Bartlet Immersion Therapy
For most of the past decade, I’ve dedicated the majority of my waking hours to climate change activism. In order to survive that, I’ve had to learn how to cope with some pretty serious and constant existential dread.
For me, the best coping mechanism is trading that existential dread for imminent dread, like the fear of falling on a run-out trad climbing lead while I’m twenty feet above my last piece of protection, or the gut twisting terror when one of your skis makes a deep “whoompf” noise when you punch through a hidden windslab skiing up a far-flung backcountry peak. My rationale is simple – if I’m worried about my immediate physical safety, I’m not thinking about the slowly cracking Antarctic ice sheet, or the possibility that permafrost melt is about to release some kind of toxic methane cloud that will slam the accelerator on our ride to a dystopian, scorched earth future.
But recently, as Donald Trump has found his way into the White House, the existential dread has been cranked to eleven, and honestly, I just can’t spend enough time in the mountains to wipe it from my brain.
Enter my newest strategy; Bartlet Immersion Therapy. Or, in layman’s terms - binge watching the West Wing.
You see, binge watching anything is a lot like endurance sports. It takes serious commitment, you need to plan for how you’re going to hydrate and eat, and if you do it long enough, it will re-wire your brain for a little while. In the same way that you start to forget about the stresses of home 20 miles into a 100-mile century bike ride, instead focused on the next hill or your next coffee break, some 5-6 episodes into a binge watch, the edges of the real world soften and you find yourself immersed in some imagined land, be it Westeros or Marvel’s version of New York City.
Binge watching the West Wing takes this all a step further. If you watch it long enough, without interruption, and without looking at the news or your social media feeds, you can, for a moment, exchange the our terrifying political reality for the cotton candy-like embrace of Aaron Sorkin’s political fantasy. Instead of imagining what kind of human sacrifice rituals Steve Bannon and Kelly-Anne Conway are organizing in the White House, you can lose yourself in the witty banter between Josh Lyman and Donatella Moss. Rather than Sean Spicer’s spittle filled vitriol, you get the sass and class of Claudia Jean Craig. It’s like sitting in a warm bath and putting your ears below the surface, tuning out the world for a moment and letting yourself float in the warm, welcoming ether.
Is it escapism? Absolutely. Do I care? Not really. No matter how long I watch for and how far I let my imagination take me, I’m inevitably dragged back into the cold light of day by some depressing/terrifying/bowel wrenching tale of rising fascism and/or the potential extinction of our species. But, for a brief moment, I’m in a beautiful place. A place where politicians have souls, the media have both morals and a backbone and, at the end of the day, the good guys win.
Sometimes, that’s all I need to keep going, at least until I can get myself up into the rock, snow and ice so that I can scare my head clear. That, or until we get a West Wing reboot because, frankly, President Sam Seaborne is the distraction we all need right now.