Author Topic: Deconstructing ‘The Wire’  (Read 1622 times)

Offline Kristopher

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Deconstructing ‘The Wire’
« on: February 05, 2010, 07:03:00 am »
Deconstructing ‘The Wire’

By AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS
NEARLY two years after the final season of “The Wire,” the acclaimed HBO series that counts a devoted fan base among collegians, scholars are finding compelling sociology in the gray-tinged urban life it chronicled.

Courses are cropping up in catalogs across the country.

William Julius Wilson, the prominent Harvard sociologist, is the latest to announce he will teach a course on the show, next fall out of the black studies department.

For the 40th anniversary of the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when Dr. Wilson gathered scholars, activists and the show’s creator to analyze the series’ impact, he did not mince words: “It has done more to enhance our understanding of the challenges of urban life and the problems of urban inequality than any other media event or scholarly publications, including studies by social scientists.”

This semester at Duke University, Anne-Maria Makhulu, a professor of cultural anthropology, will introduce a course that explores cities — “urbanization, de-industrialization, the ‘ghetto,’ the figure of the queer thug, hip-hop, and many other aspects of urban black experience” — through “The Wire,” which was set in Baltimore. The waiting list is almost as long as the enrollment cap.

And proof that the show is cross-disciplinary: Jason Mittell, a media scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, teaches “Urban America and Serial Television: Watching ‘The Wire’ ” as a way into American culture through the lens of television. At the University of California, Berkeley, Linda Williams’s rhetoric course “What’s So Great About ‘The Wire’?” examines its journalistic, novelistic and dramatic roots.

Premium cable is not required. While Professor Williams skips season two (for brevity), Professor Mittell shows all 60 episodes during class time, five episodes a week.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/education/03wire-t.html

Offline jefferson L.O.B. sergeant

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Re: Deconstructing ‘The Wire’
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2010, 04:48:38 pm »
While this is all well and good it strikes me as being too little too late.

THE WIRE is arguably the best TV show in history and deserved all of these accolades while it was still on the air. To my knowledge it has never won an Emmy or even been nominated for best Drama.

An analysis on the disparity between the adulation for THE SOPRANOS and that of THE WIRE would be an excellent topic of discussion.

Offline Kristopher

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Re: Deconstructing ‘The Wire’
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2010, 08:09:52 pm »
While this is all well and good it strikes me as being too little too late.

THE WIRE is arguably the best TV show in history and deserved all of these accolades while it was still on the air. To my knowledge it has never won an Emmy or even been nominated for best Drama.

An analysis on the disparity between the adulation for THE SOPRANOS and that of THE WIRE would be an excellent topic of discussion.


Bro. Jefferson, I think you just laid down the foundations for another WIRE course :)
David Simon touches on this in a interview:

"We got the gig because as my newspaper was bought and butchered by an out-of-town newspaper chain, I was offered the chance to write scripts, and ultimately, to learn to produce television by the fellows who were turning my first book into Homicide: Life on the Street. I took that gig and ultimately, I was able to produce the second book for HBO on my own. Following that miniseries, HBO agreed to look at The Wire scripts. So I made an improbable and in many ways unplanned transition from journalist/author to TV producer. It was not a predictable transformation and I am vaguely amused that it actually happened. If I had a plan, it was to grow old on the Baltimore Sun’s copy desk, bumming cigarettes from young reporters and telling lies about what it was like working with H. L. Mencken and William Manchester.

Another reason the show may feel different than a lot of television: our model is not quite so Shakespearean as other high-end HBO fare. The Sopranos and Deadwood—two shows that I do admire—offer a good deal of Macbeth or Richard III or Hamlet in their focus on the angst and machinations of the central characters (Tony Soprano, Al Swearengen). Much of our modern theater seems rooted in the Shakespearean discovery of the modern mind. We’re stealing instead from an earlier, less-traveled construct—the Greeks—lifting our thematic stance wholesale from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality. The modern mind—particularly those of us in the West—finds such fatalism ancient and discomfiting, I think. We are a pretty self-actualized, self-worshipping crowd of postmoderns and the idea that for all of our wherewithal and discretionary income and leisure, we’re still fated by indifferent gods, feels to us antiquated and superstitious. We don’t accept our gods on such terms anymore; by and large, with the exception of the fundamentalists among us, we don’t even grant Yahweh himself that kind of unbridled, interventionist authority.

But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no decent reason. In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millennium, so to speak. Because so much of television is about providing catharsis and redemption and the triumph of character, a drama in which postmodern institutions trump individuality and morality and justice seems different in some ways, I think.

It also explains why we get good reviews but less of an audience than other storytelling. In this age of Enron, WorldCom, Iraq, and Katrina, many people want their television entertainments to distract them from the foibles of the society we actually inhabit. Which brings me to the last notion of why The Wire may feel different. The chumps making it live in Baltimore, or, in the case of guys like Price, Pelecanos, and Lehane, they are at least writing in their literary work about second-tier East Coast rust-belt places like Jersey City, northeast Washington, or Dorchester, rather than Manhattan, Georgetown, or Back Bay Boston. We are of the other America or the America that has been left behind in the postindustrial age. We don’t live in L.A. or go to their parties; we don’t do what we do to try to triumph in the world of television entertainment by having a bona fide hit, and meeting the pretty people and getting the best table at the Ivy. sh*t, the last time George and I went to the Ivy on a road trip, we waited forty-five minutes for a table and then were announced as “The Pelican party.” We don’t belong there and we don’t need the kind of money or the level of zeitgeist required to belong there. We hang out in the Baltimores of the world, writing what we want to write about and never keeping one eye on whether or not it could sell as much as a drama that had, say, more white faces, more women with big tits, and more stuff that blows up or squirts blood real good."

http://www.believermag.com/issues/200708/?read=interview_simon

Offline Curtis Metcalf

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Re: Deconstructing ‘The Wire’
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2010, 03:43:25 pm »
Great interview. Thanks for this.

I have always thought the Greek tragedy parallel was dead on. It's nice to find out it was intentional. The idea that The Wire flies in the face of American mythology is also right on target. Although I, too, think that The Wire is the best television show ever, the fact is there isn't really anything else to compare it to.

I don't know if it was ahead of its time or just a freak occurrence we were lucky enough to witness.
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
"Be hard on systems, but soft on people."

Offline Curtis Metcalf

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"Wire" creator responds to top cop's criticism
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2011, 06:39:29 am »
"Wire" creator responds to top cop's criticism

"The Wire" creator David Simon, during a break between dubbing sessions for season two of "Treme," responds to comments made recently by Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III that the HBO show was a "smear that will take decades to overcome," reviving a debate that took place throughout the show's run:

    It is my understanding that Commissioner Bealefeld - by finally choosing to emphasize the quality, rather than the quantity of arrest - has been able to reduce the homicide rate somewhat in our city. If true, this is not only commendable, it is a long time coming. Too long, in fact.

    Interestingly, the newspaper that covered his department began making the argument to do exactly that as early as 1994, in a series of articles entitled "Crisis In Blue" (Ed. note: part two can be found here) that carefully articulated the disconnect between the Baltimore department's aggressive street-level prosecution of the drug war and the root causes of violence in the city. The arguments were furthered in a book entitled "The Corner" that was published three years later. After a new election cycle, however, those arguments were ignored in favor of years of "zero tolerance" of minor street crimes and an obsession with street-level drug enforcement that actually de-emphasized quality police work and led to marked declines in arrest rates for major felonies. 

    Later, when a mayor sought to become governor using public safety as an issue, the same police department went further down the path, emphasizing widespread street arrests of dubious quality and legality. This did not reduce crime so much as it violated the civil rights of many city residents and led to the widespread alienation of our jury pool, with many city jurors no longer willing to trust the integrity of testifying officers - a problem that will plague Baltimore law enforcement for years.

    Furthermore, on behalf of Mr. O'Malley's political aspirations, many supervisors in many police districts were engaged in a prolonged campaign to improperly downgrade U.C.R. felonies to misdemeanors so as to further the political claim that crime was under control. This was common knowledge throughout the department and was much remarked upon privately by respected veteran supervisors and investigators, themselves frustrated at the practice. Nonetheless, aggravated assaults became common assaults. Armed robberies became larcenies. Rapes were unfounded.

    I do not recall that Commissioner Bealefeld - when he was rising through the ranks during those years - made strenuous public objection to the department's misdirection, to its statistical flummery, or to the decline in arrest rates that resulted as quality police work was de-emphasized in favor of juked stats.  Perhaps he did so in private, to little avail. And perhaps now that he is in a position to act, he is taking a better path. Again, as a resident of Baltimore, he has my wholehearted support if this is the case.

    But publicly, let me state that The Wire owes no apologies -- at least not for its depiction of those portions of Baltimore where we set our story, for its address of economic and political priorities and urban poverty, for its discussion of the drug war and the damage done from that misguided prohibition, or for its attention to the cover-your-ass institutional dynamic that leads, say, big-city police commissioners to perceive a fictional narrative, rather than actual, complex urban problems as a cause for righteous concern. As citizens using a fictional narrative as a means of arguing different priorities or policies, those who created and worked on The Wire have dissented.
     
    Commissioner Bealefeld may not be comfortable with public dissent, or even a public critique of his agency. He may even believe that the recent decline in crime entitles him to denigrate as "stupid" or "slander" all prior dissent, as if the previous two decades of mismanagement in the Baltimore department had not happened and should not have been addressed by any act of storytelling, given that Baltimore is no longer among the most violent American cities, but merely a very violent one.

    Others might reasonably argue, however that it is not sixty hours of The Wire that will require decades for our city to overcome, as the commissioner claims. A more lingering problem might be two decades of bad performance by a police agency more obsessed with statistics than substance, with appeasing political leadership rather than seriously addressing the roots of city violence, with shifting blame rather than taking responsibility.  That is the police department we depicted in The Wire, give or take our depiction of some conscientious officers and supervisors. And that is an accurate depiction of the Baltimore department for much of the last twenty years, from the late 1980s, when cocaine hit and the drug corners blossomed, until recently, when Mr. O'Malley became governor and the pressure to clear those corners without regard to legality and to make crime disappear on paper finally gave way to some normalcy and, perhaps, some police work.  Commissioner Bealefeld, who was present for much of that history, knows it as well as anyone associated with The Wire.

    We made things up, true.  We have never claimed otherwise.  But respectfully, with regard to our critique, we have slandered no one.  And to the extent you can stand behind a fictional tale, we stand by ours - and more importantly, our purpose in telling that tale.
     
    Respectfully,
     
    David Simon
    Baltimore, MD
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
"Be hard on systems, but soft on people."

Offline Battle

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Re: Deconstructing ‘The Wire’
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2018, 07:08:55 pm »