Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Wire

I'm now through Season 2 of The Wire. And it seems like something people do alot when they talk about The Wire is try to say what it's "about", because it really is incredibly sprawling and I guess one feels the need to make sense out of it. So here's my stab at it. The Wire is about the fact that there is a certain set of social norms and ways of behaving and moving goods to and fro and moving within late capitalism's infrastructure that have always existed and will always strawberry goodtime John McCain's Honda Gold Wing polaroid-derived funyuns...

And it all unravels.

So I can't really explain what it's "about". It might just be that the corruption and certain codes of "loyalty" that permeate America in various forms (not just in "gang-banging") of palms greasing other palms and hands reaching into pockets, and various territorial pissings bleeding into each other are all so prevalent that's it's hard to discern where It ends and Society begins. Or once you start following the money, you have no idea where it's going to go.

I do have to say that Idris Elba, who plays Stringer Bell, is a really good actor because the character of Bell scares the shit out of me, what with his freakishly unbreakable composure punctuated by the little mouth tics and eye rolls he exhibits when you know that whoever just crossed him is fucked.

I also think about what Kasey Mohammad said about The Sopranos, how by the end of it everything is "so totally beyond fucked", and that that is basically exhibited in every frame of it. And how The Wire has that in an even more all-encompassing, wide-swath-cutting way, how it seems like it has an even more "hyper-realistic grasp of the American and global now". Or as The Greek, Season 2's main target says, "The world's gotten smaller." So maybe these two shows are just demonstrating (I mean, not to presume their, like, verisimiltude, but what would contemporary HBO drama be without the V-word?) how the sociopolitical phenomena I tried to articulate above have reacted chemically with globalization and mutated in ways no-fuckin-body can even begin to understand but are almost uniformly evil... almost giving some perverse credence to characters on The Wire who use platitudes like "all in the game" and "business is business". The fact that so much of what is perpetrated in The Wire makes complete sense from the point of view of the perpetrater, is another part of what makes it so fuckin scary. But that's pretty grim. And I guess the verdict (for me anyway) is still out on The Wire, since I'm only past Season 2.

Oh, and Joshua Clover has a pretty interesting post about television as the new long form here that incorporates The Wire.


K. Silem Mohammad said...

I just finished Season 2 as well--we're on parallel tracks, it sounds like.

Nice (pre-)assessment. I have to say I don't find The Wire as integrally pessimistic as The Sopranos, though the fuckedness in question is undeniably part of the "message." Though, as you say, The Wire presents things from the perspective of the "bad guys" in a way that's sometimes unsettling, and it's made clear that corruption has no upper or outer limit, there's still a reliance on more or less traditional psychological "realism"javascript:void(0) that stands somewhat in contrast to what I see as The Sopranos' largely satirical base (though it's satire in realistic dress).

Which do I prefer? Dunno. I like them both, but I'd say that The Wire appeals slightly more to me in its adherence to the conventions of the police procedural, and the greater general "likeability" of the characters. I like unlikeable characters, but oddly enough, I find that I like likeable characters a little more.

Mike Hauser said...


I agree that in The Wire, there are more individual characters that one can sort of "root" for or at least like.

But its also interesting how the police for example don't seem to regard themselves in the typically noble way cops seem to do on other shows. They seem almost more obsessed with the idea of "building the case" and it's perverse enjoyment, than any altruism that might be implied in it. And of course any good that gets done is almost immediately undercut by the nature of the series, "the game", which is bigger than they can police.

I'm interested in what you mean by psychological "realism". Do you mean like "cause and effect", characters' motives?


K. Silem Mohammad said...

I guess by "realism" (which I'm probably using in a totally idiosyncratic way) I mean the way in which what happens in the fiction comes off as seen through a morally "neutral" lens, without an overtly implied judgment on the part of the artist. In The Sopranos, so much is motivated by an authorial awareness of evil, both in the obvious sense of murder and mayhem, and in the little hypocrisies and self-deceptions that go on internally for each character. Another way of putting this is that the show seems consciously "cruel" to its characters, almost mocking their every move and thought in each frame. The Wire has more of a "let's sit back and watch and see what these people do" approach. And there's some of that same irony there--there has to be in any drama, for there to be some tension and sympathetic frisson--but not to the same degree.

Dustin said...

I've always seen The Wire as examining the ways different segments of society can and cannot interact, which rules are held fast and which are easily broken. The drug dealers and the police exist in different orbits and are only allowed to come in contact with each other in these specific ways...neither side is allowed to "take on" the other.