Friday, June 12, 2009

The Scholarly Wire Realized

Dark Matter 101, an online journal of cultural criticism based in Britain, has released a special Issue about The Wire.

Here is a taste from Ash Sharma's introductory article:

Although racism is endemic to neoliberal governmentality, The Wire recognises that anti-racism is hegemonic now. This is no mere superstructural or ideological rhetoric, but present, if unevenly, in the discourses and practices of institutions and society more generally. If in the analysis of race we examine the representations of the black characters in the series we get very quickly get caught in an undecidable bind: arguably the series shows a diverse and complex range of African-American characters, yet the depictions are reducible racial stereotypes (positive or negative). The limitations with an analysis of the politics of representation is that it remains confined to a struggle over media representation. In this approach, television series are analysed as texts that are politically interpreted in isolation of the matrix of social affect, information and desire. ‘Realism’ and ‘authenticity’ become the only sites for debates over racial meaning and power. The affective dimension of race in the circuits of knowledge and information across the series and audiences; for instance, in the grain of the voices of the Baltimore accents or in the coded communication of the street corners, need analysis.
Ash's work is some pretty heavy lifting for those not versed in cultural studies and the jargon of that tribe, but it's well worth the effort. I appreciated his attempts to move beyond a duality where The Wire is either a racist appropriation of urban black life featuring modern minstrelsy or it's an authentic view of West Baltimore life, told to a part of America that never sets foot there. Instead, as Ash argues, race is located "within the structures of the series" to "understand the racial logics of neoliberalism and contemporary institutions of power and control." His essay and others in the journal constantly ask (after Sudhir Venkatesh's Freakonomics interviews with 'Real Thugs'): "If the gangs were white, what would be different about the show?"

I definitely invite you to check the other articles (one on Bubbbles and intertextual space), post some comments here and there, and keep the conversation going.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who's Not a Fan?

From President Barack Obama to Eminem (H/T)and Filmakers/political pundits/white people?, everybody loves The Wire. Eminem even includes Dominic West (McNulty) on his newest album which was somehow recorded in between watching the entire series' run FOUR times.

Eminem on Railroad tracks.... coincidence? I think not.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Life Imitiating Art File: No Witnesses, No Case Edition

The NYTimes describes a real life defense attorney for the bad guys who gets pinned for murda one. Like Maurice Levy, played by Michael Kostroff, Paul Bergrin was a successful attorney, "hobnobbing with celebrities." The nut grafe:

According to court records, the conversation captured him telling his client’s cousin, one of Newark’s most powerful drug lords, the identity of a confidential witness: Deshawn McCray, known as Kemo. A few days later, the authorities say, Mr. Bergrin met with his client’s cousin again and told him “No Kemo, no case.”
Mr. McCray was shot to death three months later in a brutal ambush, forcing prosecutors to drop the charges against Mr. Bergrin’s client, William Baskerville.

File that story under life imitating art.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Simon Mulls CIA Series

According to Broadcastnow (H/T Play or Get Played), David Simon is thinking about the CIA as his next muse. I do think this would be very interesting development and a cool idea to do a TV show about if done well. It's also more fodder for Simon's ability to twist genre conventions with what happens in reality. What's more classic than the Bond spy thriller, yet further from the lived reality of CIA agents?

As Treme wraps up its filming and goes down the paths where Simon has less control (namely, to the HBO programming execs), he starts to think of his next project. I wonder how he made the various decisions to choose his new work. GK was inspired by a book of the same name. We could see Simon's fascination with US foreign policy even as The Wire was in full production ("Got them WMDs! Shit's gonna blow you up!" "New Package! Bombs over Baghdad!"). The injustice done to New Orleans in Katrina's aftermath seemed to inspire Treme, or at least Simon's attraction to the city. Obama's recent release of OLC torture memos and public scrutiny over the CIA's role is an obvious suspect for a CIA series. Yet Simon's explicit interest in the CIA's "history" leads me to think he's read a few highly regarded works on the CIA published recently.

Buried in the article are a few other project possibilities. A show on the battle to desegregate public housing would be extremely interesting (to me) (Confidential to DS: I would be a great choice for background material researcher!). Likewise, dramatic rendering of the assassination of Lincoln is always great fodder for a miniseries, but I fear it's been done too many times to have much new ground to cover.

In any event, history plays a major role in all three show concepts. I eagerly await the next episode.

Monday, April 20, 2009

New York Times Wire

Via Unfogged, NYTimes Modern Love does The Wire. I guess it's a pretty good show on which to meditate about Life and Death; Love and War... I can also conclude that there are some bigger fans of the show than I am as I probably wouldn't choose to watch episodes of The Wire on my deathbed.

The NYTimes also published a brief story on moving the NYC cop beat reporter's office from Police Headquarters to an offsite location. While this doesn't theoretically damage the quality of reporting, it's just more evidence of the diminishing position of the media in places were it's needed most, local government. David Simon agrees. Besides the potentially diminished oversight capability (clearly reporters cover institutions better in closer proximity or they wouldn't always desire such conditions), closing the "The Shack" will destroy a lot of history for an ambiguous "command center."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Treme Is Coming

David Simon's new miniseries, Treme, has just finished shooting in New Orleans. I can't tell you how excited I am for this show. What could be better than a David Simon produced drama about jazz musicians set in New Orleans? The fact that Wendell "Bunk" Pierce and Clark "Cool Lester Smooth" Peters play leading roles. I'm not sure when it's set to show, but there will definitely be a viewing party at my house and you're invited.

Update: 4/20/09: The Thugz might be watching too.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It wasn't that good back then

One issue I've had with The Wire (and The Corner) is the sense of nostalgia about a past urban golden age in which jobs were plentiful, drugs were just business, people settled fights without murder, and neighborhoods supported each other.

Various historical texts have supported my thoughts. In the defacto and dejure segregated ghettos, life was different from today's urban environment, but life was plenty hard. The Times has an interesting article about a man shot in fifties who recently died. He became the oldest reclassified murder in NYC history. Just something I like to point out when various characters try to describe a brighter, shinier past.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What's in a Name?

One of those ****Spoiler alert**** entries.

I'm currently reading Barack Obama's first book, Dreams From My Father (I must say, it's way, way better than The Audacity of Hope which was halfway decent) and a passage struck me.

Much of the book is about Obama's struggles at defining himself, and indeed African American males defining themselves against the duality of being Black in America. Of course Obama had a slightly different experience considering his literally Black African-White American heritage. This particular section comes during his first visit to Kenya, while waiting in the airport to see his family after his father has passed away. Permit me to reproduce the passage in its entirety:

I Completed the form and Miss Omoro gave it the once-over before looking back at me. "You wouldn't be related to Dr. Obama by any chance?" she asked. "Well, yes- he was my father." Miss Omoro smiled sympathetically. "I'm very sorry about his passing. Your father was a close friend of my family's. He would often come to our house when I was a child." We began to talk about my visit... I found myself trying to prolong the conversation, encouraged less by Miss Omoro's beauty- she had mentioned a fiance- than by the fact that she'd recognized my name. That had never happened before, I realized; not in Hawaii, not in Indonesia, not in L.A. or New York or Chicago. For the first time in my life, I felt the comfort, the firmness of identity that a name might provide, how it could carry an entire history in other people's memories, so that they might nod and say knowingly, "Oh, you are so and so's son." No one in Kenya would ask how to spell my name, or mangle it with an unfamiliar tongue. My name belonged and so I belonged, drawn into a web of relationships, alliances, and grudges that I did not yet understand.
While this passage concerns The Wire very little, it made me think about the struggles of each character, defining themselves against their names and legacies. Let's look at a few of the characters/families as examples.

Of course there is Avon Barksdale. The Barksdale name signified power and prestige that came with the family's business. What else could Avon do but run one of Baltimore's largest drug organizations. Avon defined himself by carrying on what his name signified for his community.

Then there is Namond Brice, the son of Wee-Bey Brice, a Barksdale hit man. Namond tried to define himself with the name Wee-Bey had created on the streets. He worked for Barksdale's organization, then tried to run his own crew, but his heart was never with the corner. No matter how much he tried, and how much his mother yelled at him, Namond was not one a corner boys. He had to define himself despite his father's name in order to achieve success after being adopted by a former police commander.

Then there is the man without a name, Marlo Stanfield. Marlo runs a drug organization that rises meteorically due to its cold calculating approach.  Marlo even eclipses Barksdale by the end of season 3. Where Avon is interested in continuing the family business and Stringer is interested in profit and business, Marlo wants power and reputation. By gaining these, he will make his name in the community.

Nothing makes this priority more clear than when Omar attack's Stanfield's reputation on the street.  When word of this gets back to Marlo, we see his most passionate outburst of anger in the show.


At the end of season five, the police have enough evidence to convict his organization but some of it is illegally collected. As a result, Stanfield walks free and gets introduced to the very businessmen that Stringer wanted so much to be himself. Yet, this sort of reputation is not what drives Marlo who slips away from a cocktail party to attack two men on a corner. Though his adversaries are armed with a gun and a knife, Stanfield takes the corner. Stanfield is cut severely but he's happy that "his name" and reputation have lived on to echo in the streets.

Other characters and situations reflect this name/legacy/identity theme. "Cheese" Wagstaff (played by Method Man), Prop Joe's right hand man, is the absent father of Randy Wagstaff from Season Four. Both are very interested in business, but the family connection is mostly missing. Name and family dominates season two as well. Ziggy Sebotka never fills the role his father Frank wanted for him as head of the stevedores union. The Greek's are most concerned with keeping their name quiet.

Many of these situations demonstrate the human dilemma inherent in finding identity that go beyond Barack Obama's specific difficulty with race and culture. Marlo's singular drive to make a reputation based on power is not confined to west Baltimore. Avon's attempt to perpetuate the family business mirror Frank Sebotka's. Yet Obama points out the particular difficulty of finding identity for young African American males. A teacher he meets in Chicago says:
At least the girls have older women to talk to, the example of motherhood. But the boys have nothing. Half of them don't even know their fathers. There's nobody to guide them through the process of becoming a man... to explain to them the meaning of manhood. And that's a recipe for disaster.
Though Barack's actual difficulties didn't provide inspiration to Simon, these issues live in places that many of HBO's viewers don't. Simon shows how he has a finger on the pulse of American urban life by bringing this theme to the fore.

At the very least, this could be one more reason why Barack Obama's favorite TV show is The Wire.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gay Stick Up Artist Invades Britain

Courtesy of H-Bomb on Flickr
Hopefully this makes up for that time you sent us The Beatles and we sent you Elvis.

First off, a big welcome to those viewers from across the pond! On Monday, the BBC-2 will begin playing all five seasons of The Wire at "a late time slot." In light of this development, the British media has done some sporadic features with David Simon, Ed Burns, and other Wire related personalities.

The Guardian has a very nice interview with Simon this week (H/T: Baltimore Crime comments section). The interview primary focuses on Simon's (well known) distaste for the current media environment and laments that bloggers won't fill the hole left by collapsing corporate media empires. While Simon's thoughts, nor the article's retread of various media arguments and ideas about micropayments are particularly new, it's quite readable. So I'll give The Guardian some daps for this, and some daps for a series they did on Roanoke, Virginia back during the 2008 Presidential Election (Roanoke is my other obsession).

Also noted briefly this week, The Wire's music producer resurfaces at his excellent blog, Ten Thousand Things. Blake Leyh hits us with a preview of what "Treme" might sound like by covering one of the all time greatest Nawlins tunes, St. James Infirmary. Treme is Simon's next project based on post-Katrina musicians in New Orleans. New British fans of The Wire will come to love Leyh's choice of diegetic music (all music in The Wire comes from sources located in the scene, except for the season ending montages). As a composer, Leyh succeeds wildly with the closing credits music which still echoes in my head. The posted version of St. James Infirmary is equally baaad. A tune that's so slow, yet burns so hot.

Photo courtesy of H-Bomb on Flickr (CC)

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Real Thugz" Make a Return!

The Wire is long over, but Sudhir Venkatesh has brought back his sounding board from the streets (as opposed to The Street) to take on the current economic crisis via open letters to Treasury Secretary Geithner. For those that missed it, Venkatesh wrote several great books on his experiences shadowing a drug dealer and gang leader in Chicago's public housing projects. Venkatesh now resides in NYC and has come to know several former members of that city's august underground. He watched the fifth season of The Wire with "The Thugz" as they liked to go by, and reported their reactions in the freakonomics blog. I would often bounce some reactions to these blog posts on my blog.

The first open letter suggests that the problem of the Treasury was not letting the losers lose. Apparently, capitalism is fun because we get to watch economic losers crash and burn in a public forum. By making every bank, good and bad, take TARP money, the treasury broke the first rule of the streets, "losers must die in full view." Maybe a little harsh, but then, so is the streets.

The second open letter is much more interesting. In this letter, the thugz argue that the folks still around now are "the killers" and they are worth keeping around for when the times get good again. Those that are a dime a dozen, have already jumped ship so the bonuses are only going to the most important people to keeping the business afloat.

So this is the Hip Hop Party that Michael Steele keeps trying to reach out to... It's going to be off the hook.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Ed Burns Interview

There's a fantastic and lengthy Ed Burns interview up at the British-based Incidentally, The Wire is now on the BBC. Burns discusses Generation Kill, The Wire, and even divulges that he's submitted a movie proposal to HBO called "Jakarta." His pitch: "The Wire is today, Jakarta is tomorrow." Go on...

The more reticent of the Burns-Simon creative team, Burns has done fewer interviews than David Simon, but has a lot of great information on the philosophy and work behind the shows. Ed Burns essentially "lived" The Wire's Cops-Drug World, Baltimore Schools, and Generation Kill's soldiering while Simon was the more creative voice. Definitely a great team. Burns even discusses my favorite Wire theme- The Wire as urban anti-western. Burns' take on GK is equally enlightening. I really need to read Evan Wright's book.

My favorite one-liner take on President Obama's love for Omar:

LF: Going back to Obama, he said that Omar was his favourite TV character…

EB: Well, I think he said it and then, realising what he said, he backed away from that. As If they thought he were a homosexual black stick-up guy. [Laughs]

[Note the sweet British-ized British-ised spelling]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Birthday Post

This blog has officially been around for over a year (Happy February 7th). It garnered nearly a thousand visitors and about 1300 page views according to Google Analytics (it was probably a few more than that, but I didn't start tracking visitors until 2 weeks after I started posting).

All in all, I'm pleased with the traffic I received and the level of my posts. I still maintain that I'll finish reviewing all the episodes, but it won't be today. I keep running into people in the real world who are just getting into the show via DVD (which is the superior way to watch the show), so that proves people are still interested in Wire related content. Other countries are just getting The Wire on TV including most recently the UK, France, and Canada. Actors from the Wire are all over television and movies, and with David Simon's Treme finishing up, there's plenty of fodder for Bubbles Depo to mill. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Nickname?

Haven't posted a whole lot in awhile, but I'm convinced that my move to DC will increase the posting rate here.

Evidence no. 1: I "joined" a ultimate frisbee team here and like many flatball teams, they like giving nicknames to their players. They had been trying to nickname someone Bubbles for awhile, and when they found out that I had a blog of this name- it was set.

Evidence no. 2: My new roomates both want to get into the show which definitely means I'll be watching more. Hopefully this will also mean my episode reviewing project will also get back on the proverbial railroad tracks (to use a Wire symbol).

With the show gaining exposure in the UK and Europe generally, hopefully a new audience might find this site useful. Also- what ever happened to Treme? Stay tuned.