VIDEO ESSAY: Sorkinisms, by Kevin T. Porter: A Writer Under a Microscope

VIDEO ESSAY: Sorkinisms, by Kevin T. Porter: A Writer Under a Microscope


I don't know what to think of this video.

I know what its creator, Kevin T. Porter, wants me to think of it. He makes it clear that he considers this exhaustively researched and edited work to be "a tribute to the work of Aaron Sorkin"—a "playful excursion through Sorkin's wonderful world of words."

But that's not exactly how the piece comes across.

"This piece is not intended as a critique," he writes.

Mr. Porter's careful admonishment to his viewers does little to change the simple fact that this video—edited in a way that exposes the repetition in Sorkin's syntax—puts the whole enterprise on trial, arming Sorkin-haters with all the evidence they need to scream "hack!"

And they have a strong point.

On the one hand, the sameness laid bare in this piece can be easily be derided for its lack of imagination, and yet it can be celebrated on the other because—let's face it—Sorkin-speak has that unique tendency to transcend everything else in the frame, including story, plot, lighting, and direction. It's that much fun to hear.

But, the same point can be made about writer/director Joss Whedon, a writer with a voice so unique that he has built his own cult following of half-crazed fanatics—now that The Avengers has raked in a billion or so, the Whedonites will rule the world. Yet every character Mr. Whedon has ever created talks like some version of himself.

If anything, this remarkable video reminds us that writing is not golf.

Anyone who has ever rented a pair of clubs for the first time, stepped on to a fairway, and taken a swing at a ball off the ground knows that golf is damn hard. The very act of playing it bathes you in such abject humiliation that I personally think the New York Department of Corrections should force convicted felons to do it as punishment.

Writing, on the other hand, seems deceptively easy—especially for a first-timer. In fact, I'd say it takes a good while to discover how bad you are at it; one's identity as a writer, similarly, comes together only after one suffers a slower but just as humiliating journey through the complicated world of syntax, dialogue, and grammar.

Perhaps it's fair to say that the Sorkins and Whedons of the world have earned the right to their unique voices, and therefore they deserve a respectful place in popular entertainment.

While it is true none of these guys are ever going to win the Paddy Chayefsky award for realism, somehow, we still fall for them all the same. — Ken Cancelosi

4 thoughts on “VIDEO ESSAY: Sorkinisms, by Kevin T. Porter: A Writer Under a Microscope”

  1. I'm a fan of all three, to slightly varying extents, but I'd say Paddy Chayefsky is open to precisely the same charges as Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon.


  2. I'd still rather watch and listen to Sorkin-driven people no matter what the plot!
    Cadence, pace, style – snap, crackle. pop, it ain't Dallas and that's why it will always be entertainment rich and oh yes, intelligent.


  3. Ken: Well said. The other reason the 'gotcha' reactions to this video are unfair is because many of them assume that Sorkin has something to hide. Often, he seems to be calling attention to the sameness. The head-slapping, to pick just one example, is a perfect example of a running gag — it's something that Sorkin characters do in Sorkin World, just like characters in SEINFELD all had a need to name things (Close Talker, Low Talker, and so on …). The "other people" phrase is similar — not a gag, but a bit of vernacular that's popular in Sorkin World, if not really in ours. I could list a handful of other examples. That said, sure, there are certain exchanges in here that seem distinct enough that they should only live in one place, simply because reusing them rubs away a little of the luster. But there's a big part of me that respects the courage to reuse a great line or exchange. Sorkin was bold enough to quote directly. Most writers are like middle schoolers cheating on a book report: rewording the original text just enough to pretend that they've come up with something new — doesn't make it true.


  4. Thanks, Ken. This is a valuable comment and reflects my own feelings. I love Sorkin's rhythms and cadences. On the one hand, you can't hear a piece of Sorkin dialogue and know which character says it. On the other hand, you know it's Sorkin. You could add Mamet to the people who fit this description. If you love the music of well-crafted dialogue, Sorkin is worth listening to.


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