Thursday, October 15, 2009

Even more thoughts on the wire

I am only putting this a new post because reading long comments is kind of a pain. Here is my two cents, keeping in mind I've only watched about 1o episodes, plus an hour long interview with David Simon with clips

In terms of storytellling, dialogue and creation of interesting characters the wire is pretty outstanding. For most books, movies, etc this is all that matters. however, the wire is subject to scrutiny of it's 'reality' because it prides itself on just and because it is so grounded in a specific time, place and slice of life. While it's cast of contributors oozes street cred, this does not mean that it is 'real' as I would use the term. I've never lived in the baltimore ghetto, but here's why I think that.

There is a surprisingly good show on tnt or tbs called raising the bar that essentially goes day to day in the life of public defender. once you've stopped laughing about my comparing a zach morris vehicle to the wire, read on. One of the writers for the show is a guy name David Feige, a longtime PD in NYC who wrote a great book called indefensible--as knowledgeable about what's real in that world as one could be. With such great source material, the show absolutely deals with real issues for pds. At the same time, it deals with these issues through characters and specific storylines that are, in a statistical sense, unreal--meaning they could exist but represent no substantial amount of a PD's caseload/clientele. Are there times when DA's violate discovery rules? yes. Is it in murder cases where they hand you a foot-thick file the day before your innocent client has a trial? No. Yes, the wire is better in the standard ways that you would analyze art, but the creative source for rtb is every bit as deep and real. If Feige can/has to take license with reality for dramatic purposes then anyone can/has to.

So does the wire? In my limited viewing I would point to two examples of such alteration. 1. Deangelo Barksdale--the conflicted, reluctant, thoughtful, chessplaying murdering drug dealer. Could he exist? Yes. Does he exist in any meaningful quantity? No. But he is clearly a key character in the show and one it leans on to illustrate the complexity of this world. 2. A speech by someone (perhaps Deangelo) that was in the interview, where he essentially says to some white quasi-authority figure "we know you white people don't care about us, that's why we sell drugs." Of the clients i've dealt with in that situation, probably less than one percent have both the self awareness and personal eloquence to make such a comment. Truthfully, I would love if my client's were like him--it would make my job much easier--and if i was trying to depict them sympathetically I might do the same things. Simon's initial point (poor black teens with no way out rejected by white society) is true, his execution of it through a character is far fetched and not real in any meaningful quantity.

On the other hand, there are aspects of the wire the seem very likely to be real. I am sure they know how to depict street level drugs sales accurately. I feel confident that they are accurately reflecting the workings of a successful drug operation. Mechanical operations are when the street cred of the creators is most helpful--depicting who these people are psychologically and why they do what they do is much dicier, and is always filtered by the subjective interpretations of the creator along with external forces such as the need for drama.

Lastly, it is worth pointing out (if for no other reason than to downplay my own interest in his cantaloup sized testes) that Il Gato's dislike of Simon is a little shaky as a reason to dislike the show. I have a bad feeling that if you discount artwork produce by assholes your book, cd and movie collections are going to be mighty small.

P.S. Wilco kicks ass.


Blogger kenniebloggins said...

I'm kind of having a difficult time understanding your attempt at ascertaining the "reality" of a fictionalized character. It's pretty obvious that The Wire is constructed to make a social statement, so expect exaggeration of reality to highlight the point. In my experience in working in public schools, students who feel the most disenfranchised and marginalized often choose simply to not attempt to succeed academically. Many times, these non-attempts at academic success are followed with other activities which may begin with general classroom interruptions and lead to criminal activity. I've seen it too many times. Too many former students in the police blotter for a myriad of crimes. I understand the issue you have with a character's eloquence, but, come on pc, it's a television show. Yes, art imitates life, but it also has it's limitations. I thought Season 4s portrayal of the public school system and Presbo's initial reaction to the teaching profession was stunningly accurate, given my experience as a teacher. However, I am not comparing the school I teach to the any Baltimore Schools. I highly recommend a viewing of The Corner and a reading of Simon's Homicide if you haven't done so already. Both serve as nice companion pieces to The Wire. Good post, btw, except for the Wilco part (j/k-not really).

10/17/2009 11:47 AM  
Blogger Huevos McGringo said...

well stated, KB.

i don't think deangelo is the strongest character on the show. he probably is unrealisticly eloquent and [openly] sensitive for somebody in his situation. but even then, his...unsuitability for "the game" is sort of addressed within the plot; he's not really cut out for it, he's just there because of his uncle/family. on the other hand, he is a smart, sensitive dude who could have been fairly successful in other walks of life.

PC, wasn't it i who first turned you on to RTB? when i first suggested it, you were almost contemptuous based on my pitch as "law & order" from the PD perspective.

while i do enjoy RTB, the problem with comparing the two shows is that the preceding analogy holds. RTB just like law & order, each episode has it's own contained story line. so there isn't any depth to the defendants they're representing. the other flaw within the show (which PC and i have discussed) is that everybody they represent is either totally innocent or wholly sympathetic (somebody who has really cleaned up their life but had one isolated slip-up, and now faces a stiff sentence because of priors...). i know PC would be the first to admit this is not a "realistic" view of PD clients. the analogous criticism could not be made of the wire. while drug dealers are portrayed sympatheticly at times, they are also unapologetic murderers.

what is good about RTB, though, is actually having that perspective presented on television. the CSIs, law & orders, and criminal minds of the world paint the picture that most criminals are psychopaths or unrepentent sexual deviants. even if RTB takes it too far, it's nice to see a tv show that has some sympathy for defendants.

also i agree that "the creative source for rtb is every bit as deep and real." a wire type show tapping into that source matter could be absolutely brilliant.

10/19/2009 11:03 AM  
Blogger kenniebloggins said...

ooh, it's=its and to the=to...sorry for the typos, dudes.

10/28/2009 12:37 AM  

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