Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Anti-Capitalism of Fools



Here’s another segment of the HBO/David Simon chronicles from a “dark corner of the American experiment”.

Consider the phrase Simon has chosen to describe his sim city. The connotations of “dark corner” are obvious enough, even without Bush’s memorable promise to venture into every dark corner of the planet and bring the light of liberty and democracy: here we have a little bit of the dark continent tucked away in the American city, as you can see by the predominance of black faces. But what of the “American experiment”? What is experimental in “America” and what has the “dark corner” in it to say about the results?

If we understand the “American experiment” to be, for a patriotic libertarian like Simon, more or less the “experiment” in universal suffrage and civil liberties, then the latest phase in “the dark corner” of it is dramatised a few scenes into the segment above. Simon gives us the figure of democracy as the dynamic, scrappy, competent white candidate wasting his breath in a nursing home. Played as comedy, the scene conveys to the audience the absurdity of a situation in which one of the “smart guys” – born to manage and rule, obviously of the superior caste - should be obliged, by what seems to be no more than an irrational sentimental prejudice in favour of democratic process, to ask the electorate’s permission to govern them. The electorate to which the white man’s vital agency is absurdly and destructively subjected is imaged by Simon for his audience in the extreme of its impotence, as the inmates in a warehouse of the dying, dependents on the state or some other benevolent institution, senile and apathetic, vulnerable and without vitality, in obvious need of care and incapable of recognising or selecting proper caretakers. The comedic topsy-turvy state of the current condition of the “American experiment” in it’s “dark corner” is emphasised (fans would call it ornamented with a “grace note”) by what Simon deems an amusing irony – that an elderly black woman treats Carchetti, one of the smart guys fit to rule, as a waiter when she should be his maid. This reversal of the proper order of things is not reassuring and is associated with the wretched condition of the city and by extension of “civilisation”. As is typical of the series, its “sociology” manifests in the mere display of established stereotypes, their connotations exploited, unquestioned, and simultaneously reinforced (the show’s vision can not even entertain the possibility that an elderly black woman could be smarter, more knowledgeable and more politically astute than an educated petty bourgeois white man). The “comic” beat wherein the elderly black woman makes her inquiry inappropriately of the aspiring “leader” is another variation on the principle Carchetti theme and storyline, which concerns his efforts to overcome the race prejudice and hostility of the electorate which unfairly discriminates against him because he “happens to be” white. The downtrodden victims of injustice and a malfunctioning web of resources to which white men are reduced, and the decline of civilisation their fall from despotic power entails, is one of the series’ most emphatic themes presented in multiple versions and dramatised in endless permutations. As we are to understand there is a near perfect fit between McNulty’s personal ambition as a cop and the good of the whole society (perceived as excluding, and menaced by, a narcotrafficking “tribe”), we are made to understand that Carcetti’s self-interested quest to be elected is also in the best interests of the electorate, who do not know what is good for them, and who favour black candidates solely out of pernicious racist tribalism. Without such racist tribal loyalties on the part of the black electorate, there would be, Simon’s show suggests, no black politicians in prominent positions, because there can be no reason, other than this outrageous black privilege, for the electorate to choose them over white candidates, who are as a rule more competent, fit, and though of course not perfect angels of selflessness and superheroism, morally and intellectually superior to their black competition. Simon’s southern wisdom is not obscure: Good “Negros” know their place; it goes without saying that any Negro aspiring above it must be wicked and corrupt. In the “data” Simon provides himself – the authenticity, the “realism”, of the programmes depictions of daily life - that hypothesis is validated.

The sequence of “explanation” for the regrettable state of “the dark corner” of “America” repeats frequently in the programme. The foundation is always a display of the failed attempt at civilising the (black) brutes, which can be dominantly comical (Stringer’s product meeting) or only subordinately comical and dominantly designed to infuriate the audience into lust for vengeance and then satisfy it (Chiquan’s delicate sensibilities offended by Dukie’s body odor, avenged by Laetitia’s outburst) or sinister and wholly enraging, though simultaneously acidly contemptuously comical (black politicians Clarence Royce and Clay Davis, or the corrupt minister who launders money in Prop Joe’s comical “civilising this muthafucka” Marlo). In the sequence in the clip at the top of the post here, the associations are dealt out like cards:

a) farcical democracy, a social political dysfunction thwarting natural white rule
b) slick black hustler in power
c) Grand Guignol horror, the unwatchable barbaric murder

(Difficult as it is to endure for any but the most sadistic viewer, even (c) is laced with a whiff of Simon’s hackneyed and malicious wiseass ‘comedy’, so worthless is black life in this programme’s sensibility.)

The montage and sequence offers a flexible but legible logic of connections which allows for multiple significations regarding the Baltimore and Reality that is the supposed referent of the mimesis. B, following A, is understood as its consequence (slick black hustlers come to power because of the absurdity of universal suffrage in the dark corners and the decline of white male potency that results) but also its motivation and the ground of its “socio-political significance” as well as its narrative energy (Carchetti must persevere, and strive to restore white male potent authority, in order to overthrow the slick black hustler regime and save the city); C, following B, is an even more important elaboration, as its horror and terror serve as equally consequence of B (in a city ruled by the slick black hustler, such horrifying barbarism is common), gloss on the socio-political meaning of B (this horror is, by the always emphasised association of “race” “blackness” that unites diverse characters and behaviours, revealed as the true nature of the slick black hustler, the “underside” of his “race” and “community” and “culture”, whose outward appearance of civilisation and refinement is thus exposed as a fraud, a mere travesty, concealing this unspeakable savagery) and a comment on the morals and psychology of Royce as individual character and representative type of the black bourgeoisie in politics (his selfishness and depravity is exhibited in the juxtaposition which shows that he lives high on the hog while “his own people” dwell in the squalid barbarism of “the dark corner” of the “experiment” which he manipulates and from which aggrandises himself.) This last ubiquitous motif of the black bourgeoisie's opportunistic cynicism and willingness to exploit the suffering of "their own people" - a principle operation of the anticapitalism of fools - permits at once the seeming recognition of exploitation in social relations and its disavowal, the expulsion of it from the essence of the social order to assign it to the black surrogates of all social evil. Condemnable features of capitalist relations are thus, in the anticapitalism of fools, designated exceptional and regrettable for the "general society" but meaningfully defining characteristics of its constructed Other, deployed as at once opposite/antagonist, parodic exaggeration, and "metaphoric" "dark side".


Of course, the alibi of verisimiltude (like the equally frequent alibi of art's liberty and impenetrable mystery, only evoked to defend instances of reactionary advocacy) can be dragged out as always to justify a sequence of scenes such as this (a judgement the commenter to the post below seeks to insist applies to the scene of the interrogation of the merchant crew and which for him or her constitutes a complete interpretation of the scene as well). It is “real” – this is how things really are inside nursing homes and at the scenes of drug gang executions. People really beg for their lives futilely, and gangsters really find some of their unpleasant butchery boring. Old ladies really are like that, concerned about what is for lunch; voters are dazed and indifferent, and electoral politics really are a farce. (If Simon does not reveal how things really are in holding cells, or prison, or in the vicinity of racist white cops, that is chalked up to the other demands of "art" and drama unrelated to and when convenient trumping verisimilitude. It's after all "only a tv show" even though "it's not tv" at all but HBO.)

Nonetheless the presentation of these images, convincingly realistic as they appear to some viewers, to figure the electorate on the one hand (a mass of isolated helpless individuals in their dotage) and the individualised representative of the white managerial and political class on the other, is not neutral or meaningless, especially in a fiction which is with some success insisting on being taken for a kind of portraiture of a social order. The vision of Carcetti before the electorate - the sad sketch of democracy in the dark corner - serves as false front to allow for and justify the concealment of the real electorate, which includes activists and concerned citizens of course – Baltimoreans who are not represented by characters, typed or otherwise, in The Wire, people for example like these:








Lenin’s Tomb:

“The thread that ties anticommunism and racism at a conceptual level, I think, is the issue of "self-government", ie democracy. In American racial thinking, self-government is a cultural state attained by Anglo-Saxons and Teutons, a condition in which people are able - on account of god-chosenness, race experience, and fine blood lines - to control their primitive urges toward sin.”


Regarding primitive urges and self-government, marcb identified the familiar myth in the sequence below succinctly elsewhere:

the 'box cutter' episode. brilliantly written and cast. the whole doomed evolutionary trajectory of the American negro compressed into four minutes. the brooding, black ape of the dark continent inevitably bursting into conflct with the 'white' black girl, who, having squandered the gift of Western culture and infusion of caucasian blood, gets her due. we really have done everything we can for these people.


Laetitia and Dukie start in chairs and end up crouched on the floor, communicating with mute gestures. Both their cruel and gentle acts are depicted as uncontrolled and "atavistic". But there is more here than the simple defamation by characterisation; the way in which Laetitia is used as the agent of the audience's own vengeful desires and also the alibi for their gratification is crucial for the ideology promoted. The deployment of characters in narrative and image sequences, not simply the qualities attributed to each isolated figure as types, produces meaning and ideology. And the function of Laetitia in this sequence has to be seen clearly if one hopes to understand how audiences are engaged, titillated, provoked and pleased, and seduced and inveigled into irrational attachments to these kinds of culture commodities.

Laetitia functions as the virtual slave of the audience's hatred of Chiquan, a hatred provoked to set up a sadistic pleasure. (Both "characters" will vanish conveniently, like the kid Prez maimed and blinded earlier, when Simon is through titillating the audience with their spectacle; the programme has no use for or interest in them except as fauna in the urban jungle where Simon leads the Viewer on his James Fenimore Cooper by J. Peterman adventure, teaching him all the delicious little exotic details which give him a sense of mastery and expertise and which he can cherish afterwards like souvenirs of his journey.) But Simon knows his most avid audience (those who share his views and sensibility) well enough to know they want to feel moral and benevolent even as they enjoy the slashing of the face of a young girl, that it is the combination of self-righteousness and sadism that is truly irresistable for them. This sequence, along with many others in the series, offers not only a sadism without guilt or shame, but a sadism that presents itself as moral indignation and generous solidarity. Simon shares with his audience a story of his own and their activity that invites the consumers to feel they have made sacrifices for the commonweal watching all this simulated violence and suffering. It is his deftness in delivering this combination of moralistic self-congratulation and individualist consumer supremacism dressed up as aestheticism that probably accounts for the intensity of Simon's fans' delight and gratitude, and the strangely passionate desire so many feel to discuss the programme in seemingly dry social-scientific or abstract ways, implausibly attributing great depths and richness of meaning to every post-modern fragmentary reference, which ceremonial exegeses avoid not only such usually-deemed-necessary aspects as the mise en scène and montage, but avoid and even deny the question of their own pleasure. That the programme is "realistic" or vaguely described as "well written" or "funny" is usually taken to suffice as an explanation for the passionate fans' attachment and irrepressible desire to express and affirm it.

The audience's desire to see the uppity Chiquan mutilated - her punishment the most misogynist imaginable - is provoked by Simon, but it is produced already equipped with an alibi allowing the audience to congratulate itself on the benevolent paternalism expressed by those very violent desires. The viewer is invited to tell himself that it is only to avenge Dukie's humiliation, only out of concern for Dukie, the Dickensian waif, not out of its own loathing of the uppity black beauty, that the audience desires Chiquan's suffering and degradation. These sadistic wishes of which Chiquan is presented to the audience as appropriate object, "asking for" what the audience wants to watch done to her, are then satisfied by Simon who is however careful to provide an additional alibi for the audience's joy: the audience can enjoy Laetitia's extreme violence and deplore Laetita for it, denying that Laetitia's violence is its own wish fulfillment, that she is only an image and they are the genuine human beings delighting in this violent spectacle and fantasy of violent reality. And again the opportunity to revel in the audience and Simon's shared benevolence is offered, as the viewer is invited to lament Laetitia's savagery but nobly extend understanding and forgiveness to her, a creature "of the system". This is the elusive, protean and indestructible emotional pseudo-logic of white supremacism.






Joy. This is the word bourgeois white fans in the culture industry (journalism, academia) use frequently to describe their experience of consuming this entertainment product. Many are at a loss to capture their feelings of elation, of inexpressible delight, in words. Obsessive attachment is plentifully in evidence, with many viewers experiencing a compulsion to reaffirm their devotion and acquire signs of their love to wear and carry. The institution of the fan club - where those needing to express their love for something which is impervious to their affection, indifferent to them, which not only cannot reciprocate their intensity but cannot take account of their existence or make any answering commitment, find consolation – has even been adapted by academic fans of the Wire, re-appearing fused with the academic conference and culture studies course. While other tv series have been the object of academic cults (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, , Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Babylon Five among them), fanatics of the Wire are unusual for displaying a kind of Pauline urgency in the task of promoting the show as a revelation of long denied truth. These white fans, whether identifying as "right wing" or "left wing" or centrist like The New Republic, express their gratitude for what they perceive as the unvarnished truth at long last. After an age of lies and error, darkness is penetrated by The Light. No more "liberal" “politically correct” dogma preaching that “everyone is the same”. No more black Rhodes scholar spies, Presidents and doctors, lacking Authenticity. No more pandering to racist black audiences who want to blame a non-existent “white racism” for “black dysfunction”. One ("conservative") Wire fan arguing with another of different political commitments notes: “I did not get the liberal message from the Wire at all. Themes I saw: people in slums work hard at living so badly. If there's any Hope of Change, it has to come from blacks. There is nothing at all whites, even well-meaning whites can do. They don't seem able to adopt white culture, and are hostile when our mores are imposed on them.”

This conception of politically incorrect truth in crime dramedy soap operas harmonises perfectly with the resurgence, in "political theory" and "political philosophy", of race as an imputed affiliation entailing group credit and blame, achievement and crime, advancement and backwardness, and of the confident imperialist white supremacist beliefs (the pseudo-universalism of European bourgeois parochialism) it serves and is indispensible to. After a period, not of disappearance, but of downgrade, the hoary old routines are resurgent and present themselves as if they are perfectably respectable and intelligible. Again the mainstream media discourse and in fact that of academics includes the assertions a) that “the West” brought civilisation to savages, b) that the descendents of those savages, incompletely educated, manipulate the West and its white legatees into feeling guilty for the savage's own failure to be fully Westernised and Civilised and Modernised, c) that racism is produced exclusively by people of colour, and especially by black Americans, as an instrument of reparations scams and a tool to manipulate and persecute white folks who are the creators and bearers of civilisation these race scam artists cannot themselves master and which they must then denigrate out of sour grapes and seek to destroy.

Naturally we find Zizek at the forefront of this fashion, recuperating all the nonsensical, vacuous puppets and the imbecile fables ("the West" and its backward Other, "Third World terrorist violence", "European self-flagellation"), on the self-identified “radical left” of the political spectrum [1]:

…[W]e white Leftist men and women are free to leave behind the politically correct process of endless self-torturing guilt. Although Pascal Bruckner's critique of contemporary Left often approaches the absurd, this does not prevent him from occasionally generating pertinent insights--one cannot but agree with him when he detects in European politically correct self-flagellation an inverted form of clinging to one's superiority. Whenever the West is attacked, its first reaction is not aggressive defence but self-probing: what did we do to deserve it? We are ultimately to be blamed for the evils of the world; Third World catastrophes and terrorist violence are merely reactions to our crimes. The positive form of the White Man's Burden (his responsibility for civilizing the colonized barbarians) is thus merely replaced by its negative form (the burden of the white man's guilt): if we can no longer be the benevolent masters of the Third World, we can at least be the privileged source of evil, patronizingly depriving others of responsibility for their fate (when a Third World country engages in terrible crimes, it is never fully its own responsibility, but always an after-effect of colonization: they are merely imitating what their colonial masters used to do, and so on):

We need our miserabilist clichés about Africa, Asia, Latin America, in order to confirm the cliché of a predatory, deadly West. Our noisy stigmatizations only serve to mask the wounded self-love: we no longer make the law. Other cultures know it, and they continue to culpabilize us only to escape our judgments on them.


Perhaps the joy so many white intellectuals who also are attracted to screeds like this experience is mainly due to the way David Simon’s programme delivers “our judgements” on “them” without the least uncertainty regarding who is who (indeed, the point of referring to these teams as assumed is to fashion that white solidarity and strengthen the international white population's loyalty to the white ruling class) or the least hesitation on Simon’s part in assuming the position of guiltless, bourgeois capitalist Authority. Simon and Zizek both propose to their white fan bases the pleasure of a "ruthless critique" of them (Muslims, poor black Americans, etc.) seemingly justified by this figment of the preceding ruthless autocritique for which (Simon and Zizek insist) "the West" is so well deservedly famous and which therefore every white guy (as defined by the context - as Simon and Zizek would almost certainly each consider himself, but decidedly not one another, entirely white and of the Western We) is entitled to consider himself to have personally and individually accomplished.

Zizek goes on making explicit what he has only been hinting equivocally for decades, and as with Simon, the feature grounding his “analysis” of the status quo’s ills, and his suggestions for a cure, is the valorisation of some vaunted intellectual and cultural superiority possessed by “Europe” and “Europeans”, “The West” and the white people who participate by birthrght as well as loyalty in the creativity of these collective subjects – producing an elite of “smart guys” who are especially fit for governing - in opposition to the passive, imitative black folks who can only attain a partial participation in the spiritual achievements of Aryan civilisation if lucky enough to be enslaved and tutored by white Herrenvolk:

The West is thus caught in the typical superego predicament best rendered by Dostoyevsky's famous phrase from The Brothers Karamazov: 'Each of us is guilty before everyone for everyone, and I more than the others.' So the more the West confesses its crimes, the more it is made to feel culpable. This insight allows us also to detect a symmetric duplicity in the way certain Third World countries criticize the West:"


(These "certain Third World countries" are the equivalent of the Wire's "race hustlers".)

"if the West's continuous self-excoriation functions as a desperate attempt to re-assert our superiority, the true reason why some in the Third World hate and reject the West lies not with the colonizing past and its continuing effects but with the self-critical spirit which the West has displayed in renouncing this past, with its implicit call to others to practise the same self-critical approach: 'The West is not detested for its real faults, but for its attempt to amend them, because it was one of the first to try to tear itself out of its own bestiality, inviting the rest of the world to follow it.' The Western legacy is effectively not just that of (post)colonial imperialist domination, but also that of the self-critical examination of the violence and exploitation of the West itself brought to the Third World. The French colonized Haiti, but the French Revolution also provided the ideological foundation for the rebellion which liberated the slaves and established an independent Haiti; the process of decolonization was set in motion when the colonized nations demanded for themselves the same rights that the West took for itself. In short, one should never forget that the West supplied the very standards by which it (and its critics) measures its own critical past. We are dealing here with the dialectic of form and content: when colonial countries demand independence and enact a 'return to roots,' the very form of this return (that of an independent nation-state) is Western. In its very defeat (losing the colonies), the West thus wins, by imposing its social form on the other.


It is easy to see how The Wire can become so popular in a milieu dominated by this kind of hackneyed old malicious imbecility tricked out as radical contrarian daring political incorrectness and insight. The programme could be a graphic companion to Zizekian accounts of contemporary social relations and politics, dramatising the justification of this newly invigorated Hegelian white supremacist imperial apology, offering itself as data and analysis fused, a fictional narrative and image sequence that insists on being taken as proof – as evidence, as a simulacrum of reality so perfect it can take its place as object of journalism, science, sociology - of the very propagandistic themes and bogus propositions that same image sequence and narrative constitute and express. Of course, much of the orgasmic praise of The Wire programme from journalists is hype for the advertisers, but a devoted white audience does seem to be transported into ecstasies by Simon’s simulation of the “truth”, as if finally released from what Zizek and Sarkozy have condemned as their neurotic self-hatred. The viewers are released not only into the braincandy shop of Simon's sociology-by-stereotype and cliché, but unleashed into the wonderland of Zizekian historical illiteracy; these two love the simplest, stupidest, most unabashedly self-flattering myths, those that work best in the loud, hustling, pushy, cretinous genres of entertainment they favour. The ecstasy of this long-forbidden Truth, this anticapitalism of fools, consists in the usual manoeuvres of pseudo-critique, depicting the (unfortunate! lamented) “decline of the American empire" as a reversion to barbarism manifesting principally as black savagery, white decadence due to mingling and inappropriate challenge from the only partially and imperfectly (and bow-tie wearin’, grandma-escorting-ta meetin’ buffoonishly) civilised, and Oriental menace. A paper at the recent Leeds U Wireconference suggested that the Wire is beloved of the participants at the conference not for its actual sociological insight but because it is "a beguiling projection of sociological desire" offering fantasies of simplified historical reality populated by ideal figures (Omar, the liberal progressive fantasy of a stick up man). The ersatz Baltimore of The Wire may be adored for offering a substitute simulation reality which is devised to validate the simplistic psychological formulas and infantile idealist "theories" enjoying current academic fashion. But the intensity of some attachments suggests it is the even less wholesome sadistic sensational affirmations of white bourgeois male domination and the accompanying confirmations of the depravity and unfitness for self government of those who suffer most under the current arrangements that really sells.


[1] The incoherence here is so extreme one can easily miss it, though it is in Zizek's routine pattern of the feint. To an unprepared reader, anticipating rational argument striving for clarity, Zizek first appears to be praising Bruckner for his denunciation of the "Western" left for seeking to puff up the West's waning confidence in its own superiority with self-flagellation - that is, Bruckner accuses the left of being "the real racists" when they denounce imperialism because he claims they (whom Bruckner does not identify any more specifically than Zizek does, just "the left" with caricatured traits attributed) deny the periphery any agency and responsibility for their own misfortunes and situation. But then - Zizek's prose is like a perpetual garden path sentence - the reader is made to return to the beginning and re-parse the support for Bruckner's position because with the very same sentences with which SZ initially seemed to be seconding Bruckner's accusation Zizek is also, in a secondary strain of signification, affirming that this purported "self-flagellation" of the West, carried out by "the left", is in fact after all proof of the West's genuine and enduring superiority, and not evidence, as Bruckner sees it, of the left's (racist and inaccurate) fantasies of superiority. This is an excellent example of the Zizekian style, the baroque prevarication and indirection, the shiftiness, sleazy evasions. The "Western" left is presented, upfront, as contemptible. This judgement will stick no matter what changes the reason for this judgement goes through. It is contemptible, we are told, because of its guilt-ridden displays, contemptible and hypocritical for these shows of public penance (no need to be specific, just trust him, they happen) which conceal the left's racist confidence in its superiority. That is the left's dirty secret which it hides behind its superficial (condescending, patronising) solidarity and anti-imperialism - that it is just as certain of the white man's monopoly on creative power as the imperialists, if not moreso.

But in fact, it turns out, as the paraghraph develops, that in Zizek's view this racist confidence is fully justified, because the West really is superior, and does have that monopoly on creativity and invention, and the only despicable feature of the left's behaviour is revealed to be that they conceal their knowledge of this guiltily, as if it were something to be ashamed of, rather than flaunting it. The "self-flagellation", which is to be repudiated, is, once mocked, transformed retroactively into virtuous European autocritique and self-improvement. What is so despicable in the West's loathesome left (only) is proof of the genuine superiority of the Western ruling class which created the very culture and civilisation of such refinement, and with such an engine of progressive perfectibility within, in which such wrong headedness on the part of the hypocritical and patronising left can flourish and be transformed (pseudo-dialectically) from leftist vice to reactionary ruling class virtue.

49 comments:

  1. Luis Amador2:50 PM

    Wow! So much hard work and effort put into something that is sooooo incredibly WRONG.

    You are COMPLETELY out of touch. What you describe comes no where near David Simon's intent and probably describes about .01% of Wire viewers.

    So much wasted time and effort. You really believe this?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous3:02 PM

    Not my post, but in sympathy with it let me suggest 'David Simon's intent' isn't the point. At issue are the narrative elements he has picked to build with and the logic he orders them with. An intuitive discrimination at work within his intent without his intent.

    The Zizek exemplifies the conscious employment of this discrimination. You have to belong to the 'we' for it to make sense.

    The argument is that Simon belongs.

    Chuckie K

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for reading Luis. If you enjoyed yourself enough to leave a comment, how can I consider the time spent posting wasted? I'm sorry you can't say what exactly your objection is, though. But that's okay, I find this kind of inarticulate response really common with this product (and others) and very suggestive. Sometimes it really gets eerie, you feel like people have been subjected to some Manchurian candidate sort of process. Adults more and more behave as only teens used to with regard to their favourite mass culture commodities. There is obviously something kinda strange going on, increasingly, with people and videos.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Chukcye - and yes the intent is not the point. Noentheless there is quite an unusual quantity of evidence regarding Simon's intent. Between his theory of the meritocracy and how the empire's fall has left the simple folks without their proper place and patrons, and this from Homocide:

    “But in one rowhouse on Newington Avenue, two dozen human beings have learned to leave food where it falls, to pile soiled clothes and diapers in a corner of the room, to lie strangely still when parasites crawl across the sheets, to empty a bottle of Mad Dog or T-Bird and then piss its contents into a plastic bag at the edge of the bed, to regard a bathroom cleaning product and a plastic bag as an evening's entertainment. Historians note that when the victims of the Nazi holocaust heard that the Allied armies were within a few miles of liberating the camps, some returned to scrub and sweep the barracks and show the world that human beings lived there. But on Newington Avenue the rubicons of human existence have all been crossed. The struggle itself has been mocked, and the unconditional surrender of one generation presses hard upon the next.”

    emphasising the subhuman character of a certain population unfavourably compared to survivors of what is viewed often as the ultumate in coercive degradation, terror, deprivation and torment, it's fair to say David Simon's intent is imperialist (he says explicitly the decline of the american empire is a misfortune for those subjected to it) and supremacist.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Living outside America I’ve never heard of the Wire but Wikipedia tells me that it “has frequently been described by critics as the greatest television series of all time.” Also – it “is recognized for its realistic portrayal of urban life, literary ambitions, and uncommonly deep exploration of sociopolitical themes.” Then we have a dazzling list of plaudits from The Telegraph, The Guardian etc. all of which reminds me of a quip from Medialens that if your supposedly penetrating book, TV series, whatever gets lavish praise from all these mainstream sources then it can’t be worth a fuck.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous12:39 PM

    "“has frequently been described by critics as the greatest television series of all time."

    one guy in the UK on the advertisers payroll said this, and evertbody picked it up. Just as the publicist for the show publicing the first batch of cds to the blurb writers of the entertainment news quoted Simon saying "it's one long novel", "like dickens" and everyone just repeated it. It really is astonishing. A huge number of the academic fans (not all) just repeat, also, Simon's own statements pof his worldview but present this as their own independent interpreatation of the programme; but this is why these academic fans never actially can mention anything specific about the show, just quote a line here and there. For example, in that article linked, Simon suggests the show critiques the criminal enron enterprise. Now in fact there is nothing whatsoever in the show referring to this in any way. But after the fact Simon has suggested that his black drug gangs are a "metaphor" for enron. (in facrt the evils of capitalism are embodied by black criminals, this is why the anticapitalism of fools, as the evils of capitalism were once embodied by jewish criminals, in another set of culture products. but it's not at all enlightening about enron specifically, if anything, the "metaphor" that races capitalism to condemn it is obfuscating and apologestic in every possible way.) But once he says that - enron, and then gives his spiel about "institutions" - it gets picked up and repeated and repeated until it seems as though it originated with professional exegetes interpreting the text.So everyone assumes it must be somewhere in the text. but it isn't. so the text has to be largely ignorted by the acafans, though not by the journalists, whose hype has another set of motifs and themes (more right wing and centrist, like Obama's fandom, than the profs.)


    Yes, the praise is a pretty reliable indicator. And here there is more than praise, there is obsession, irrational overexcitement, not entirely unlike the passion for the Obama Show/Campaign. But it actualy took a long time to get that hype to work. In the US originally it flopped. The show initially was perceived by the audience as cheap blaxploitation (which is a tradition that has often been preachy, too, so this isn't that odd). In the UK, the thing hit, and it may be because the traditions of US racist culture are not very recognisable in the UK and so the UK fans just took a lot of this as "realistic"...what americans would call all the "thibbidydibbidy". There were UK academics gleefully adding extra "we be dis" and "we be dat" to quotations of the chatacters, evidently having no idea how offensive that is. It reminded me of that scene in the Jeffersons where George is walking on his british neighbour's bad back, and the englishman says 'you have a wonderful rhythm in your feet' and George is going to kick him in the head but ouisy says "don't george! he doesn't know what he's saying!" But of course they are sypposed to be scholars, and american culture and its traditions is scarcely an arcane subject difficult to learn about, so if they don't know, they have no excuse.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous12:50 PM

    but i really highly recommend The Ville, the donaldson book that Simon riups off for the corner and the wire both, because much of Donaldson's sentiments and observations can be seen in this twisted form in Simon's stuff; like Donaldson's comments on how the kids dealing drugs are accepting the values pitched them by advertisements and power, and Siumon twists this into using kids dealing drugs as monstrous "metaphors" of capitalism "raw" adn "fierce"; and Donalson remarks how damaging the ayn randish celebration of ruthless individual competition and conquest is to the whole american culture (except for the ruling class) and how community needs revalorisation, and Simon twists and inverts this to pronouncements about how the ayn rand supermen achievers still reign and get their rewards but no longer take care of their inferiors how all "institutions" (in which he includes the family, marriage, govermnet, the church, and corporations) are nefarious sclerotic greek gods who punish individualist individuals (except of course nthe benevolent corporation, his industry, Time Warner). I think The Corner and The Wire just really cut up and reassembled that book the Ville, rearranging to transform it to sensationalism and reactionary politics..."brooklyn confetti" (bottles thrown from high rise projects) appears as slapstick comedy (complete with comical blinding/maiming of uppity kid by Prez), and the way Donaldson descrives his subjects using "the Life" as the term to dsicribe involvement in narcotraffick seems to have been copied and then twisted also into cartoonishness with the term "the Game" in the Wire.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous4:00 PM

    to give you a sense of how bogus and fake the praise can be, really just disingenuous hype, this is from an (influential) piece in jumpcut:

    Breaking from genre norms on many levels, The Wire has gone beyond even the best of previous police procedurals. It has set out to create something more panoramic and more provocative: "storytelling that speaks to our current condition, that grapples with the basic realities and contradictions of our immediate world,"[8] that presents a social and political argument. It is a drama about politics, sociology and macroeconomics.[9]

    The drama unfolds in the space "wedged between two competing American myths." The first is the free market rags-to-riches success story:

    "if you are smarter ... if you are shrewd or frugal or visionary, if you build a better mousetrap, you will succeed beyond your wildest imagination."[10]

    The second is that

    "if you are not smarter ... or clever or visionary, if you never do build a better mousetrap ... if you are neither slick nor cunning, yet willing to get up every day and work your ass off ... you have a place ... and you will not be betrayed."

    According to Simon, it is "no longer possible even to remain polite on this subject. It is ... a lie."[11] The result is an economic and existential crisis.


    the quote is fudged to make Simon seem like some kind of progressive dissident. the sentence where he states that upward mobility for those who merit is true is cut, and then it is made to seem as though he denounces that horatio alger myth as "a lie". The writers are not "mistaken", they're not illiterate, they are just bullshitting to sell this shit to an audience whose leanings they know well; they are marketing to that audience, who would find simon's propaganda (and show) disgusting if looked at clearly without all the noise and pseud interpretations. The piece is unashamedly dishonest - they are juking the rotten tomatoes stats! the whole 'reading' is sheer inanity, and as unscrupulously mendacious as cigarette advertising. The real quote shows David Simon when speaking was marketing to a broader audience and of course wanting to puff his own riches as the result of merit, originality, genius. He was always concluding his screeds against institutions with lavish praise for the one making him rich; the hipster film buffs who were targeted finally to rescue the show with a cult following won't like what Simon actually wrote, so the jumpcut professional fans don't hesitate for a instant to rewrite it into its utter opposite for convenience of selling, selling selling.

    ReplyDelete
  9. the wire as teaching tool:

    DEPT: CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY
    COURSE TITLE: THE WIRE

    The HBO series "The Wire," which ran for five seasons, is thought to be some of the best quality television ever made. It dramatizes the real world experiences of poor, mostly African American, residents of Baltimore struggling to survive by way of the underground drug economy, while city government and the police department strive to bring the illegal trade in check. "the Wire" is much more than that and in this course we will begin to think about the ways in which David Simon and Ed Byrne, the writers and produces of "The Wire," attempt to tell a story that is much larger than simply Baltimore and its corrupt city officials, broken public school system, and deepening poverty. "The Wire" is clearly a provocation to reflect on the status of the city in America, which, since the 1970s, has de-industrialized, emptied, and very often been re-purposed by property developers through real estate speculation that has brought little benefit to ordinary people. How these global trends have affected the most vulnerable is not only a question for people living in Baltimore, but for people living in cities from New York, Tokyo, London to Johannesburg. This course will examine the series "The Wire" alongside readings that address the literatuer on cities, urbanization, de-industrialization, and the Black experience.


    Jason Mittell's reflections on teaching The Wire at Middlebury:

    While I don’t want to undermine the success of the course, I have been thinking about how in many ways it was the most traditional course I’ve taught. Typically my courses span a broad range of material, whether it’s the history and systems of television, an international survey of animation, an overview of cultural theory, or the gamut of digital media. The Wire course was closer in scope to a single-author literature course on Shakespeare or Melville, looking in depth at a single set of texts and their broader significance. Obviously, there’s no inherent hierarchy between courses focused on breadth vs. depth, but it feels quite odd to have had such pedagogical success with a mode of teaching that seems quite rare within my media studies paradigm.

    and from that old article on the harvard class that got posted everywhere:

    The class will be taught by sociology professor William J. Wilson, one of the best-known African American history professors in the country, who has made no secret of the fact that he is a huge fan of the show.

    "I do not hesitate to say that it has done more to enhance our understanding of the challenges of urban life and the problems of urban inequality, more than any other media event or scholarly publication," Wilson told the audience before poking fun at himself, "including studies by social scientitsts."


    and the National Review:

    But look at it through the eyes of a conservative. This is a Democratic city, run almost uniformly by liberals. While many of the problems most prominently on display can certainly be traced back to racism, racism itself is not a central issue in The Wire (nor is racism an inherently or historically conservative phenomena). These drug gangs and the poor souls in their orbit, are not trapped by racism so much as by a dysfunctional culture.

    ReplyDelete
  10. the first class is taught by an anthropologist specializing in South Africa.

    only mittell is a white male - it's not only the "bourgeois white fans" and "white intellectuals" who treat the show as sociology (though this may be the only group that grants it the honor of association with Melville). it's hard for me to guess at how professors in the social sciences use the show. as candy-coated vector for the real material or as a primary source of information? they certainly don't sound critical.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous3:53 AM

    ""bourgeois white fans" and "white intellectuals" who treat the show as sociology"

    that's true of course, the big champion is William J Wilson which is not at all surprising. It's not that every last person who views the show a certain way is personally white; it is a question of viewing through white supremacy which is obviously linked o and dependent on there existing a certain quantity of personally white people enjoying personal and collective privileges. Obama is the biggest celebrity fan, and ebony/jet has been an official celebrant publication though Starnes is criticial in his enthusiasm especially of the show's misogyny and it's playing to a white audience's appetite for visions of "black thuggery".

    I wonder if we will soon see the resurgence of scholarly text about the "crossing the human rubicons" of bourgeois white people who suffer from clinical depression and drug addiction. Celebrities too? It doesn't seem likely but then again identifying the defectives who drag down the race is the natural next step.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous4:11 AM

    The Mittle just seems to show that the best efforts are being made to ensure the generation in university now is just too stupid to govern itself. It's really the crappiest show by all traditional criteria of drama and narrative - cheaply derivative, incoherent, shallow, clunky, repetitive, dependent on stereotypes, clichés of sentimentality and sensationalist violence, the humour is as mildewed and tired as Zizek's 1950s slovenian borscht belt jokes -

    it's really creepy how zombie-hungry people are for all this shit, munchmunchgobblegulpyummmmyuimmmmmm,
    and then these after the fact justifications.

    on youtube somewhere there is a fan trailer with the 100 greatest lines from the Wire and some of them are like "hey muthafacka!" or "you never know" or something like that. Wow. And with the Zizz, and now Madmen, it's the same kind of thing. Quoting in an awed tone and reciting a synopsis, with some lavish adjectives of compliment like "rich" and "complex", is "critique".

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous4:34 AM

    One thing it does is give us an insight into how certain kinds of pseudo explanations which allow people a cartoon trotalising, alow them to grasp and master a reality in their imagination, provide them this pseudo reality that is contained and neat like a comic book universe - like political Antisemitism - can be so popular. It just needs to have certain features of appeal, and be let loose, and people spread it and pass it themselves. And it creates a provisional agreement - all love the wire and believe in its truth. These are people who at least think they have real political disagreements.

    What is really disturbing is that these academics don't even ask themsleves what a show like this contributes to the insane fantasies of the consuming population that might have helped them to believe the ridiculous stories of savagery, child murder, cannibalism, etc about New Orleans. Or note how this show belongs in a well established tradition that has long served that kind of purpose, helping convinct the innocent kids in the central park jogger case for example, and support the whole mythology around it of "wilding" and "superpredators" that was instrumental in gettings nyers to accept very very repressive policing in the service of gentrification. The DA who supervised their prosecution is a famous crime novelist.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous4:48 AM

    but the Wire belongs as a course at Harvard, which is the stronghold of race theory and race science, home of the Bell Curve. They are always putting some geneticists on the payroll to look into race anywhere, on the track and field teams, and of course to find out whether black males are born killers or whether there are co-factors so that some might avoid their fate.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous5:29 AM

    look at how Wilson deals with the Bell Curve

    http://www.pbs.org/fmc/interviews/wilson.htm

    like it's serious. The book does not even say how the "scientists" identified whether a kid was black or white. The "scientific" division upon which the whole edifice was based seemed to be left up to the kids taking tests, to identify what genes, from the "white" or the "black" batch, they felt they had that day. William Julius Wilson of course can't laugh at his colleagues, or tell them to go fuck themselves (David Simon would write the professor a muthafucka! or two no doubt), so he gently corrects them on the question of those environmental factors in black inferiority. The Moynihanist tangle of pathologies that makes black people so fucked up and white people so nice and normal and good and reliable and human always human even in Auschwitz no matter which uniform he's wearing, the SS or the Priosponer, the white guy is just free of all those inferiorities and pathologies and problems that beset the defective black folks and whose origins they need to keep studying at Harvard so that one day maybe black folks can be as nice and normal and non pathological and non violent and caring and moral and smart as white folks are right now. Not saying that we are perfect - some of us could even be charged with not keeping a proper distance from them and their pathologies and crimes, and of looking the other way, and even of failing to do anything about them at all.

    ReplyDelete
  16. one common justification i think for appearing to take the show seriously in the above ways is its popularity, which at least in part breaks down to the force of its marketing and hype. wilson might give the same 'pragmatist' excuse for taking the bell curve argument seriously in an interview. one may have one's reservations (especially if one is not personally a member of david simon's implied audience), but these must be overcome in order to educate the youngsters, look respectable in public, maintain discursive efficiency, advance one's career, etc. etc.

    i've still never seen the show; the hype cycle has advanced too far, creating a barrier i now have little interest in crossing. thanks for your posts, at any rate.

    oh, and i wasn't sure how you were using 'white' above - thanks for clearing it up.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "its popularity, which at least in part breaks down to the force of its marketing and hype"

    what's curious is, like Buffy, the show was basically a flop. But it has had this very persistent hype. I don't think it's because the marketing departments of the conglomerates in question (HBO, Fox/WB) felt they had to back this ideological tool, but they see it's one way to make the venture good, to exploit these sociologists hungry for simplicities and with time on their hands, and on capital's payroll, to do lots of creative promotion. What else are they for? I mean, it took time but it is finally respectable to put the retained humanities and human sciences profs to work promoting television shows, talking about commodities, seamless wedding pedagogy and advertisements for entertainment commodities, and the profs don't object, they want to do it (got to be easier than what they used to do!). The society of the spectacle - consciousness is increasingly consciousness of commodities. Now academic sociology is nothing but the consciousness of this time warner commodity. That it's so racist and reactionary is really gravy, the main thing is that now this area of life that used to churn only X dollars of profit for the big media now churns 1000X. And more unwaged time is exploited producing value of licenses and copies of this shit. That it is also making people gullible, passive and pliable is a bonus.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Christo5:53 PM

    Re your quotes from Zizek in your post and from Simon in your comment at 3:38PM: What a load of racist, classist crap. I now need never read another word of theirs again. Many thanks, Qlipoth.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous7:39 AM

    thanks Christo

    what's accomplished is made pretty clear here:

    Grayling believes The Wire illustrates how that the US "culture of deprivation, harm, addiction and failure" is being imported across the Atlantic.

    "It's the world of the award-winning drama series The Wire," he will say. "Of the award-winning series that tracks the nightmare of drugs, gangs and organised crime in inner city west Baltimore.

    "It's a horrendous portrayal of the collapse of civilised life and of human despair. Neighbourhoods where drug dealing and deprivation is rife. A constant threat of robbery to fund drug dependency. Communities dogged by violence and by violent crime."

    Grayling is on strong ground as far as the Tories are concerned. David Cameron is a fan of The Wire – and not just because fellow Etonian Dominic West plays a leading role as Detective Jimmy McNulty.

    Across the five seasons of The Wire – which add up to 60 often blood-soaked episodes – there are a total of 82 murders, according to a count by Guardian staff.


    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/25/tories-compare-britain-wire-tv

    ReplyDelete
  20. Very interesting piece, thank you for this - I don’t entirely disagree with it but for the most part I do, so, in the spirit of polemic...

    I think you’re completely misreading Carcetti, who’s just about the least sympathetic character in the whole show and patently in no way fitter to govern than his corrupt, black predecessor, whose moral and political failings - besides the numerous ones he has already demonstrated - he appears bound to soon emulate if he even gets re-elected. You’re also ignoring the extent in which the show’s critique is explicitly aimed at institutions that may be occasionally run by blacks locally, but certainly aren’t nationally - policing and the justice system throughout, the school system in series four and the media in series five spring to mind. In fact, who runs them doesn’t matter since it’s precisely that, a critique of institutions.

    I also and more forcefully find the idea that we’re somehow supposed to rejoice at the cutting of Chiquain completely absurd. I sure as fuck didn’t, and I’m going to go ahead and suggest you didn’t either. If putting down the show requires postulating the effects that it supposedly aims to produce on viewers who are not quite as compassionate and moral as ourselves, I would suggest it’s about as strawmannish an argument as you can come up with. Even so, perfectly capable of considering myself superior to my fellow man as I am, I struggle to imagine a viewer who would sit through the five series and emerge with the convinction that the problem described by The Wire are the black brutes in the projects, and that the solution it promotes is a smaller, less representative government with fewer civil liberties and more white people in charge. Or that the only answer is paralysing despair.

    Shifting the argument a little: I’ll admit to not giving a toss about what David Simon’s personal politics might or might not be, but the comparison to Dickens upthread may not be unhelpful. Let us say that The Wire is paternalistic, and that it glamourises black-on-black violence - two charges that it would be far from impossible to support. Could there still be value in it, from the point of view of progressive politics? Is there something to be gained from its relative success and the mass circulation it achieved, some consciousness and awareness-raising byproduct that may transcend its limitations? Personally I found the depiction of life in the projects and of its cosmic injustice very powerful, and it spoke to me of conditions I experienced from the outside in another time and another country (and that happened not to be racially charged, although this is by the by). I also found its clinical demolition of the very Anglo-Saxon idea that you can and in fact should triumph over adversity and impossible odds quite useful, if decidedly heart rending.

    I’ll leave it there, except to say that in light of the Seymour piece you linked to and the idea that race is class it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on series 2. I’d also be curious to know what you thought if anything of Generation Kill.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous12:42 PM

    "I also and more forcefully find the idea that we’re somehow supposed to rejoice at the cutting of Chiquain completely absurd."

    Hm. You sound a little defensive.

    If the viewer is not "supposed" to be excited, why that sound effect? (Why am I absolutely certain you were too excited even to notice it?)

    ReplyDelete
  22. "Why am I absolutely certain you were too excited even to notice it?"

    Why am I absolutely certain you're a douchebag? Oh, wait, I must be being defensive.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Oh, unpleasantness.

    Giovanni, thanks for the comments. I actually would like to know what you make of the face-slashing scene and what you found objectionable about it.

    As for those viewers you find difficult to imagine, you need not imagine them, they are real:

    “I did not get the liberal message from the Wire at all. Themes I saw: people in slums work hard at living so badly. If there's any Hope of Change, it has to come from blacks. There is nothing at all whites, even well-meaning whites can do. They don't seem able to adopt white culture, and are hostile when our mores are imposed on them.” (a comment found on the web, quoted in the post)

    and

    "But look at it through the eyes of a conservative. This is a Democratic city, run almost uniformly by liberals. While many of the problems most prominently on display can certainly be traced back to racism, racism itself is not a central issue in The Wire (nor is racism an inherently or historically conservative phenomena). These drug gangs and the poor souls in their orbit, are not trapped by racism so much as by a dysfunctional culture." (traxus comment above)

    you will find many more of this sort if you look.

    "You’re also ignoring the extent in which the show’s critique is explicitly aimed at institutions "

    I am ignoring David Simon's remarks to this effect, which are marketing, and which deserve to be ignored. you are giving them a lot of credence, for no reason that i can see. anyway you don't say where you see, in the show itself, this critique of institutions, and in fact you emerge from watching the show persuaded that the (white run, non-democratic, capitalist) institutions that make and distribute the show at least are engaged in progressive politics.

    "In fact, who runs them doesn’t matter since it’s precisely that, a critique of institutions."

    Not at all. There is no critique of institutions in the programme. The whole show is nothing but a parade of stereotypes, "explanation by characterisation". What do you know about the Greek's "institutions"? You don't even get a sketch of his portfolio or anything. It's simply he's a sleazy Levantine. That's the entire explanation of the "international" threat to the declining American Empire. Cartoon characterisation, not depicted "institution", forms the figure of "globalisation".
    cont'd

    ReplyDelete
  24. This notion that there is a critique of "insititutions" in the Wire comes from the advertising and promotional material from the distributor and creators, and fans have found it a convenient way of making their time spent watching this violent and simplistic spectacle seem worthwhile and virtuous and educational.


    "that the solution it promotes is a smaller, less representative government with fewer civil liberties and more white people in charge."

    but you have emerged from watching persuaded that Time Warner is a force for progressive social change. So at least the door is open there to some kind of fascist alternative. Tyrannical profitable capitalist megacorp Time Warner is already more progressive than nominally democratic Baltimore - why not let Time Warner and the like take over the government?


    "Personally I found the depiction of life in the projects and of its cosmic injustice very powerful,"

    The Wire is not really realistic. It is would be a very sad thing if you were to believe the vision it offers, a vision in which black cops are sadistic and violent and white cops are largely gentle, a vision in which there is virtually no police brutality or repression of the community, a vision in which all black men in positions of power are corrupt, venal and despicable, a familiar Hegelian vision in which black mothers do not care about their children and willingly sacrifice them while white cops attempt in vain to save them from their families, "culture", community, and from themselves.

    "Is there something to be gained from its relative success and the mass circulation it achieved, some consciousness and awareness-raising byproduct that may transcend its limitations? "

    Well, what do you suggest was achieved in consciousness, by whom, and what's your evidence for this? Seems to me, just glancing over the fan product, that people who watch the show seem to feel they have been licensed to revive all kinds of racist myth; european fans seem to feel licensed to make jokes in what they take to be ebonics; thirty years of culture theory is thrown out the window as long debunked abstractions are put to use again as if they were perfectly intelligible and coherent; feminist demands and objections are treated as whining and nitpicking, and all the symptoms of craven lesser evilism on display, in this spirit of "shouldn't be be grateful for something a sprogressive as dickens? Even if it is racist, mosogynist, deceptive, reactionary, paternalist, and also boring and infantile, should't we applaud it, be loyal and support it? At least it's not worse.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I have yet to see anyone who claims to detect a critique of institutions in the Wire describe that critique. What does the Wire say about institutions? Besides 'they are inimical to individual initiative except when they're not.'

    What's wrong with the school as an institution? How do its failings account for the horrors taking place in the school? How does the institution of the school determine the young girl's false charge of rape? the other's razor attack? the murderous careers of several students? We are told that Latetia is a creature "of the system" but we don't know how that system produced her or whether it made her prefer to sit on the floor than in a chair or failed to teach her to prefer the chair. The sequence depends on typed characterisation accomplished with visuals mainly.

    How does the institution of the narcotraffic enterprise (or other?) determine chris partlow's brutality and the 13 year old kennard's depraved indifference?

    And don't we have a wonderful judicial system, at least from the point of view of the people? No one innocent is ever even tried, let alone convicted. Isn't the penal system just as pure and functional, with everyone in there guilty, and the place quite pleasant according to the Russian, and though not every murder by the wicked within can be prevented, no torture or harm inflicted by the institution on the prisoners? What does The Wire determine is wrong with the penal system? We know the Wire deplores the judicial system but for not managing to throw more people in jail, for not being tough enough on crime because of those pesky corrupt immoral defence lawyers like Maurice Levy and the pesky defendant's pesky constitutional rights. (the 'critique' of the justice system them is the same old ancient right wing lawnorder complaint) The judicial system is a wonderful institution, poisoned by the likes of Levy. The penal system is marvellous, though sometimes it can't control all the wicked black folks inside.

    What institution is responsible for Brother Mouzone's murderous career?


    The "critique" of the police department is that there are a lot of stupid and lazy people who are trying to rise above their merit, and lots of always false charges of racism to contend with, and not enough resources to deal with the criminal population. etc etc

    ReplyDelete
  26. Giovanni, thanks for the comments. I actually would like to know what you make of the face-slashing scene and what you found objectionable about it.
    I didn’t find it objectionable, I found it horrific. I read nothing into it except the school’s failure to provide a safe social and educational environment, to put it in Min of Ed speak. I spoke to a few people about it since reading your post, and everybody remembered the scene, nobody admitted to feeling anything remotely resembling glee. Self-reporting’s a bitch, we all know that, but I find your reading unconvincing. I must however formulate some better thoughts on the general point you make concerning the “joy” of the Wire fan, myself included. I think that needs exploring for sure.

    As for those viewers you find difficult to imagine, you need not imagine them, they are real:

    Yes, but surely you can find viewers who will tell you just the opposite (pick me!). It’s not as if hand-picking certain responses proves that the show has determined those responses and those reponses only. Hell, we could look at anything “through the eyes of a conservative”.

    anyway you don't say where you see, in the show itself, this critique of institutions, and in fact you emerge from watching the show persuaded that the (white run, non-democratic, capitalist) institutions that make and distribute the show at least are engaged in progressive politics.

    Not engaged in progressive politics, no, but capable of (occasionally) producing documents that are useful to progressive politics. That was the sense of my appeal to Dickens, and I could name other 18th century realists that are perhaps closer to my sensibility - Giovanni Verga above all. It’s not necessary to identify with their politics in order to find their texts useful (and, of course, open to critique - let’s not lose sight of the fact that I find what you’ve written both challenging and important).

    As for where and how the Wire articulate a critique of institutions, my reading of it it’s that it happens throughout, by focussing on the breakage of each link of the social chain: school, the justice system, social services, the media, which of course are all overseen by capitalism and the political institutions. Series four and five I think are overt invectives, almost subversive when it comes to the Amsterdam experiment. And you’re right of course that it doesn’t articulate an explicit way out, much less a radical anti-capitalist and anti-racist one. But I’d also argue that it’s not its job, and that it hardly makes it a reactionary statement. Apologies for bringing this back to something that I know, but you wouldn’t dismiss the Italian cinema di denuncia on those grounds, even though by your logic you could.

    (Nor am I proving the opposite point, I know. And I’ll try to come back to your subsequent comments. Have to return to serving my capitalist overlords a little bit now.)

    ReplyDelete
  27. " I spoke to a few people about it since reading your post, and everybody remembered the scene, nobody admitted to feeling anything remotely resembling glee. "

    No doubt all were horrified. But in a way they did not find in the least objectionable.

    ReplyDelete
  28. "Where racially nervous whites might look at Obama and think of some scary African American they saw on "The Wire," they'd look at Jindal and think of that nice young internist who took care of them while the family doctor was on vacation in Boca. "

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-plank/bobby-jindal-and-racial-stereotypes

    What do you make of this? Is it a different Wire the New Republic writer watched? Are black people on that show so particularly scary that the show suggests blackness of people and scariness of people are related? Surely not. That would be horrific. Not titillating fun horrifying but horrific in a way that is indeed objectionable.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Yes, the black gangsters in The Wire are plenty scary. Brutal. So are a lot of police, some of whom are black. So are the politicians and the town planners, without getting as much as a drop of blood on their hands, and some of them are still black. But are you telling me that they are not scary or brutal in real life? In my country, a typical way for a mafioso to kill a snitch and send a message to other snitches would be to kill them, tie their hands to their feet like animals, chop their dick off and shove it in their mouths. This is done by Southern Italians, who are white, but seeing as race is class Northern Italians are capable of plenty of racism towards Southern Italians. The thing is, large chunks of our South are your inner cities. That’s where there is no state, there are no functioning social services, and even to the extent that schools work it doesn’t matter because there are no employment except through the mafia. Remember in series one of the Wire when Stringer tells Dee not to pay his crew for a week, to weed out the police informant? Dee replies that if they don’t get paid, they won’t work. And Stringer says what are they going to do, get a job? Same thing. Southern Italians are not inherently more brutal than Northern Italians, they just have fewer options. And life in places is pretty bloody scary, scarier than the projects in Baltimore. Do you happen to have seen Ghomorrah, or have read the book? Saviano happens to be a Southerner himself, and somebody whose politics you and I may more comfortably identify with than in Simon’s case. But you could close the book and say: ‘Boy, that was full of stereotypes, of fast-talking and cold-blooded murderers, and isn’t the situation hopeless, and aren’t those people bloody animals? There is nothing you or I or anybody else could do from within the our comfortable lives.’ Do I think the book invites or authorises that conclusion? No. Do I think that because some people will reach that conclusion, we should just never shine a light on what goes on in places like Scampia? Neither. But we need people to tell other stories: of the mafia in the boardrooms in the North of the country, which is no less brutal, just less bloody. Of your corporate world, of the lobbies, of the logic that robs your impoverished communities of their basic rights, of their options. That is a thread that I found powerful in the Wire, the sense that without work, without safety, without education, without a public discourse, that is to say, media capable of making those stories visible, then sure, there is no hope. And the most impoverished, who happen to be black*, will live the life of the terminally poor, which is not pretty to look at. This is what I took from The Wire. Now I’m perfectly willing to countenance that it’s not done perfectly, and that when it descends to grand-guignol it becomes complicit with the reality it seeks to represent - a lot of what you say rings true or at least makes me wonder. But the diametrically opposite reading to my own, that it is comfortably racist and by design, I just can’t see it, you haven’t convinced me. Then again, I’ll keep reading your blog, which is excellent, and down the road you might. “Cont’d”, right?

    *I am aware that it is a racist endpoint. But again, race is class. If Italian sourtherners were pigmented differently, they’d be held back more, of this I am quite certain.

    I’ve been watching old episodes of the Wire, basically on your instigation. I might have to send you the bill for time spent. Midway through the first series, Dee takes his girlfriend to a posh restaurant. He asks, do you think they know who we are? She says look around, we are not the only black people here. Yes, but do they know who we are? So long as your money is good, says she, you’re as good as everybody else.

    ReplyDelete
  30. "Dee takes his girlfriend to a posh restaurant. He asks, do you think they know who we are? She says look around, we are not the only black people here. Yes, but do they know who we are? So long as your money is good, says she, you’re as good as everybody else."

    What do you make of that scene? It's seems so glaringly a clunky, bigoted white man's fantasy of the conversation at dinner between a successful black drug dealer and his girlfriend that I really don't know how people can watch this without cringing. It really has a minstrel show quality to it. We don't belong here with all these fine folkses do we? We just ain't good enough to spend some of my fifty thousand dollars a month income here among these fine folkses.

    that's why he's so darn loveable, that D'Angelo. He does know his place, though he's been coerced into uppitiness. If it weren't for lady macbeth his mother, he would no doubt have been a good cop controlling the field negroes like all the other upright toms on the show.He did try.

    ReplyDelete
  31. "Yes, the black gangsters in The Wire are plenty scary. Brutal. So are a lot of police, some of whom are black. So are the politicians and the town planners, without getting as much as a drop of blood on their hands, and some of them are still black"

    no doubt this is why american voters saw Sarah Palin and immediately thought of all those scary white people on The Wire.

    "In my country, a typical way for a mafioso to kill a snitch and send a message to other snitches would be to kill them, tie their hands to their feet like animals, chop their dick off and shove it in their mouths. "

    Well this is what you guys are like, perhaps, but if I'm on the jury, I still want to see some evidence against you Giovanni specifically before I convict. Even though you must be ethnically the type of guy - hey, the Sopranos is educational too - who does this sort of thing, a scary sort of person, it's still possible that you never personally did castrate anyone. I'm not saying you don't seem the type, of course you're telling me that you are. I'm just not ready to find you scary even though I did see Goodfellahs. Maybe if you call yourself Big Geeee Oh The Bull you'll seem scarier. Badda bing and good night.

    ReplyDelete
  32. "Yes, the black gangsters in The Wire are plenty scary. Brutal."

    The question is why does Barack Obama and not Hilary Clinton remind you of them?

    ReplyDelete
  33. What do you make of that scene? It's seems so glaringly a clunky, bigoted white man's fantasy of the conversation at dinner between a successful black drug dealer and his girlfriend that I really don't know how people can watch this without cringing.

    I wanted you to go first. To me it said simply: race is class.

    Well this is what you guys are like, perhaps, but if I'm on the jury, I still want to see some evidence against you Giovanni specifically before I convict.

    I see what you’re doing there, but cute as it is, you’re evading my point. There is the stereotype and the crude characterisation and then there is reality. And you can and should complain about the former, but as soon as you start wanting to conceal the latter, I’m going to have to get my coat. Some people in the areas where Saviano grew up and where Gomorrah is set have complained about the book, not on the basis that it was inaccurate, but that it had been written. Should I wish it to be withdrawn from the shelves, so that people won’t pre-judge me because of my origins? Should I blame the book? Should it trouble me that not speaking about the mafia has been advocated by every right wing politician of our Republican history, and was a fiat under Mussolini?

    Of course we’ve been dancing another question, though: so the reality of life in the projects of Baltimore differs from what is represented in The Wire. But how does it, specifically?

    ReplyDelete
  34. The question is why does Barack Obama and not Hilary Clinton remind you of them?

    Neither Barack Obama nor Hilary Clinton remind me of them in the slightest.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Make that "dancing around", above, in the interest of making a jot of sense.

    ReplyDelete
  36. "To me it said simply: race is class. "

    How? Surely D'Angelo is not in doubt that "they" know he and his girlfriend are black. he is wondering if they know something else, something not visible, something other than race. Or at least Simon is trying to say, there is something about these peopel, other than race - there are other black people there, there are black bourgeois - that D'Angelo knows.

    Now the show does seem to say black people can never be bourgeois really, but not because 'race is class', since white people can be either bourgeois or working class; black people in the Wireverse can never really be bourgeois in the sense that they can never be truly civilised. That's my point. That's the show's posture, and it is repeated again and again. The whole boxcutter sequence is about how Chiquan is only superficially civilised ("needs compassion skills", needs to learn to imitate compassion); there are running minstrel gags showing black characters using what is presented as comically incongruous "white" language, or offering a comical spectacle imitating "white behaviour" (rules of order, taking notes on a criminal conspiracy, marriage counselling, grown natively anglophone men being taught the words "authority" and "pawn" ) - this stuff is not even marginally plausible let alone 'real life' or realistic; it is hokey skit gag stuff, and it is Simon directly to his audience, winking, speaking through the characters like sock puppets. "de king stay de king." "i'm what you'd call an authority figure"; and the way prop joe treats the Wicked Levantine/Orientals like some kind of savage royalty....

    ReplyDelete
  37. Dangelo is supposed to be this tragic figure, he would have been a good obedient cop but for fate, and he has a speech where he explains that the cops in Baltimore are on the civilising mission in the projects. He says the cops only police the projects so much to protect the people who live there from eachother, because they are violent. He is given this speech which is obviously Simon's point of view. He suggests that if the drug business was nonviolent there would be no policing of it. and the show suggests that prisons are full of murderers.

    all that is horseshit. It is right wing propaganda.

    Dangelo's discolfoirt in a restaurant is about Simon writing this character to admlit his own "alien culture", that he is a savage, an other, that he is from "another world". And then Simon writes his murder, to show how intolerant the savage culture is of the rare savage who recognises the superiority of the civilised and wants to help.

    The story of Bubbles also confirms Dangelo's view that the police are only trying to protect black people from eachother, and save them from themselves.

    Simon's remarks about the difference between junkies in Baltimore and prisoners in Auschwitz illustrate the show's point of view very well. and Dangelo is given speech to underscore it - we are not civilised, we don't belong to the civilisation of these restos, no amount of money can civilise us. Then Simon of course doesn't want to acknowledge this overtly;, so he has always the passing extra or foil - this bouggheois black couple, don't they seem normal? And isn't Kima Grigg's abandoned girlfriend's new gal a lawyer and happy? He is careful to give himself alibis, to deliver the pelasures of his violent minstrel show with all these alibis so his audience can enjoy the same old pleasures and feel righteous as well.

    ReplyDelete
  38. "
    Neither Barack Obama nor Hilary Clinton remind me of them in the slightest."

    okay I'm confused. I asked you what you made of the New Republic's remarks about Barack Obama being scary to "racially nervous white" because of fictional chatacters on th wire. And you said I can't deny there are people who are violent just like those chatacters. The question is why yhis should be the response to a question about what barack obama,a specific guy, has to do with those fictional characters. the article is saying bobby jindal will remind people of some real internist they met, and obama will remind them of fictional chatacters they witnessed committing atrocities over and over and over on The Wire.

    Not on Sex and the City or Nip/Tuck. The article suggests the Wire especially produces this figure of the scary young black man.

    You know this figure is significant in american politics.

    People of normalk intelligence in the US in huge nulbers believed, without a shred of evidence of any kind, that there were cannibal child raping gangs of savage young black men roaming flooded New orleans.

    Why did they believe this? Even imagine they had seen footage of atrocities? Because of The Wire and shows of its kind. It produces RACE in a very specific way. You can say, oh, you personally find Carcetti the scariest chatacter. Perhaps because of this scary Italians you know or whatever. But obviously, that would be eccentric.

    the show invents a world where nearly every kid dressed a certain way is armed and a murderer. A world where a 13 child commits murder one in broad daymlight in a convenience store. It's another planet. Then you insist it's like "the real world". Well there is evidently enough of an illusion of "reality" in some aspects of the show to allow these racist fictions to pass for realistic. and that is the problem, what makes the show dangerous not just stupid and obnoxious.

    But looking at the show, it is SO hokey, it is so cliché, every scene is a mlicrowave of a warmed over ancient cliché, you really wonder how it got this rep as "realistic" and I think it is simply that people feel that black people really are very violent and this show showing such a predominance of viuolent black people, the audience says, oh REALITY! Because it is so common a racist fantasy, people think they "recognise" it.

    ReplyDelete
  39. "so the reality of life in the projects of Baltimore differs from what is represented in The Wire. But how does it, specifically?"

    well where to begin? People in Baltimore use the toilet. Sleep one third of their lives at least. Take showers. Are not spied on constantly by cameras making HBO shows.

    But also - there is police brutality.

    There are arrests of innocents.

    there are convictions for nonviolent acts relating to narcotics. -look it up if you don't believe me/.

    in prison, in Maryland, the prisoners do garment assembly and other commodity production. max security prisons are places of brutality and torture.

    In the real Baltimore, during the series, there were two big sensational headlines - one about revenge on a foster mother for a kid's snitching; the other about corrupt cops longtime in the drug trade.

    The Wire used one headline very sensationally. Anyone could guess which. the other was watered down, deployed in a much softened and reduced fashion, full of compassionate explanation, as if Simon felt he had to seem to reflect "real life" so had to refer to it somehow, not just to the black narcotraffick criminal story but also to the white cop criminal story, of course the result is not like reality at all. Indeed it is a disguise, it serves to mask and distort reality- it is propagandistic and racist, minimising the white cop crimnality while seeming to acknowlegde it, and sensationalising the barbarity of the black gangbangers, while, as throughout, reinforcing this false sense of neat seperation and opposition between them.

    The result is a world with savage black people and flawed, hapless white folks about whom the show prides itself for the egalitarianism of its announcement "look they're no better black folks!" The implication that they should and could be better (and once were! in the Old South when there was order and prosperity) is clear of course, and that "the Decline of the American Empire" and the challenge to white supremacy are one and the same process.


    What else goes on in the projects that doesn't happen on the Wire? people get bills, utility bills for example, and pay them. People join the army and return from their tours of duty. People come home from a hard day cleaning other people's houses or watching other people's children. Mothers love their kids. None of this happens in the Wireverse.

    What happens in the Wireverse that doesn't happen in the real Baltimore? A 13 year old child (black, male) commits first degree murder. Never happens in the real Baltimore. But in the Wireverse, this is one seriously violent murderous species, these young black men, of course the show culminates in the revelation that it begins practically in infancy.

    What else? In the Wireverse, a fantastically successful drug distributor is so naive he has to visit his branch in the Carribean to believe his money is there./ Every small business - copyshop, locksmith - is a "front". People from the Levant or Eastern Europe are uniformly wicked and magical; Polish Americans are uniformly stupid. "White Slavery" is the actual official name of a federal crime.

    For starters.

    ReplyDelete
  40. How? Surely D'Angelo is not in doubt that "they" know he and his girlfriend are black. he is wondering if they know something else, something not visible, something other than race. Or at least Simon is trying to say, there is something about these people, other than race - there are other black people there, there are black bourgeois - that D'Angelo knows.

    That they are not to the manner born (immediately after being reassured by his girlfriend that his money make him all right, he proceeds to fuck up the order at the dessert cart).

    Now the show does seem to say black people can never be bourgeois really, but not because 'race is class', since white people can be either bourgeois or working class; black people in the Wireverse can never really be bourgeois in the sense that they can never be truly civilised.

    There are plenty of other black patrons at the restaurant who belong, however.

    He suggests that if the drug business was nonviolent there would be no policing of it. and the show suggests that prisons are full of murderers.

    all that is horseshit. It is right wing propaganda.


    I completely see your point there. Although I remain rather impressed by the Amsterdam thing. For a liberal, you know, or whatever David Simon is.

    The story of Bubbles also confirms Dangelo's view that the police are only trying to protect black people from eachother, and save them from themselves.

    How? What enables Bubbles to survive his role of police informant - that lands him in trouble and the police fails to protect him and his friend, in fact, which is a pattern repeated later in series 4 with the kid that Carver is supposed to be looking out for. He is able to get cleaned up because his sister allows him to live in her basement. Prison, the health system and social services wouldn't give him that.

    Simon's remarks about the difference between junkies in Baltimore and prisoners in Auschwitz

    His whatwhats about whatwhat? I'm going to need a link here. I said I didn't care about his stated politics but I'm going to need to read it this. Perhaps I'm a bad googler but couldn't find these comments.

    Not on Sex and the City or Nip/Tuck. The article suggests the Wire especially produces this figure of the scary young black man.

    But my point is that black gangsters, Italian gangsters, gangsters in general do exist and they are scary. Let us suspend judgment on The Wire for a second: is there value in representing them and the world in which they operate at all? And when you do it, and however you do it, since their life is in fact brutal, aren’t you by definition going to create a figure that is going to be of some use to right-wing commentators, a shorthand for the bad man? Isn’t reality always going to become Dickensian, or the Wireverse, or ‘like in Saviano’s book’? When I say that The Wire has value beyond its politics, I also mean this conversation we’re having and the answer you gave below about how The Wire differs from real life in the projects. It is a debate that needs to be provoked. Now I don’t think that The Wire is as explicitly and structurally racist as you propose, but some of what you say is very convincing. Now there is a text our there that invites this kind of conversation, even if it isn’t what it set out to do. That succeeds in part (at least according to yours truly) and fails in part but at least is located there, in poor America, which is not a place that television or cinema enter very often, except to tell stories of redemption from poverty and from class. I’ll give The Wire immense credit for not doing that.

    Now what I really want to do is to put you and David Simon in a room and ask you: why are these people black? I think it could be just a tremendous teachable moment.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Simon's remarks about the difference between junkies in Baltimore and prisoners in Auschwitz

    it's right up there my early comment to this thread, from the book Homocide Life On The Streets -

    “But in one rowhouse on Newington Avenue, two dozen human beings have learned to leave food where it falls, to pile soiled clothes and diapers in a corner of the room, to lie strangely still when parasites crawl across the sheets, to empty a bottle of Mad Dog or T-Bird and then piss its contents into a plastic bag at the edge of the bed, to regard a bathroom cleaning product and a plastic bag as an evening's entertainment. Historians note that when the victims of the Nazi holocaust heard that the Allied armies were within a few miles of liberating the camps, some returned to scrub and sweep the barracks and show the world that human beings lived there. But on Newington Avenue the rubicons of human existence have all been crossed. The struggle itself has been mocked, and the unconditional surrender of one generation presses hard upon the next.”

    ReplyDelete
  42. "Perhaps I'm a bad googler but couldn't find these comments. "

    oh no sorry you might have to get a copy of the book to verify

    ReplyDelete
  43. Okay, sorry, I thought it might have been something more elaborate. Thanks. I'll see if I can respond to some of the points you raise about the differences between RL and the wire - at the moment I just feel like framing your response.

    I really appreciate you taking the time for this conversation.

    ReplyDelete
  44. "But my point is that black gangsters, Italian gangsters, gangsters in general do exist and they are scary."

    No doubt. But what should Barack Obama be perceived as especially scary because gangsters exist when Hilary Clonton is not? She's in real life just as scary as he. Neither is going to personally grab you in a dark alley and drill a hole in your head but both make policy in which people are paid to do that. The point the magazine was making was that people perceived Obama's blackness as an indicator of likely scariness.

    And you can't pretend this is something you never thought about. There actually were roaming white gangs of petty bourgeois killers in post Katrina new orleans. But the media made nothing of it. Instead it invented roaming gangs of black "underclass" men. And people believed it. they thought, of course. Well the Wire does the same. In fact there are brutal racist white cops in Baltimore, whose job is the repression of a poor population. But not in the Wireverse. In the Wireverse, white cops care more about young black drug dealers than their mothers do, and even try to teach the mothers to care about their sons or shame them into appearing to care.

    It's not how it really is in "real life".

    ReplyDelete
  45. No doubt. But what should Barack Obama be perceived as especially scary because gangsters exist when Hilary Clinton is not?

    Because she is white, therefore raceless. Actually, she’s a woman, which brought a whole lot of ugly stuff on her during the campaign. But had she been a man, she would have had no such associations foisted on her.

    There are a lot of things that a white person could be: a supremacist, a roaming petty bourgeois killer, a scammer, a drug dealer, a currency trader. There is no stereotype that applies to white people, ever. Unless they are poor, then you become white trash. But you can’t be poor and be a politician, so...

    And you can't pretend this is something you never thought about.

    I can, but then I wasn’t brought up in the United States. Racism is very differently configured in Italy and differently again in New Zealand, my current home. I won’t pretend I didn’t notice Obama was black, but certainly never thought that I’d rather find myself in a blind alley with, say, Mitt Romney.

    In fact there are brutal racist white cops in Baltimore, whose job is the repression of a poor population. But not in the Wireverse. In the Wireverse, white cops care more about young black drug dealers than their mothers do, and even try to teach the mothers to care about their sons or shame them into appearing to care.

    There are in fact brutal cops in The Wire. Polish cops, white cops, black cops. And if you could say that the beating up of Stinkum (while handcuffed to a table in a locked up room) may be set up as something that the audience might enjoy (Omar: "he brings it up in people, doesn't he?") the whaling on Preston, the blinding of the kid in the second episode of the first series, the death of Bubbles' friend aren't.

    ReplyDelete
  46. (Also, the psychotic marines in Generation Kill? All Caucasian.)

    ReplyDelete
  47. "That succeeds in part (at least according to yours truly) and fails in part but at least is located there, in poor America, which is not a place that television or cinema enter very often, except to tell stories of redemption from poverty and from class."

    That's simply not true:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COPS_(TV_series)

    But this is the kind of merit fans of the Wire seem to invent for it frequently - that it originated this or that, the oldest clichés, the most well established formula it uses. It's strange even when there is straight out plaigiarism or derivation, as the chess scene, or sheeeeeeit, or Kunta Kinte yuk yuk, this is praised as groundbreakingly original. I quoted from an article that actually swooned over the inventiveness of Simon in creating a character who was both Irish and a cop and who....drank whisky! How incongruous. Even more shocking he was...Catholic! The academic fans were bowled over by this unexpected combination of traits. To top it off, he was featured dead being waked! how really surprising is that, an Irish, catholic, cop, whisky drinker, killed in the line, and ...have a wake! Wild imaginations these writers have.

    There's something slightly eerie about this. In any case, the way the Wire portrays and exploits its environment and its denizens is a very well established tradition, in films, novels and indeed television. The only slightly newish thing is that the reactionary backlash stereotyping is so severe, but presented as an 'advance', beyond "political correctness', Simon can now show that _every_ black politician and community leader is corrupt, that every black defendant is guilty...You give the Wire credit for this, calling it an avoidance of "tales of redemption from poverty and class". Why hours of spectacle of black people suffering and dying would eb preferable to "tales of redemption" remains unexplained, but is probably just a matter of taste - you enjoy watching simulations of black people tortured to death more than you enjoy watching simulations of black people making love tenderly or succeeding at the pursuit of a comfortable lifestyle. There's no arguing taste, but one could hesitate before declaring one's tastes a sign of moral or political virtue. You're grateful to a show that caters to your tastes but they may not really be more elevated or noble. The implication is there is no lowly effeminate sentimentality - only the tough gritty truth revealed by Simon with his Sunday feature writer's J Peterman ethnography ("If you looked at the ghetto, you would think that an overwhelming number of kids would be corner kids, because of the pressures of the neighborhood," he continues. "In my experience, that's not actually the case. The numbers are not that skewed--and that's a very good thing, because a corner kid is a kid who is an alien. His culture is different than our culture. So therefore, it would be no different than a corner kid and stoop kid walking down a path and they see a rock and the stoop kid picks it up and says, ‘This would be a nice building material,' and the corner kid picks it up and says, ‘This is a hell of a weapon.'") But the Wire is certainly sentimental...even giving us all our favourite Hugo/Rigoletto weepy, which tears the hardest heart to pieces every time.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Tell me that you did write Colbert’s script when he asked David Simon the following last week:

    Colbert. “Should we actually rebuild New Orleans. Why not just scrape it off into the Gulf and start over? It was an old city. Put something fresh in there, like a theme park, you know. The theme is Black People. Because white people love watching black people. They watch your shows.”

    Simon: “That is amazing, isn’t it?”

    Colbert: “Isn’t it? Lots of white people watch your shows which involve black people going through hardship. Why do you think white people do that?”

    Simon’s inability to respond cannot be fully appreciated without watching the clip available here.

    ReplyDelete

  49. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

    Payroll Company in Johannesburg

    ReplyDelete