Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter


Red and Blue Love (and Sex) on Studio 60

posted by Patton Dodd

I’ve written here before that Harriet Hayes, the evangelical Christian character on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” is a credible Christian character. It’s a claim I’ve defended to evangelical viewers who think she’s just an excuse for writer Aaron Sorkin to say that he’s presented a balanced view of American Christianity–so he can otherwise focus on the crazy Christians oft-mentioned in the show.

Well, last night’s episode scored a point for the Harriet-is-an-evangelical-fraud crowd. As Harriet was being grilled by a reporter, Martha, on what lines she’d cross for the sake of entertainment, we heard this exchange:

Martha: Would you have a problem doing a sketch about premarital sex?

Harriet: I don’t have a problem having premarital sex! It might be the only sex I ever have.

Premarital sex is verboten among evangelicals, so there’s definitely a problem with this characterization of Harriet. It’s not that evangelicals never have premarital sex; it’s that they wouldn’t be so flippant about it. Harriet does acknowledge that she’s hit taboo territory (“I just gave you your pull quote,” she admits to Martha), but her tone does not seem equal to what evangelicals generally believe about sex before marriage.

I’m tempted here to evaulate the rest of the conversation between Harriet and Martha, which was largely about Harriet’s faith and which was largely true to the form of evangelical culture and belief. But I’d rather leave it alone–after all, I’m mostly hoping that Sorkin creates a credible character, not a credible type. Five episodes in, it’s too early to tell for sure whether Harriet will be credible as either.

In any event, the key moment in last night’s episode came not during the Harriet-Martha exchange, but during the Harriet-Matt exchange, which took place on the balcony outside Matt’s office as Sting performed “Fields of Gold” on the stage below. It was tender and affecting, and I realized that this love story really is the show’s singular stroke of genius (five episodes in): In 2006, no lovers could be more star-crossed than those living on opposite sides of our cultural divide.

“Studio 60″ might be a “Romeo and Juliet” for an America divided into Red and Blue states. Especially in Sorkinland, where political affiliations are one’s deepest and most significant commitments, it’s remarkable to imagine a romantic bridge across America’s political-cultural gulf.

Reading the story this way reminds us that Red-Blue America has become the stuff of myth. Like all myths, Red-Blue America is more useful as an explanation of ideology than of reality: It gets the broad strokes right but can’t acccount for details. And like all myths, Red-Blue America is tough to overcome, which is why we need fiction to do it for us.

So I’ll be cheering for Harriet and Matt. And hoping they don’t come to a Shakespearean demise.



  • http://HASH(0xfe26128) Peter Zimmerman

    “Martha: Would you have a problem doing a sketch about premarital sex? Harriet: I don’t have a problem having premarital sex! It might be the only sex I ever have.” try being a divorced evangelical. the difference between harriet and the average 20somthing evangelical or divorced evangelical is that harriet is honest to non christians. i went to a christian college. i know the score. harriet has EVOLVED. she realizes that premarital sex may be the only sex she gets. i don’t say i think premarital sex is not wrong. but i have had it. and i don’t regret it.she is not a fraud. she is an evangelical-flawed.

  • http://brokenpen.wordpress.com Crystal

    I have to disagree with you, Patton.I think the pre-marital sex makes Harriet more believable as a person. I’d be more wary if Sorkin had made her an Archetypal Virgin. I think it’s further evidence of evangelicals being just like everyone else. I think Harriet’s flippancy is indicative of her discomfort with it. I wouldn’t think it very credible if she had said it with sadness or gravity. I think she, like everyone else, grapples with just how to reconcile belief with everyday living. Oh, and I’m predicting the Matt and Harriet saga will be long and drawn out. West Wing fans waited seven years for a Josh and Donna kiss. Sorkin’s not one to rush in, especially with a romance that is so juicy when it’s happening, but not really happening. Within the fandom, some are guessing that the reporter will be Matt’s rebound girl. Intriguing.

  • http://HASH(0xfe250b0) MatthewB

    I have to say that for the portrayal of Harriet as a committed, traditionally-believing evangelical Christian, her statement “I have no problem having premarital sex” is a bit incongruous. Not that you won’t find that in the denominations she’s supposed, I guess, to represent. Far from it. The realization that one may never get married, and would then have to remain a virgin is depressing to a lot of people. But for me, who grew up in a traditional evangelical church (I eventually left, for reasons having nothing to do with premarital sex), I can’t imagine someone who holds the beliefs common to that faith not being conflicted about her sexual habits. Same goes for a man. I’m not going to bother listing all of my views on sexuality, society, religion, and all the rest here, because I don’t have that much time, nor do I have the energy to spend my day posting on blog comboxes. The portrayal of a committed evangelical isn’t quite honest on Studio 60, I think.

  • http://brokenpen.wordpress.com Crystal

    You know, the more I think about it, the more I think you’re right.I think this whole sex thing reveal’s that Sorkin doesn’t really understand that being a good Christian is different from being a good person.Almost everything up to that point paints Harriet as a good, though struggling to be good, person. It’s almost as if Sorkin is having her say, “I’m a really good person, so what if I have a little sex?”And that might be something that a Christian says to themselves in a moment of weakness or two, but they wouldn’t adopt it as a maxim.

  • http://HASH(0xfe268c4) pbfa

    I really enjoy Harriet, and having her NOT pretend to be an asexual hypocrite makes her more human & likable. So far, 60 is the only show I’m drawn to every week, and she’s part of why. The fundies I run into are usually rigid, humorless (unless poking fun at the scary left), and determinedly hypocritical about their sexuality. It’s wonderful to see (even if only onscreen) a more textured portrayal.

  • Stigmata

    the bible is normally referred to as the “standard works.” That means its a standard. U cant go to a basketball game and say “… *tear* I cant dunk the ball, can u lower the hoop? (And lower the standard) It’s a standard for to have it 10 feet tall. Same principal applies for the Bible u cant go read the bible and say “Oh, fasting I cant do that that makes me hungry” or, “Tithing, I cant give, I don’t have anything to give” or, “Oh I cant have sex till I’m married *tear* I’m just going to go have sex.” I think what u all forgot is you are Christian by what u do, and NOT by what u say. I think this lady telling herself that she cant have any other sex than premarital sex is EXACTLY the reason why she wont. This blog is old I hope u all read this tho, somehow..

  • peter zimmerman

    I was thinking again on Harriet and pre marital sex.
    I would bet that she represents over half of evangelical christian women in their 30s. I would bet, having known alot of them, the number is more like 70%.
    I have only one friend AT ALL who is a christian and still a virgin by age 36. ONE. And I went to Baylor univeristy. At baylor, almost all my friends who married before 26 managed to only have sex with their future spouse. few made it down the aisle virgins. In online dating, I cannot speak for “evangelicals” and their dating habits, as I am post-evangelical or emergent or ana/baptist or liberal evangelical.
    I go to a liberal divinity school with a baptist heritage. Among many of the students in their 20s, virginity is prized. That is great. I meet alot of couples who married mid-twenties as virgins. But the evanglical church is built on the lie that god wants you married with two kids in the suburbs. So when that spouse and house do not materialize by age 30, you begin to question things.
    I do know a few single women in their 30s who are remaining celibate again until remarriage. That is great. It is not the norm. Harriet COULD believe that premarital sex is “wrong” but she was not going to lie about it to someone. I have never said my past sexual experiences were moral or showed devotion to christ. But neither do I regret them or feel guilty.

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