You say Kumar, I say Saudi Arabia?
July 18, 2009 3:01 PM   Subscribe

What explains the use of real or fake country names in the West Wing series? I've been watching reruns and can't identify a logic to it. Rather than chat, is there someone out there who actually knows what was going on?
posted by B-squared to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia had great descriptions of these countries until the AFD police got their hands on it.

and Equatorial Kundu. Basically instead of saddling one real country with terrorists, disease, or famine, they assign fake countries for this. Note that real leaders and real issues pop up frequently in the West Wing, but the fake countries are handy plot devices.
posted by calwatch at 4:09 PM on July 18, 2009

Response by poster: Yes, calwatch, you might think so, but they're happy to criticize repression in North Korea and China and Indonesia... and American soldiers are killed trying to rescue hostages in Colombia. Indeed, Bartlet discusses not re-certifying Colombia because it doesn't cooperate with US anti-narcotics policies.
posted by B-squared at 4:17 PM on July 18, 2009

Just a viewer observation: I think they use real countries when they are describing real issues. They use fake countries when the are describing fake issues.
posted by Kololo at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2009

They did the Equatorial Kundu plot because they wanted to create a fictional situation like the one in Rwanda several years ago. But the Rwanda story is history and it would be potentially offensive to just choose some other real African country and saddle them with this atrocity. So they make up a fake one.

I think Qumar was set up as a composite of various middle eastern countries so that they could talk about terrorism in the middle east without offending any of their Persian-American or Afghani-American or what-have-you viewers.

Mind you, they went to the Gaza strip in Israel and blew up a motorcade without any qualms about offending Palestinians, so, go figure.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:59 PM on July 18, 2009

... I imagine there was a discussion in the writer's room or Aaron Sorkin's head (as the case may be) in each case debating whether they could get away with using a real country name and the fictional ones just represent the occasions when they decided they couldn't.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:01 PM on July 18, 2009

The better question is why do they have the President's residence in Manchester, NH, which is an ugly, industrial town. When they went there for a two-parter, it was lush and green and had horses and stuff. How about a little research? Just a smidge. You'd think a series that's so concerned with facts and figures could, I don't know, look at photos of the city.
posted by tzikeh at 10:17 PM on July 18, 2009

Fake countries are for the plots where Bartlet's decisions and actions are wildly different from what the real US government has done in similar situations, and using a real country would strain credulity. Bartlet can't send US troops to Sudan, not because that would offend Sudanese people, but because the US government didn't do that in real life and so none of us would believe it. (Notable exception: when Bartlet sent US peacekeepers to Israel. But then, trying to create a fake version of Israel/Palestine would strain credulity even more than the fake plot did.) When real countries are mentioned -- North Korea, China, Columbia -- Bartlet's actions and policies are, if not perfectly consistent, at least within the bounds of believability.
posted by junkbox at 10:59 PM on July 18, 2009

Wikipedia had great descriptions of these countries until the AFD police got their hands on it.

But Wikipedia requires other than primary sources, which doesn't seem out of line. That sort of material is better suited for the West Wing Wikia: Qumar is there, but not Equatorial Kundu.

I'm not sure why you think there's necessarily a logic to it. When you have different writers contributing you get different perspectives, and keeping them all in the same continuity is difficult enough when you're just dealing with Mayberry, RFD, let alone a political show or science fiction. Fictional countries give them a broad mandate for flexible plots whereas a real country may well screw things up by its own real developments. What if they scheduled an entire arc around North Korean tensions, and suddenly the government collapsed and there was a Berlin Wall situation? What if they had an arc about Bartlet improving relations with Iran through diplomacy, and in the middle of it they had a disputed election and people were being shot in the streets (I know, hard to imagine)? So there are obvious downsides to creating scenarios using real countries, and fictionalized countries avoid them neatly. Of course, they have challenges of their own, such as continued geographical references to Qumar that had to fudge where it really was lest you be left with the only conclusion that it represented Iraq, or Iran, or Saudi Arabia.
posted by dhartung at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2009

Response by poster: Just for clarification, I am not asking "why one might" choose to use fake names; I get that. I am asking why they chose real versus fake, when they did (perhaps there's not an algorithm, but there must be an explanation). Lots of real countries are used for major story arcs that were controversial and could have been overtaken by events (DPRK, China, Indonesia, Colombia, Haiti, India/Pakistan, Cuba). The use of real places does not seem related to historical accuracy vis-a-vis US foreign policy.
posted by B-squared at 1:49 PM on July 19, 2009

B-squared, assuming that no one on metafilter has personally been a member of the writing staff of the West Wing, how much more specificity are you looking for? There have been several examples of correlations between real places and historical accuracy/believability; so i'm not sure what kind of information you're looking for?
posted by Kololo at 8:01 PM on July 19, 2009

Response by poster: A valid question. I was thinking an Entertainment Weekly article or an interview or something similar. This was a very popular show for many years. I thought there might be something explaining it out there.
posted by B-squared at 11:41 AM on July 20, 2009

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