking about West Wing makes me feel patriotic. So, remember to go out and VOTE!

Tomorrow's Play: Patter for the Floating Lady by Steve Martin

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