Monday, April 7, 2008

Wire News: RIP Ashley, Savino Stabbed, the Academic Wire

Some may wonder why I continue writing about The Wire even though it ended weeks ago. Well, stuff keeps happening, and I'm pretty sure TVonDVD will extend the show's life by about a decade. Also, I have more to say. So that's that.

In the stuff keeps happening category: My deepest condolences to the family of Ashley Morris. Ashley was one of the fine writers at Got That New Package, he also started, which may have even helped convince HBO to re-up for a fourth and fifth season. His death was all too sudden and surprising, he will certainly be missed. Even David Simon surfaced to give his respects. The man left a wife, three kids, and a New Orleans community which will surely feel his absence. If you feel it's appropriate, I encourage you to donate here.

In other news, Christopher Clanton, aka "Savino", was stabbed at a Baltimore party. While he thankfully seems to be recovering, the problems of Baltimore continue. I do think that introducing so many great Baltimore actors to mainstream film is one of The Wire's more important legacies, but for every Idris Elba or Robert Chew, there is a Christopher Clanton (who did really great work). I think this aspect of the show is best illustrated in a DVD commentary by the "four kids" from Season Four. Instead of commenting on the show, they spend more time discussing "the craft" and lamenting a lack of work for black actors. It's pretty 'meta' and I encourage watching/listening to it.

Finally, Harvard is hosting a symposium on The Wire (hat tip: A Thousand Corners). I think this is just great. I kid that I will eventually write my dissertation on The Wire, but in all seriousness, I think it can support such academic rigor. Certainly in the world of Pop Culture Studies, it's high art compared to Pro Wrestling (no offense to you Hulk-a-Maniacs out there). Though Simon often joked he would end up teaching screen writing at a community college, I think it's interesting that he has ended up at Hahvaad.

Clark Johnson, director of the Wire's bookends (pilot and final episode) and the actor playing Baltimore Sun editor "Gus" has also gotten into the academic game when he appeared at the recent Organization of American Historians conference. He participated in a session entitled "Film, History, and the African American Experience." In the American History world, the OAH is a pretty big deal with thousands visiting. That a history conference featured a show that got off the air a few weeks ago is fairly unprecedented. I'm sure Johnson talked about his work outside of the Wire as well, but nonetheless, very cool.

The Wire has been fairly critical of the academic world. For example, the Season Four portrayal-
"Sociologist: Even though the program didn't make it into all of the schools, this is going to provide a really great study.
Colvin: So a bunch of other people are going to sit around and study your study? ::shakes head::
It's ironic that even the very top of America's educational food chain can't fix and doesn't even understand the bottom. Following Colvin's hamsterdam experiment in season 3, Johns Hopkins denies him a job because he is "too controversial." Simon demonstrates in season four/five that he is one of the show's greatest "teachers" (his education of Carcetti, the sociologist, the corner kids, Carver, and eventually Namond are Colvin's true legacy). Despite his skill, he can't get a job in Baltimore's most famous/best school.

Despite this (pretty well aimed) criticism of the ivory tower, many professors, grad students, and other academics (me, asywak, Ashley Morris, to name a few) have been crazy about the wire. I can think of many history professors, in particular, that really love the show (Steve Reich, Scott Nelson, Eric Rauchway). Sudhir Venkatesh is another academic whose work intersects very closely with the show. For me, this blog is an attempt to promote an academically rigorous view of the show (which, in the tradition of most academic work, reaches almost no one). In 10 years will there be a class on The Wire? I'd say, hell yes! Call it- The Wire as Literary Text. Or maybe, Baltimore's Underclass: A Subaltern Study. If you have any suggestions as to what you'd call an academic class on The Wire, comment away.

No comments: