The Feel-Good American Government Media Diet
Current events got you down? Feeling a bit burned out by the way the American government is working in 2017? Tired of too much of the real world hitting you in the face when you turn on the news?
Understandable. Political beliefs aside, any American could understand feeling a bit overwhelmed by the ubiquitous coverage of our real-life American government. Lately, I’ve been adjusting my media diet a bit to include some levity, optimism, true scholarly meat, and a bit of full-fledged romanticism when it comes to the country. And so to help you out, I’ve put together a list of some stuff for you to watch, read, or listen to for relief.
Pick some pop culture below to feel good about American government (some of it non-fiction!). This media diet might not make the country work better, but it’ll give you some time off from worry.
(Note: Log-ins may be required to stream some items on this media diet)
The West Wing
Season 1, episode 12 – “He Shall, from Time to Time”
“West Wing” is to American government as “Friday Night Lights” is to Texas football. It has a romance for its subject. All the characters are both virtuous and idealistic. And writers know how to stage a big dramatic moment that’s the culmination of a ton of hard work from over-stressed, universally relatable, hyper-competent, and intensely competitive characters.
Nowhere is that optimism more apparent than in President Bartlet’s State of the Union episode. The revelation of the President’s M.S. may be the big TV moment of the episode, but Toby’s work on the State of the Union address hits a “West Wing” (or Aaron Sorkin) motif – talking ambitiously about how great America can be, and not giving in to the easy solutions.
House of Cards
Season 4, episode 11 – “Chapter 50”
I know, I know. “House of Cards” isn’t exactly light-hearted. Frank Underwood is a cruel man, obsessed with power and sympathetic to (almost) no one. Watching the America of “House of Cards” might feel a bit too real at times – it’s possibly the only depiction of Washington more pessimistic than what you see on cable news.
But toward the end of season 4, “House of Cards” begins to pay off a seasons-long arc for one of its recurring characters. Journalist Tom Hammerschmidt, after years of investigating the President’s corruption, picks up some leads. He gets the help of his former employer, the Washignton Herald, and a “Spotlight”-esque team to go with it. He’s close to the truth, and even getting his ass kicked by a disgruntled former White House employee won’t deter him.
So if you want to see dogged journalists chasing the truth and you can’t find a copy of All The President’s Men, this is just the thing for you.
Season 3, episode 3 – “Alicia”
As the sole pure comedy on this list, “Veep” gives viewers a bit of art-imitating-art-imitating-life in this episode. The Vice President is about to announce she’s running for President, but all anyone on her staff can talk about is an unflattering SNL sketch about her. There are plenty of hilarious campaign-based episodes of “Veep” – my favorite is season 4’s “Crate” – but this is a very satisfying look at a thin-skinned politician who can’t understand why she’s perceived as unlikable… while continuing to be intensely unlikable.
The original Broadway cast recording
Here we cross over between fiction and nonfiction. You must have heard of Hamilton before – I’ve even covered the Hamilton beer a couple times in the past.
If you have two and a half hours free (we all listen to music at work or on our commutes, right?) the Hamitlon soundtrack is entirely worth it. Not only is the music phenomenal, but it also paints a personal picture of the dawn of the American experiment.
2017 has a lot going on. This might be the best time to listen to – or re-discover – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical. Or for the literary types, a hefty addition to your diet could be Chernow’s Hamilton biography, on which the musical is based.
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
Episode 3 – “The Fire of Life”
Again, if you have the time… this is a fascinating slice of the 2014 Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts. And this episode, my favorite, actually captures the period between Teddy and Franklin’s presidencies. In particular, the portrayal of a post-White House Teddy Roosevelt is fascinating. He’s the single coolest dude in American history – let alone the coolest President.
There’s something fascinating (and a bit sad) to see the part of Teddy Roosevelt that we never hear about in history class. One cool story from the episode: Teddy Roosevelt had such a lust for war that he wanted to fight in World War I, even though he was in his 50s at the time. I know we’re a beer website, but you’ll want to sit down and watch this episode with a mint julep – Teddy’s favorite drink.
“How JFK Made NASA His Secret Weapon in the Fight for Civil Rights in America”
This radio story is a couple years old, but I was thinking about it recently with all the talk about Hidden Figures. Throughout the space race of 1960s, integration was as much of an issue in space exploration as it was in schools or professional sports.
Years before the Civil Rights Act was passed, President Kennedy designated many high-level jobs in government agencies, including NASA, as reserved for black employees. It wasn’t easy for all these NASA engineers, scientists, and technicians to enter the field, but the black NASA employees of the 1960s managed to win the space race while pushing through color barriers.
Episode 24 – “The Two Fates of the Old East Portico”
I am the type of nerd who really enjoys hearing the stories of iconic buildings. The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. is more than just iconic – it has been the setting for 200 years of America’s story and its legislative (and for a time Judicial) history. This podcast tells a quick but interesting story about what happened to the pieces of the Capitol Building removed in renovations.
I’ll try not to spoil the episode, but the woman interviewed in this piece impresses me with her reverence for America’s history – even something as utilitarian and trivial as some columns. It’s a quick podcast episode which may send you down a Wikipedia rabbit hole researching D.C. and its many important buildings.