Archives for posts with tag: the wire

Five straight skinny reasons why *The Wire* is revolutionary, and TV’s best-ever show.

1.) Real People
As with British and Australian films and TV (as well as Euro, Persian, Chinese and world film and TV, which I don’t watch a lot of), the cast looks like real people. Many of them are. It’s not that many of them are black, which they are, it is that the white people and the black people all look like real people, not Meg Ryan’s post-surgery lips. As Liz Taylor used to say, “There are no real tits in Hollywood any more.”

There are in *The Wire*, and it is thrilling to see. No orthodontia. No nose jobs. No videogenic lipstick of a coral shade only seen in nature on blow up dolls. The diversity of peoples’ teeth, noses, skin textures, hands is beautiful to see. Sonia Sohn’s epithelial folds are almost as titanic a thing of beauty to regard as James Gandolfini’s eyes. The sets are natural colors too. Trees, water, blood, ruins.

2.) No Heroes
There is no star system. There are no heroes. The Hollywood/derriere garde/Aristotelian heroic system in which the story is the story of one handsome young guy does not exist in *The Wire*. They kill a protagonist off every season. The one you really love. McNulty, who is less the protagonist than the linking device, is far less attractive a hero than his creators believe (there is a lot of macho shit going on in the writing, a point to which I shall return.) And there is a reason the macho shits have the confidence to do that. And it’s not just in the ensemble player system.

3.) Real Life Mimesis
It is mimesis. Simon and Burns created the stories out of real life, with which, as a reporter and a homicide detective-turned-middle-school teacher, respectively, they were fairly familiar.

You know, of course, that Hollywood scriptwriters are all old Poonies. That is, they wrote for the Harvard Lampoon before they all got jobs writing for the Simpsons.

Cambridge to Hollywood. Not a circuit famous for the intrusion of anything but ideas, some of them wholesome, but quickly forgotten. Hollywood writers don’t know anything. They make stuff up. It’s called diegesis, as I’m sure you recall, which means basically narrative.

Simons is instinctually clear on the difference between making shit up and being a good writer. He also puts his finger on what keeps old reporters from ever really being able to let go of – let’s just call it, The Game. It’s why people who are paying attention to real life, and writing mimesis, will come up with a killa new protagonist – D’Angelo, Stringer, Frank Sobotka, Michael and the lost boys – every season, because they’re all out there. In the city. The major reason Simon’s new effort Treme is a flop is because he doesn’t know that city, and is falling back on tropes and stereotypes. And diegesis, like a Hollywood guy.

“God is not a second-rate novelist,” Simon says. “God knows what he’s doing, and if you just take what actually happened and marry it to where you want to go, it’s better than if you thought of it yourself.”
http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/2006/08/wire-money-for-something.html

4.) The Back Channel Economy Is Ruthlessly Capitalist
The sharpest political lesson is not we’re all together in The Game. Many people I respect argue this, eliding the point that ruthless capitalism is an I.Q. test for the underclass, apropos a season four episode in which a hopper repeats state senator Clay Davis’ line about taking the money of people who are giving it, and the disgraced police major Bunny Colvin says goodbye to his superiors in the same terms Stringer Bell faces down his executioners. The egalitarianism of The Game, in which the good guys and the bad guys share values is a good point and an interesting one. The political smarm of the idea that sexist black thugs are capitalists just like Nice People is more easily felt when one recalls that Spielberg dedicated “Schindler’s List”, in which the capitalist saves Jews, to his dead capitalist mentor, Steve Ross.

To me the sharpest political point is not, perhaps, that the back channel economy, The Game, systeme D, is as resistant to the reform efforts of people like Stringer Bell and D’Angelo Barksdale as mainstream politics and economics. It is that the back channel economy is just as ruthless a capitalist system to all who do not conform to the macho shit norm as the mainstream economy. In other words, all the macho shits are playing on a level field and the rest of us can suck eggs.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/28/black_market_global_economy

5.) Cynicism As a Full Employment Mandate for Reporters
I disagree with Simon’s politics, which seem to be that The City is failing because its institutions, including the back channel economy, are incapable of reform, due to the self interest of people like the master politician, the spider seemingly at the center of the web, the police commissioner Ervin Burrell.  The image of a truly powerful black man in Burrell and his performance has gone under-appreciated. I appreciate it. And I disagree with Simon’s apparent politic that no politics can or will save the city, and that only individual action, like Cutty’s, can make a difference in anyone’s life. I reiterate here that Cutty is a character invented by George Pelecanos, not Simon and Burns, to relieve the cataclysm of entropy Simon so enjoys depicting.

The cynicism is pretty much one of self –interest. A broken city is a reporter’s full employment mandate, and a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have to think some more about the fallacies of cynicism; one of them is bullying. RIP, Hitchens.
http://amphibian7.blogspot.com/2007/09/fallacy-of-cynicism.html

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Deconstructing Derrida: Who's the fairest of them all?

1.
Thinking about Lena Dunham’s Girls, and the New York magazine drama derby, in which the best TV shows of the past 25 years battled for dominance in two parallel contests — one voted on by readers (Breaking Bad vs. Buffy was their titanic final battle, both fantasies of suburban vigilantism), one voted on by scholars of television (The Wire vs. The Sopranos, urban vigilantism), in which all the protagonists are violent and repellent beyond belief. Mad Men was a quarter finalist in the critics’ lists, and its sexual violence is well described in the contest.

This violence and repulsiveness snuck up on me. I remember first being shocked by my callousness while baby-sitting for one of my godsons 20 years ago. I stepped away from the TV to the kitchen, from which he was visible, but from which I could ignore the tube. When I tuned back into the tube, I found him watching Married with Children. He was about five or six, and he had the familiar mouth-open hypnotized look children got when the cathode ray started zigzaggin’ their cones.

And I was appalled by what was permitted on TV at 6 p.m. for little boys to watch. Married with Children? Holy crap? Christina Applegate? Disgusting. I am reminded of what happens when, taking a break from my bacon fast, I ordered bacon for breakfast at the local greasy spoon. I nearly fainted when those nitrates hit my tongue. Watching that depraved television show with a six-year-old was like having a clean, innocent, nitrate-free tongue. Ouch.

There are a lot of good points in the critics’ discussion of the drama derby contenders, including some very subtle ones about how self-defeatingly full of non sequiturs Breaking Bad is. It breaks the narrative and character development arc and makes you wonder why — aside from the tongue-panging violence — you care so little. Another interesting point; the Breaking Bad wife, Skyler, is a thousand times more interesting than either Betty Draper, Peggy Olson, or Carmela Soprano, all of whom are….boring.

That all the heroes are vigilantes, and all the women of the best TV dramas of the last 25 years — with the possible, and very problematic, exception of Buffy — are wusses, to put it politely, is a serious critique. The woman thing drew the attention of the perspicaceous New Yorkers, as did the parallels — one heroic suburbanite with a dark secret — between Walter White and Buffy. If those links ever come back up, I’ll get them for you.

2.
Vigilantism. Whoa. Don Draper, the swordsman, is the one exception. So far.

3.
Interesting discussion of Derrida on Virginia Woolf on deconstruction on the VW listserv.
My email:

I was just reading a review of a new biography of Simone Weil, who has been ignored and also vilified, most recently by Francine du Plessix Grey in her 2001 biography. For many of the same reasons V. Woolf has been vilified (frigidity, mandarinism, anorexia, anti-semitism, whatever).
http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?id=237

The new Weil bio has been written by a philosopher who recognizes, in Weil’s notes about, for example, eating and gazing, key philosophical concepts rather than neurotic self-hating Jewish anorexia.

It strikes me Derrida is doing the du Plessix Grey thing here. Certainly Woolf asserts that Defoe is deconstructing the desert island. Deal with it.

I’d love to hear an account or get a URL for Jane Goldman’s paper, and for the VW Among the Philosophers conference in general. I suspect (based on a query to VW long ago about her familiarity with Bergson) that VW is a mighty philosopher, as perhaps Weil is, whose clarity of apprehension has been much belittled by psychobabble. And not just from the French.

4.
This is part of what Virginia Woolf, who had she written no novels, no feminist manifestoes, would be immortal as a literary critic, wrote about Daniel Defoe and Robinson Crusoe:

Nobody who has any slight acquaintance with English literature needs to be told how many hours can be spent and how many lives have been spent in tracing the development of the novel and in examining the chins of the novelists. Only now and then, as we turn from theory to biography and from biography to theory, a doubt insinuates itself — if we knew the very moment of Defoe’s birth and whom he loved and why, if we had by heart the history of the origin, rise, growth, decline, and fall of the English novel from its conception (say) in Egypt to its decease in the wilds (perhaps) of Paraguay, should we suck an ounce of additional pleasure from Robinson Crusoe or read it one whit more intelligently?
http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91c2/chapter4.html

Watched Girls last night.
http://www.hbo.com/girls/index.html#/girls/episodes/index.html&isVideoPage=true&g=u&subcategories=none&order=date-desc&limit=none

It reminded me of nothing so much as Larry David. The ultimately repellent characters of Seinfeld and the entirely repellent character of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

As I am very easily entertained, I thought I’d dash my response in here and then Google it. I was chuffed to find George Packer, for example, a straight-arrow reporter of apocalypse, backing me up on the creepy frivolity of Mad Men, if not the very nearly pornographic use of anachronism. I think the falling man credits approach obscenity. Aaaaaaaaaaaanyway, let’s see who thinks Lena Dunham is Larry David.

Watch this space.

Apparently there’s a Conan ep with David and Dunham. Let’s see if they acknowledge one another.
http://teamcoco.com/video/full-episode-weds-411-larry-david-lena-dunham-and-musical-guest-craig-morgan

Nope, David is as repellent as ever, touting a neo-Three Stooges movie — Stooges a landmark abyss between the sexes, men loving them and women finding them disgusting. Go, Lare.

Dunham appears at about 30.12, can’t get it to stream for me yet.

The recent face-off in New York magazine of the best TV shows of the last 25 years had the Sopranos and Mad Men and The Wire coming down to the wire, hehehe, and serious scholars of TV writing about it. (The fans had their own massively gendered version of the playoffs, which, like the fans’ list of the best 100 non-fiction books of the last 25 years was deeply wack. The fans drama derby had Breaking Bad vs. Buffy as finalists, and Breaking Bad won.)

Buffy is the only non-criminal among them. Sort of. And while the Sopranos, of which I’m resuming my study after a three-year hiatus, has something deeply frivolous about it, interspersed with excellent writing on character development, pissing corpses and closeups of septic wounds, Mad Men is even more frivolous and also pernicious. When I finally grokked the whole falling man thing, I fell out, and will have to think about this some more. All of them, except Don Draper, are vigilantes of the subway vigilante Bernard Goetz ilk — the libertarians’ wet dream. Make my day!
http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2009/04/19/falling-man-and-mad-men-154

But the repellent hero — from the Larry David/Seinfeld character, through Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, and now Lena Dunham (she directs! she creates! she writes! she stars! she takes her clothes off! she grifts her parents! she sleeps with nasty men!) — has held sway now for 25 years. Was it Puck on MTV’s Real World who led the way, through Punk’d and Jackass to Don Draper and the lads? Or was it Maj. Nelson and all of the characters ever played by Larry Hagman?

I have to think about the persistence other repellent heroes in American life: Ishmael, Hester Prynne, Nick Caraway et al., back to the Aristotelian value that the devil has all the good lines.

But for this cluster of amazingly violent television shows, I’m blaming Gen X, their Prozac, their nihilism, their ironies.

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