Nothing: Part 26

Aaron Sorkin’s creation, The West Wing, ended its seven year run on May 14th, 2006.  I was an avid watcher of this brilliant show but as time goes by and memory fades, I am left to grapple with this one line of dialogue that was spoken by the character of Leo McGarry to the fictional White House staffer – Ali: “That’s the price you pay.”

It has been over four years since the show last aired but I haven’t forgotten those words or the fictional context in which they spoken.  I remember feeling uncomfortable as I watched that scene.  I balked at the possibility that something like this could happen in the real world even as I applauded Sorkin’s brilliance in including such a line in the script.

In this episode, the character of Ali was suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.  I refreshed my memory of the scene with the aid of Google’s search engine.  The dialogue progressed as follows:

ALI: It’s not uncommon for Arab Americans to be the first suspected when that sort of thing happens.
LEO: I can’t imagine why.
ALI: Look…
LEO: No, I’m trying to figure out why anytime there’s terrorist activity people always assume it’s Arabs.  I’m racking my brain.
ALI: I don’t know the answer to that, Mr. McGarry, but I can tell you it’s horrible.
LEO: Well, that’s the price you pay.

Watching then, I was stunned to hear the character of Leo utter those words, was quite shaken and angry despite being aware it was a television drama.

Ali had responded to that remark with confusion and anger, saying, “Excuse me? The price for what?”

I remember that in the final scene of this episode Leo went back to Ali to make amends.  He said that he was just about to say that it was the price to pay for “having the same physical features as criminals”.

The explanation didn’t do anything to appease me.  The director didn’t show Ali’s character appear comforted by the explanation either.  The scene faded to black with Buffalo Springfield’s song – For What It’s Worth – playing in the background:  There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear/There’s a man with a gun over there/Telling me I got to beware/I think it’s time we stop, children,what’s that sound/Everybody look what’s going down/There’s battle lines being drawn/Nobody’s right when everybody’s wrong…

The point was made.  Pondering this, over the years, there always appears to be a price to pay.  It’s as though we’ve all made a collective bargain and are splitting the bill, “going dutch” at this grand buffet of life, even if we refrained from partaking. 

The Buffalo Springfield song was a good choice to close out the scene.  History repeats itself as Arizona passes a law that allows officials to stop anyone who doesn’t look Arizonan enough…I suppose, and to demand that they show their papers or as I read a frequently traveling, brown skinned friend’s status message on a social networking site that says he was “randomly” searched five out of the last six times that he traveled. 

It is somewhat ironical that the generation that kept beat with this Buffalo Springfield song in 1967 is the same one that is responsible for approving laws like the one that was just passed in Arizona and demanding more of the same.  Young people still speak their minds often enough and up to the age where they are not considered “young people” anymore.  Life goes on.

There’s further irony in that we are all quite willing to “pay this price” submit to searches, deal with being under suspicion for one thing or another because there’s a profile that we partially or fractionally share with someone else. We will moan and groan but we will pay as many times as we are required to pay it – for the greater good.  No harm, no foul: we generalize, we assume, we profile, we extrapolate.  This is how things are, how we are.  It has all happened before and will happen again and again…as they concluded in another brilliant show – Battlestar Galactica.  🙂

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