Monday, March 10, 2008

Realism vs. High Greek Tragedy

Ok, I was going to just respond to Adam's comment in the comments section of the last post, but my comment was about Post-Length, so I figured I would throw it up here.

Adam's Question: The Wire is lauded for its attention to detail and how close to real life it gets (see the "Real Thugs" posts on the freakonomics blog). However, David Simon is always talking about its grounding in Greek Tragedy. Which one do I see Simon using most?

I think Simon does both and succeeds. He uses the idea of the Greek tragedy not so much for The Wire's style (which is obviously gritty, realistic, West Baltimore), but for logic and the force which drives the storyline.

In Greek tragedies (brief crappy primer on Greek drama follows), a very specific moral sensibility played out in which a character's fate is often determined by the cruel and capricious Greek God's (in The Wire, the God's are the post-industrial city's institutions, like the copshop, Sun, schools, drug industry, etc.). It was often a character's hubris and one fateful act (which they usually didn't recognize at the time) which sent them down a path to destruction.
For example, Frank Sebotka puts the window up in the Polish church which eventually causes him to lose his union, his family, and even be killed (see season 2 storyline).
Another quick reference which shows my point- O-MAR and MAR-lo are both fairly common names in West Baltimore and "realistic", but they are also referencing the Roman God of War (Mars). Pretty appropriate considering that their characters survive on their reputation for war/battle. Another little tidbit involving Omar in Season 2, while waiting to testify against Bird (one of my favorite scenes of the show), Omar has this response with a security guard doing a crossword puzzle:

Guard: Mars is the god of war, right?
Omar: Planet too.
Guard: I know it's a planet, but the clue is "Greek God of War"
Omar: Aries. Greeks called him Aries. Same dude, different name is all.
Guard: Aries fits. Thanks.
Omar: It's all good. See, back in middle school I used to love them myths. Stuff was deep. Truly.

Ok, maybe that's not the most realistic conversation ever. But great nonetheless. For that bit and the rest of the courtroom scene via youtube:

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