Tuesday, March 25, 2008

THE WIRE Finale, 2

Two great articles appeared during the week after THE WIRE finale. One was in American Spectator, the other in the Wall Street Journal. I've been trying to write this post since then and it just has not gelled for me in any sort of satisfactory fashion until this afternoon. The articles quoted below resonated with me because they highlighted the chameleon-like nature of THE WIRE and its ability to appeal to a broad range of viewers regardless of their ideological positions.

Conor Friedersdorf wrote in "The Wealth of Baltimore" in American Spectator on 12 March:

The Wire is a show that one can throw on after a politically mixed party, confident that Republicans, Democrats, and libertarians nursing nightcaps will all find scenes that seem to them to confirm their worldviews; art that expertly mirrors society reflects its disagreements too.

I argue that this pan-political appeal arises from the fact that the show's creators are old newspapermen from a time when papers -- and the media in general -- despite political allegiances, felt a much stronger obligation to tell the story straight.

Friedersdorf contiuned, that that the liberal press seemed to have misunderstood THE WIRE:
What's bizarre, as the show comes to a close, is the preponderance of commentators who agree that The Wire is a searing attack on capitalism, for that analysis -- echoed in Slate, the New Yorker and the Atlantic, among many other places -- is plainly wrong. The Wire is brutal in its critiques, as any viewer knows. Its most thorough dissections, however, concern the least capitalistic institutions in Baltimore.

Julia Vitullo-Martin wrote in "Urban Decay" in the 14 March WSJ that:
. . . conservatives may see in it a lesson that liberal viewers are unlikely to take to heart. Set, written and produced in Baltimore, "The Wire" aired 60 episodes, with each of its five seasons focused on a different subject -- drug trafficking, the port, local politics, public schools and the city's newspaper. From the series' opening sequences filmed in "The Towers" -- huge public housing projects whose courtyards serve as drug bazaars -- through its depiction of the continuing devastation of neighborhoods by violent crime and unemployment, the Baltimore of "The Wire" becomes the poster child for six decades of failed urban policy.

She quoted disheartening statistics about Baltimore and crime:
. . . Surpassed only by Detroit in CNN/Morgan Quinto's 2006 ranking of the country's most dangerous large cities . . . With 282 homicides last year and a population of about 641,000 . . . a homicide rate six times that of New York and three times that of Los Angeles . . . highest per-capita heroin consumption in the country . . . . public schools deteriorated, graduating less than half their students.

THE WIRE was a work a rare work of art that drew you in, regardless of your viewpoint or politics, compelled you to both watch something that was not pretty and to think about it. What you took away was directly connected to your personal politics/world view, but it started a dialogue amongst its aficionados about causes of the problems that afflict urban America and possible solutions.
It strikes me that season 5 seemed to be screaming the question: What if the modern press just told the story? Erstwhile City Editor, Gus Haynes wanted his writers at the fictionalized Sun to write their stories well, beautifully, tightly, interestingly, and, finally, truthfully. While I and others may not agree with the liberal take-away of the show, and the liberals with mine, at least we're talking about it because we were informed by beautiful, tight, truthful storytelling.


Matt said...

I have written several comments on this entry, but each time I cancel out at the last second. I don't know why.

This show hit me to my core and I don't want the burden of summing it up in nice neat package. The Wire can't possibly fit into a neat little box because it permeates just about every aspect of our society, be it: police work, journalism, education, unions, drug cartels, poverty, the oblivious middle class, social programs, budget cuts, hope and realism.

I just want you to know that I read your blog and I am simply not ready, or more likely, capable of explaining how this show affected me.

I'm just glad I was a part of it, and I am utterly despondent that it is over—although deep down inside I know it is best the show ended when it did. Like you, I thought the last season came dangerously close to jumping the shark, but I am glad it didn't.

Pookie becoming the next Bubbles really hit me. It's a cyclical epidemic and we haven't figured out what it takes to break it. I think the one takeaway from the show is just that—we haven't figured it out yet. The system is broken. It is broken into a million complicated pieces.

It wasn't easy watching this series because it wasn't glorified like so many other cop or gang shows. This series didn't have a happy ending, and I am glad it didn't The problems plaguing Baltimore, and every other urban community in our country, still exist.

I think the audience is much wiser, and hopefully David Simon's intention of beginning an honest discussion actually materializes. I would hate for the viewers to leave this series behind like we did with The Sopranos. It's too important.

Agricola said...

Thanks for this comment. Starting from the back and working up . . .

We did forget the Sopranos quickly, didn't we? I think that's because in the end, as I've written on this blog, Tony is us and we are him (or should I write that in the past, is he dead or alive?). Never the less, watching the Sopranos was a little like looking at our distorted forms in a fun-house mirror, and besides the American suburban experience has been covered ad nauseam (who would do anything else about the 'burbs, really?).

The wire though really did go deep on some of the toughest issues facing the country, and as much as I wish there were simple answers there are not -- though from my conservative POV more government will do nothing for cities like Baltimore. Eventually, the folks who live on the streets afflicted by crime need to stand up and demand that nothing get done in the city until the city cleans up the drugs and the guns and squalor.