Aaron Sorkin Loves Ivy League Schools
They love the hell out of the Ivy League on The West Wing. Fancy university names are dropped on the regular—Princeton this, Harvard that. How many times does Sam Seaborn tell us he attended Princeton? It’s a lot. It’s important for us to be reminded that he is very smart. On this Christmas episode in Season 4, the Whiffenwhatevers are featured heavily. Here’s the thing. Ivy Leaguers love themselves some acapella singing. It’s bizarre how this is still encouraged in the modern age but there you have it. The Whiffenpoofs are an acapella singing group at Yale. They have their own website because they are famous which… is something we’ll have to deal with at another time. Seriously, though, look at the individual snapshots on the website and get at me because it’s worth a conversation. I used to know people who were part of the group because, and I’m not proud of this, I once attended that school for a time. To be fair to members of singing groups, I was heavily involved in Dramat (I did technical theater for many years) so I was part of my own little cult but we were awesome. One time, this guy and I rented a truck and drove to a preparatory school in Massachusetts to buy a fence that we then hung on a fly rail and lowered onto the stage during the fight scene in Westside Story. The actors even got to climb the fence because of how we fastened it to the stage temporarily. This other time, we did City of Angels and had all these double-sided set pieces and we’d turn them around based on whether or not the scene was set in present day or the past. This makes sense if you are familiar with the show. The past sides, we painted in black and white. I’m still pretty proud of what we did on that show. It was clever. I did all kinds of things and even got to design sets and do tech direction. My point is, I truly thought it was like, an elaborate joke that all these singing groups were actually a Thing. Then I decided, it must be “White People Shit,” but there were occasional people of color in the group so it was Mostly White People Shit. These guys were like rock stars. If I had not seen it with my own eyes I would not believe it. I mean, not everyone cared about the ‘Poofs but the people that cared, cared a great deal and the group’s members were not ashamed. They weren’t being ironic with their singing. They were very very proud to be part of an all male singing group in college, dressing alike, harmonizing, the whole shebang. I don’t think they should have been ashamed. It was just disconcerting to see how seriously singing groups were taken on that campus, by grown adults. Other schools also have acapella singing groups, too. The first time I went to a Whiffenpoofs concert, I sat, quietly and in my head, I was screaming, “Is this really fucking happening? Is this the end of days?” I’m getting off track here. The West Wing loves the Ivy League and also Notre Dame. Really, the show loves elite schools and it makes it clear that to achieve certain levels of success, you need to go to the “right” schools. This is one of the most under discussed things about the show, the sort of silent propaganda for an overpriced education where one can acquire a fancy piece of paper. I wondered if, perhaps, Sorkin attended the Ivy League but he actually went to Syracuse. He’s working through something there—inadequacy, fetish, I do not know.
PS: A friend pointed out to me that this Ivy League obsession is also present on Newsroom.