Classes, taxes & The Wire
I’ve been swamped lately planning for Spring classes – because of Middlebury’s Winter Term, our classes start late, so tomorrow’s my first day of the Spring, despite the 0 degree temperatures. My two courses are Theories of Popular Culture and Media Technology & Cultural Change – feel free to play along at home with the online versions.
[edited out rant about taxes, removed by editorial hindsight]OK – spleen is empty and the important stuff about The Wire is below the fold.
My taxation lamentations do relate to The Wire, of course – the whole rationale for this season is that watchdog institutions like the police and the media are forced to do more with less, partly to avoid raising taxes on upper-middle-class and above citizens. Of course, the institutions are also corrupt, bled dry by people like Clay Davis skimming off the top, by Mayor Carcetti making policy decisions to serve higher political ambitions, by editor Whiting striving for Dickensian storytelling regardless of truthfulness, and even by Marlo inflating drug prices simply to assert power.
The last couple of episodes have ratcheted up the black comedic satire to levels approaching Dr. Strangelove and Catch-22. The moment in ep. 5 when McNulty looks at Templeton in recognition of a fellow bullshit artist made me laugh more than anything since Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, as the sheer ridiculousness of the story escalates beyond all rationales. But that’s the point – the only way to get anyone to notice a crime story is to make it stretch beyond credulity, a critique that’s aimed both at newspapers and television fiction. I feel like McNulty’s crazy scheme is partly David Simon’s way of saying “you Emmy voters & Sopranos fans won’t buy into our gritty realism, so how about this crap?”
Fans are split on this season, with many claiming shark-jumping in the wake of Simon’s journalistic vendettas (and the accurate critique that the newsroom scenes seem too dated as pre-internet relics) and the farce of the serial-killer storyline. But I see it as part of the show’s long history of exaggerations and extremes for dramatic & comedic effects – you think drug dealers really use Robert’s Rules of Order? Would a cop really try to create Hamsterdam? Would Baltimore really elect a white mayor? The show embraces hyperbole for grand statements, but always ties them to the human costs – the drawn-out sequence of McNulty kidnapping & relocating a disabled homeless man was shocking in its extremities, but ultimately showed how much Jimmy and Lester have fallen, dehumanized by their attempts to fight the good fight.
But the most gut-wrenching moment in episode 6 was the short scene with Bunk and Randy in the group home. Randy was my favorite of season 4’s kids, seemingly the most likely to pull himself out of the ghetto by his bootstraps. But in less than a minute of screen time, we can see he’s been destroyed, lost all will to do anything but survive. Pushing the kid on the stairs to show his toughness might be as heartbreaking of a moment as the deaths of Wallace, Frank, and Stringer – Randy’s soul is dead, but he still survives as a walking reminder of what could have been.
OK – more soon about the post-writers strike world of TV (hopefully)…
Filed under: Academia, Meta-blogging, Middlebury, Not Quite TV, Teaching, Television, TV Shows | 2 Comments
Tags: taxes, The Wire
random thoughts from media scholar Jason Mittell
Check out my books:Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling How To Watch Television Television & American Culture
Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture
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