Aaron Sorkin's acceptance speech at this weekend's Oscars ceremony ran long; long enough, in fact, for a listener to notice one of the oddest things about it. That is: Sorkin, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for his Social Network script, shared some of the credit for his award. He ran through the thank-yous, both expected and unexpected; he thanked director David Fincher, he thanked star Jesse Eisenberg, he thanked his researcher and his assistant and his press representative. But he also included the following: "This [screenplay] is an adaptation of a book by Ben Mezrich, so I'm accepting this on his behalf as well." Which, if you have been paying close attention to the story of Aaron Sorkin, seems to show that he has perhaps learned something from the Internet in the past 10 years.
MORE ON SELF-CRITIQUING TV:
Caitlin Smith: On '30 Rock,' Life Imitates 'The Daily Show'
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Societal Forces and 'The Daily Show'
Eleanor Barkhorn: Life Imitates 'The West Wing': Aaron Sorkin Responds to Internet Commenters
The Social Network is the story of Mark Zuckerberg, who took to the Internet with a dynamite idea and was promptly accused of stealing it. Ten years ago, when Sorkin was running The West Wing, he found himself embroiled in a controversy of its own, also revolving around accusations that he had taken undue credit for others' work. It could have been minor: Sorkin, who claimed that he wrote every episode of The West Wing himself, didn't mention his co-writerhref> Rick Cleveland when he accepted an Emmy for the episode "In Excelsis Deo" in 2000 (Cleveland was standing directly behind him at the time). Sorkin, unfortunately, managed to throw gasoline on the fire by openly attacking Cleveland on the West Wing forums at Television Without Pity. Fans accused Sorkin spotlight-hogging, credit-stealing, callousness; Sorkin responded by claiming that Rick Cleveland had done no actual work on the episode, and that Sorkin had written the entire story and script himself. Which didn't exactly help him, given that the episode was in fact based on the death of Cleveland's father.
Things got ugly. Cleveland responded. Sorkin apologized, and swore not to post on the website any more. This is when Sorkin, Internet casualty, became a digital innovator himself: He was the first person in history to write an hour-long television episode about a man who is offended by an Internet message board. "The U.S. Poet Laureate," which aired in March 2002, played like a blow-by-blow re-enactment of Sorkin's history with the TWoP forums: White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman discovers a message board dedicated to his policy and general dreaminess (well, the character was basedhref> on Rahm Emanuelhref>). Josh is shocked to find that this message board is not entirely composed of praise. He posts a "correction," and the other users call him arrogant. He then posts a series of increasingly unhinged and unprofessional messages, which end abruptly when a colleague tells him someone will be assigned the task of making sure he doesn't post on the site ever again. The story's close adherence to the Sorkin's history made the characters' remarks about the mentally unstable, muu-muu wearing, chain-smoking losers who read or worked on such sites all the more vicious.