Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Religion is a theme I hope to address somewhat over the next sixty days (starting June 1). I don't really know what I'll come up with, but I think Simon uses religion in an interesting fashion.

Traditionally, the African American church has always held an important place in uplifting the poor of black society (this is not race specific, of course). Between Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Malcolm X, and Black Liberation Theology of the twentieth century; even further back to Nat Turner (used syncretic African religion to help start a slave uprising) and using religious imagery to resist slavery (the story of Moses leading people to the promise land became code for escape to the North, along with many other examples), the Black church has been an agent of radical change at times (and a bastion of conservatism at other times). The church is also an institution whereby a general good is done for the community, rather than the evil of other institutions (police, drugs, politics).

This does not fit into the story Simon wants to tell- of post-industrial institutions laying waste to Urban America and its underclass. Or "how we live together in cities." But instead of neglecting the church completely, Simon writes it in, but mostly as a secularized institution. The church is where NA meetings occur, it tries to give Cutty a job, candidates attend it for political reasons, but it almost never shows up as a religious institution- barring a few lines from the deacon to Cutty.

I think this is quite different, and so as we go through the sixty episodes, I'll try to flesh out the role of the church in Baltimore. I don't know if ultimately I'm being critical of Simon's portrayal, but I do think its one of the areas he takes more liberty as a "journalist" telling a story about the inner city.


virgotex said...

Religion definitely played a role in Homicide, primarily via Pembleton, but not solely.

I would agree that The Wire's take on it is much more irony-tinged.

Look forward to seeing where you go with this.

Pete Jones said...

Having never really followed Homocide, I do feel like I missed out on a significant body of Wire references (ex. Richard Belzer's appearence). After reading Simon's introduction to Alvarez's _The Wire: Truth Be Told_, you get a sense of how important both his time at Homocide and relationship with Bob Colesberry were to The Wire's final output.

virgotex said...

I'm rewatching a lot HLOTS now because it's syndicated on the Sleuth channel, so it's fresher in my mind. Very interesting to revisit after the curtain has fallen on The Wire.

On one hand it was a network show that stuck to the "procedural" formula and at times it suffered from that because it isn't as gritty and authentic as The Wire. On the other hand, it had an intelligence and style and rhythm that put it in a class by itself.