Web Site Design Review Videos

October 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Movie World News

Best-selling author Scott Fox reviews websites! Personalized usability, Seo, product strategy, and design advice that can help redesign your website to make more sales! Includes Top Design Tips video instantly. Juicy $99 sales with 30% commission!
Web Site Design Review Videos

Sundance Review | Vulgar Brendan Gleeson Sustains Uneven Gun Play in “The Guard”

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Movie World News

Sundance Review | Vulgar Brendan Gleeson Sustains Uneven Gun Play in “The Guard”
Brendan Gleeson soars in “The Guard,” playing a foul-mouthed Irish cop destined to offend everyone in his path, but the depth of the character overwhelms the quality of the movie about him. As the rambunctious Sergeant Gerry Boyle, Gleeson moves through each scene with a stunning duality, making his onscreen persona simultaneously charismatic and disreputable as he delivers an endless stream of …

Read more on indieWIRE

Review: ‘Somewhere,’ a roadtrip through the soul

January 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Movie World News

Review: ‘Somewhere,’ a roadtrip through the soul
Sofia Coppola’s new ‘Somewhere’ is slight but seductive.

Read more on San Jose Mercury News

Biutiful Review: Biutiful Takes View of Larger World

December 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Movie World News

Biutiful Review: Biutiful Takes View of Larger World
Biutiful, a foreign film from Mexico, concerns itself with reaching across borders, the one between this world and the next. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful brings together the living and the dead. In the movie, downward-spiraling Javier Bardem is able to pick up on impressions from the recently deceased. The film suggests this is because, if his

Read more on ThirdAge

Movie Review: Burlesque Showgirls

December 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Movie World News

Movie Review: Burlesque Showgirls
Review in a Hurry: The singing and dancing come easy to Christina Aguilera. But being a passable actress? Not so much. Cher makes for a good mentor in this by-the-book tale of makin’ it in the…

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Movie Review: Little Fockers

December 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Movie World News

Movie Review: Little Fockers
Fock the focking Fockers!

Read more on Blogcritics.org

Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Pretty Visuals and Floppy-haired Heroes

December 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Movie World News

Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Pretty Visuals and Floppy-haired Heroes
It’s pretty and it’s grand, but they could have spent a few bucks on the script too…

Read more on Blogcritics.org

“Born into this”: a review of three seasons of HBO’s “The Wire”

December 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Movie World USA

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Home Page > Arts & Entertainment > Television > “Born into this”: a review of three seasons of HBO’s “The Wire”

“Born into this”: a review of three seasons of HBO’s “The Wire”

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Posted: Jun 22, 2010 |Comments: 0



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“Born into this”: a review of three seasons of HBO’s “The Wire”

By: Maladjusted

About the Author

Maladjusted is a philosophy PhD student from Melbourne Australia whose interest include Plato, Alain Badiou, psychoanalysis, the history of political philosophy and contemporary Christian theology.  His second blog ‘pretty cool (for an iconodule)” is dedicated to  cultural criticism, satire and shameless auto-hagioraphy.




(ArticlesBase SC #2699914)

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/“Born into this”: a review of three seasons of HBO’s “The Wire”

Okay, let’s grant this at the outset: no one needs me to tell them about the – let’s face it – unparalleled excellence of HBO’s The Wire, given that we’re dealing, after all, with a truth acknowledged by everyone who’s ever sat in front of a cathode ray tube in the hope of filling up the silence of the infinite spaces that surround them…

So, if any of you heart-wrenchingly attractive people still need my testimony to be convinced of the greatness of this show, then you are not only a friendless (if lovably eccentric) technophobic anchorite who’s spent far too much time with no-one to talk to but the tins of “Chunky Irish stew” that line your fallout shelter, but you’re also someone who needs to hear the following harsh truth the way you need a tin-opener and maybe some kind of gaming console:


Yes, the Illuminati are running this caper, ladies and gentleman, which is why your life is now, and forever shall be, one part The Truman Show, one part Emir Kusturica’s Underground.  (Not a bad film concept, incidentally, as long as all the hierarchies of angels can somehow conspire to make the likes of James Cameron stay away from the thing….)

But, anyway.

The Wire is one of those shows, that despite being (at least now in its resurrected ‘DVD boxed set’ days) so popular that, if you’re a 20 to 50-ish vaguely middle-class person of the kind who’s seen at least one HBO drama, than you can safely bet your last marketable organ that at least two-thirds of your friends are, on any given night, sedulously watching the latest episode instead of attending your birthday party/wedding/stupefying Houellebecqian orgy as they mumblingly promised they would while drunk and/or attempting to seduce you with their endearing sensitivity.  Believe me, then, when I say that even as you read this, people you know are already thinking of how they can bestpretend to be deadin order not only to escape your Friday night drinks, but to indulge in the kind of Wire marathons that would make the Bayreuth festival look like the punch-line to a pun.

And don’t misunderstand me: I’m not just saying that your shy, housebound, irredeemably uncool friends are abandoning you in favour of watching the show, I’m saying that this is true even of the resolutely sociable and earnestly self-improving ones – the ones who purposely don’t own televisions.    Trust me when I say that – all hyperbole aside –these people, are, even as we speak, finding the flimsiest of pretexts to drop in on your mutual friends (“Hi Hailey, Hi Amanda…just thought we’d stop by and see the new baby…ooh..how excit-ing…” in the hope of getting  even a whiff of Omar Little and his merry band of social-realist-story-telling uplifted and transformed-by-a-panoramic-perspective, acute insights into systematic injustice and -larger-than-life character archetypes who, as in Dickens, play the role of putting flesh on structures that do, at least in a certain sense, and contra a famous May ’68 slogan: walk the streets.  (Anyone who doubts me on that last point should read Joan Copjec’s book Read my Desire >until they…y’know…submit).

The Wire, at its heart is so vast, so baroque, so generally magnificent and has also had so many gazillions of words put forward attesting to its vastness and baroqueness, that it’s hard to know where to start.  In deference to this, I’ve decided to try introducing my own commentary by means of one gratuitously over-extended  knock-knock joke.

(As I believe Lao Tzu said: have blog, need gimmick: otherwise how else will I ever get to do that hipster froideur thing via which the more important doyens-of-the-blogosphere manage to patronise all the non-entities in their comment boxes?  So, here we go:

Knock, knock.   

“Who’s there…?”  

“That was…”  

“‘That was’ who…?”

“That was the American Dream abandoning this city like it was post-Katrina New Orleans on the day that it was announced that the city was being turned into a nuclear test-site which was to be entirely populated by the post-Apocalyptic  (i.e. zombie) progeny of Glenn Beck and the Beckhams.   As it drove off into the sunset (listen to those tyres screech, people) the Dream, of course, took with it the standard obscene CEO payout, a couple of the more attractive secretaries – that was the horn of the getaway car proposing to raise the dead of another city less lost than this one — and all the amusing stickers from the receptionist’s desk.  Oh, and the ‘knocking’, sound? That was the Dream announcing that it had left a calling card on your doorstep whose glossy promise of secular transcendence will undoubtedly haunt (and in a strange way even edify) your short and brutish (if not always nasty) life, like the vengeful ghost of every promise of liberty, equality and fraternity once made by the founders of the Republic that now lies ostentatiously bleeding to death on an unregarded housing project corner.  But, you know, take heart: the little calling card is still enough to tie some kind of subjectivity together into a mish-mash of affects sutured to actions by fantasies resilient enough to live as if it were not inevitable that the former should be distorted into psychosis and the latter crushed under the heels of the city of Baltimore like another of those ubiquitous discarded drug drug-vials that cake the shoes of anyone who visits the many depressed and posthumous parts of the city  (East or West).   And, I mean sure, you can even feel, on the odd night, your possibility of redemption, that you might be getting closer to the goal, that the cash, the girls, the house, and even the rap star ‘lifestyle’ isn’t far behind you::  you’re part of a good crew now after all, your star’s rising, people treat you with respect/ Bang/Huh? What was that?/Nothing.  Just your pointless death.  You’re a statistic now.  It’s like fame only crunchy.  And don’t worry it’s bad for “5-0” (as in “Hawaii” or what the show’s characters call  ‘po-lice’) as well – they’re ruled by numbers and quotas and corruption so all-pervasive that it’s as if the vestiges of civic virtue and government ‘by the people, for the people’ seem like the irritating parasite on the host organism of the corruption.”

Alternatively, I could have just summarised the above by taking a line from the first season:

Drug dealer (being dragged away in a police van and beaten en route) “You can’t f*!#ing do this, man: this is America!”

Random Police Officer:  [laughing] “This is.West.Baltimore.”

But, as I say, you don’t need me to tell you that The Wire is to television what a cigar-chomping, gun-toting, Hegel-reading reincarnation of H.W. Fowler would be to the obscenely self-regarding Australian Press — no matter how much I just did this.  

Also, given that I do agree with the prevailing excited consensus on the greatness of the show,  I can’t attempt to offer you any shiny faux-contrarianism to take away the bad taste that’s left by so great an oxymoron as a “critical consensus.

So, instead of talking about the sheer ambition and daring of The Wire, its extraordinary writing, its frequently hilarious, frequently poignant vignettes coloured by those almost constant “I can’t believe this is happening” moments that will make you cover your eyes, and groan out loud to the gods even after you’ve watched seasons of the stuff and mistakenly think you’ve become desensitized to the show’s implacable “corruption squashes virtue” logic (a kind of scissors, paper, rock, without the paper and in which one side always uses the rock.)  

And yet, if you’re a natural sceptic, you might still think that all of this nicely-packaged excellence is basically the familiar stock-standard “quality television” that can be found in almost any HBO show and that The Wire might be nothing more than The Sopranos with a little more incomprehensible Baltimore street argot thrown in to fulfill its ‘life on the streets’ authenticity quotient.

But, no.  

Let me explain this by way of a remark that will also allow me to opportunistically explain something that I said in a previous post:

I recently made a video that went by the name, the Australian Middle Class Saves the World”.  After I posted this video on Youtube and elsewhere, I started to squirm guiltily at the number of times the word ‘racism’ came out of the mouth of my idiot-hipster character  ‘Maddie’ (who says this word — as she says everything — as if it meant ‘general badness which I oppose every time I go into a trendy bar as opposed to somewhere less hip.’)

Now, this squirming on my part, was and is, of course, stupid and pathetic, not to mention revelatory of any number of equally pathetic neuroses of the “oh, maybe I’ve said something that will lead to my beautiful soul being tragically misrepresented, thus leading to situation where I won’t get invited to all those parties that… I…er…don’t go to.”  (Hmm.  So, everbody wins after all…)

At any rate, at the time, I was worried that by making Maddie constantly invoke  the term in her stilted, Xtranormal  (and indeed “extranormal”) speech,  some censorious and easily offended mythical reader of mine might somehow break through the  ‘why would she give a shit?’ barrier and publically censure me for implying that racism exists only as a chimera in the mind of self-important morons.   Now, of course: a) I never meant to say anything of the kind and b) no-one’s actually made such an accusation because well, you know, www.whywoudlanyonecare.com.  But, to clarify this anyway, for narcissistic reasons: I wasn’t making light of racism, as much as I was attempting to satirise what I think is the prevalent ideological illusion that good and bad (and even the task of combatting present present social injustices stemming from historical ones) is in the end a matter of making sure the right people have the right attitude, that everything will be all right as long as the privileged groups have the right (“Aw…we like those people…they make nice food…”) aesthetic outlook on the victims of the injustice.

Now, what I’m worried about here is the potential for a kind of ‘consumerist’ distortion of what it means to hold ethical and political positions.   The distortion operates like this: under the perpetual “Web 2.0”,  “find celebrity or die” imperatives of the present, potentially any and all decisions (always conceived as choices from life’s extensive menu) can be perverted such that they are principally a means of ‘expressing ourselves’ through our consumer choices.

In an environment governed by the imperative to ‘make sure you show what kind of person you are at all times because this is somehow terribly important’ the danger is that even our most passionately proclaimed ethical and political can take on the appearance of (even if they don’t actually become this) nothing more than tribal tattoos which we desperately try to make intricate or distinctive enough to not be mistaken for everyone else’s (crappier, duller, less “edgy”) attempts to have their selfhood recognized and thus given substance.

I think you know the kind of thing that I’m talking about: the weird contexts in which even perfectly honourable moral and political positions that are supposed to be about solidarity, equality, justice and which are supposed to give rise to what Badiou calls the ‘tent-words’ under which an elusive ‘we’ might shelter together, and work together for a better world, suddenly becomes instead less about ending oppression or actually achieving certain goals than a convenient way for me to show the (apparently perpetually watching) world my latest kung fu move in the endless game of (to quote Fight Club) “which colour scheme best expresses who I am as a person: the fuchsia, the cobalt or the cafe latte creme caramel?”

Now, I’m not saying that I think that politics needs to be like this or even that it is like this most of the time: but I am saying that there’s at least a marked tendency given the way selfhood in our epoch is thought of (as a function of shopping and other gestures of self-display) that we will turn our political “alignments” as well as our attested to (as opposed to acted upon) moral principles into just another way of selling ourselves.   

As an example, of this, I’d point to the Australian columinist Catherine Deveney, who is familiar to me chiefly for what seems to be her horrifying genius for spouting deceptively progressive sounding rhetoric in a way that must be incredibly comforting for the political right that she thinks of herself as opposing.

This is because, in her amazingly self-regarding discourse, ‘politics’ is persistently portrayed as if its main purpose was to provide an outlet for the smug self-assertion practiced by the inhabitants of the hipper suburbs, a self-assertion that consists in finding any opportunity to imply one’s both moral and aesthetic superiority to all of those  crass, ignorant unenlightened types who don’t share Our Way of Life [sic] and who will thus be deservedly Passed Over when the revolution finally acknowledges that the aforementioned  ‘let’s live in the interesting parts of the city with access to real life types’ are the saviours of muddled humanity….

Now, I won’t surprise anyone when I say that the ideology of “it’s all about your attitudes and choices” is particularly common to  Hollywood and even more so to American television.

To explain: how many films have you seen where a problem of “race”, poverty and Imperialism” is portrayed largely as a consequence of the subjective nastiness or prejudice of individual imperialists/capitalists?

The recent apotheosis (or perhaps Apocolocyntosis) of this sort of thing is  James Cameron’s Avatar, a film which though it does feature an undeniably pretty and pleasingly blue CGI jungle for its puppy-dog eyed, noble savages with sexy feline noses to frolic in, is,  despite this saving grace, unbearably, pompously earnest in its constant, humourless attempts to portray the evils of Imperialist exploitation as ultimately the handiwork of psychopathic crew-cutted military fucknuts doing the bidding of smarmy, slump-shouldered, cynical corporate half-humans, who together constitute an alliance so evil  that it wears a death’s head mask on either nipple  and has a smiling corporate logo that says “we’re the bad guys” and goes on to explain how said alliance is dedicated to stomping on every flower that ever made an innocent child smile, even and especially when those flowers grow in magical, extra-terrestrial forests full of shiny blue indigenous people with carefully constructed super-sensual Angelina Jolie lips. 

The unbelievable superficiality and childishness of Avatar’s moral outlook derives mainly from its cartoonish portrayal of oppression and exploitation as principally deriving from a lack of sensitivity and wonder, and thus as something that couldn’t possibly be abetted or perpetuated by normal, sensitive, beauty-loving people who don’t actively relish the sight of Arcadian innocence being summarily cluster-bombed by steroid-abusing thugs.

But, of course, the problem with this portrayal of capitalist Imperialism is it implicitly identifies the standard cinema-going audience’s rudimentary capacity to be moved by drama (“I’d be all like ‘Go blue cat people, I’ll> endure a cosmopolitan inter-species shag with Cat Woman Pocahontas if it stops those nasty U.S. marines from their ogre-like brutality”) as the key to solving the planet’s plunge into ecological degradation as well and at the same time as the best way to improve the condition of that inconveniently poor and dying billion people currently living who so recalicitrantly refuse to be ‘uplifted’ by what economists have long been telling us is the inevitable downward trickle of global wealth. 

By doing this, i.e. by portraying exploitation as a reality that is in no way compatible with the existence of the average movie goer and his feelings, the film completely negates what is nonetheless its enormously inflated moral-political pretensions to ‘communicate’ an important message to the people via the multiplex.   In the end, Avatar and its filmic fraternity will never be a call to arms for anyone to anything simply because (like Cameron’s much less watchable, and indeed execrable ) it feeds and flatters pervasive ideological illusions rather than dispelling them in the name of truths that might re-orient the field of what we think we know.

To make the more general point:  there’s a certain way that people in general and Hollywood films in particular have with dealing with “Imperialism” (say, the British Raj) as if it were mainly the consequence of “Whig notions of the upward march of progress and civilisation”, as if racism, class-distinctions,Titanic and exploitation all comes down to someone saying explicitly “screw these savages/poor people/they’re not civilized so we can do what we want to them.”  

Now, while of course, this was (and is) undoubtedly an element of the colonial mindset, the illusion here is that Colonialism would never have happened (or would have taken another rosier road) if only the Colonial Offices of say, the East India Company, were filled with the standard movie-going public of our time, i.e. with people who defined themselves by what is mistakenly believed to be the opposite of the “Whig” attitude: i.e.  a capacity for wonder at the beauty at “difference” – at the cultural wealth and depth of ‘other cultures’.

The problem with this argument is that it is, of course, super-sized nonsense.   In a bag.   Where the bag has a full-body shot of James Cameron’s’ gripping his Academy Award and calling for a minute’s silence for the victims of the Titanic. (Yes, he really did that.)

Thus, I’m continually surprised and shocked by how many post-colonial studies types [yes, I just crossed myself ostentatiously] types who are supposed — surely — to take Edward Said’s Orientalism as their bible – seem entirely unaware that Orientalist attitudes (“ah, these blue cat-people have a spirituality and contact with nature that our grey ugly civilization has tragically left behind, but perhaps can regain if only it opens its heart to the mysteries of the East) goes perfectly well if not better with imperialist domination than a Whiggish sense of one’s own cultural superiority: in fact it’s the ultimate (not-so-dangerous) supplement to Imperialist ideology that makes the system function all the more smoothly: allowing the Company to sell the odd sari, and copy of the Vedas back in London along with the tea.  Two words for you people who don’t get this: Lord.Curzon.

Along these lines, one of the really great things about The Wire is how utterly un-Cameronesque it is.  

This is principally because more than any American television show that I’ve seen (even The Sopranos this a program that shows poverty and even a certain ‘not-what-is-usually-meant-by-the-term’ racism in a way that makes everything else I’ve seen from the U.S. look as sanitized as Tom Sawyer’s fence after his inaugural scam.   Best of all, The Wire manages to achieve this without either sentimentality of the ‘every drug dealer in the projects is a hero in their own special way if he’d only discover the power inside himself to attract money with happy thoughts” kind or pandering to the inveterate belief of the well-meaning liberal audience of  HBO programming that the main reason that bad things happen is that there are unenlightened, insensitive people in the world and that everything would be okay, as long as People Like Us could rule the world from our living rooms.

Of course, I’m not saying that outright bigots don’t exist; they obviously do, and  (much worse) they’re seemingly self-consciously summoned into existence with alarming frequency by the prestidigitations of unscrupulous right-wing demagogues of the kind who seem to have unleashed the tea party on Obama’s America, Le Pen on France to start what would have to be a very long list.   But a remarkable thing about The Wire, is how rarely individual sentiments  (as opposed to individual actions) are portrayed as being in the least bit important to the on-going functions of the system.  It’s not that the world is portrayed, as an arch-cynic might, as being totally devoid of individual virtue  — we’re not talking about Mad Men after all 😛  — it’s just that the show continually reinforces the fact that if individuals really have to struggle in the face of an utterly corrupt system (to the point that the fates of certain of the more well-intentioned characters throughout the show frequently recall the plot of de Sade’s Misfortunes of Virtue”and Voltaire’s Candide): i.e. no good intention (let alone deed) goes unpunished in a world where having a good attitude  (“I can speak to people of all creeds and colours without any screaming ‘kill the interloper’ prejudices”) means precisely what Kurt Vonnegut would call “doodly-squat” in the face of the deeply embedded social inequalities that are all geared up to perpetuate themselves into the next century.

(For, any Lacan lovers among you, out there, I’ll just quickly say that The Wireconstantly shows the destitution of the imaginary – the sphere of ego and alter  –  in the symbolic, while at the same time showing the terrible actions of those who will not admit the existence of a ‘hole in the Real’: i.e. the properly capitalist-bureaucratic psychosis that equates what can be counted with what ‘is’.  But, to spare the rest of you, that’s all I’ll say on the matter, for now.)

To put this another way, in The Wire, racism is not so much an attitude, as an organizing principle: it’s autopoietic, self-perpetuating, built into the heart of things like an inherited disease that is now encoded in every cell of the body, it’s like the information contained in every cell that dictates the direction in which the social body will grow.  

Now, you might object here, that racism is, by definition, a subjective disposition/attitude that we usually infer from certain forms of speech and action.   And you’d be right.  However, it’s precisely these kinds of subjective dispositions  that, in the world of The Wire seem, if not exactly irrelevant to the way “Baltimore” operates than something very close to this.  It’s as if the series at once suggests that, yes, “life in the city” is, as neo-liberal economic theory would have it, simply the aggregate of all those atoms bumping into each other a la Democritus (or, in a different sense, Friedrich Hayek’s) binding together to handle a complexity beyond that which could be ‘managed’ by any government.  And yet the show continually shows us how illusory is the neo-liberal notion that this social reality can ‘be anything at all’ in a way that would suggest these individual encounters and reactions are not already structured by the whole of which they form parts.  Instead, what we see in The Wire is the tendency for an already existing pattern (of social injustice, inequality et cetera) gets perpetuated through, by, and very occasionally despite the seemingly isolated and autonomous actions of these same individuals.  The point is not to suggest skepticism about the possibilities of human autonomy, but rather skepticism about ‘atomic’ social theory: as the  philosophically inclined, among you, will already know, society may be made up of monads, but monads are most definitely not atoms.

Put differently, the fact that Baltimore is, as they tell us somewhere in The Wire’s third season, 65 per cent “African American” added to the fact the show’s universe has a black mayor, police commissioner, senators and generally no lack of prominent black, Hispanic, Polish and Irish citizens and that WASPS of any kind seem conspicuous only in their absence, doesn’t change the fact that Baltimore’s indigent and incarcerated populations are disproportionately African-American.

The show manages — without needing to invent a single easily despised, pot-bellied bigot to fuel audience indignation by coming over all Ku Klux Klan — to show that whatever the attitudes of individuals the fact stilll remains that the poorest districts on either side of the city are all occupied by people who are  of the same colour, who speak the same language, and who are so used to and unlikely to escape the housing Project world into which they are born, that they even grow up amidst an urban lore which passes down legends of the great drug KingPins of yore down the generations.  It is a fact that, as I like to say, is obscured by its very obviousness.

Thus, racism is here objective rather than subjective, such that although there are indeed many horrendous characters (and there are many of these in the show, most of them concentrated in the higher ranks of the Baltimore PD) this  is peripheral to the fact that if you’re black you have a far greater (disporportionate) chance of being born in one of the “Towers” in which the show spends so much time, i.e. of  coming from one of the many places where people are – to quote Charles Bukowski:

‘born like this/into this/as the chalk faces smile/…. As political landscapes dissolve/as the supermarket bag boy holds a  college  degree/as the oily fish spit out their oily prey/as the sun is masked/ Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness/Into bars where people no longer speak to each other/Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings/ Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die/Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty/Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed/into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes…”

Also, in the name of chasing this elusive, frighteningly mobile, all-pervasive corruption, the narrative of The Wire across its seasons, operates by a device of continually pulling back the camera to encompass an ever more sweeping vision of the city, itself a microcosm of America: Baltimore is a teeming, thirivng thing: with its alleyways, and its corners (the sites where dealers hang out from dawn ‘til dusk) , its civic centres designed for clandestine political horse-trading, and its abandoned office buildings where the police use type-writers and old SLR cameras in a way that made me think, until half-way through the first episode that the show might be set during the 1980s (we hardly ever see a computer on any desk of the Baltimore PD.)

The fact that the shows narrative becomes increasingly panoramic as the seasons wear on is a feature that several commentators have rightly identified as the show’s curiously (especially for U.S. television) “Dickensian” quality.    Like in Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House (the latter of which, I  – admit to not having actually read) there’s a dust-heap (or a last will and testament) at the centre of everything: a money if not a paper trail that connects an endless panoply of colourful characters: police, gangsters, drug dealers, users, the frighteningly efficient members of one or more international crime syndicates with local dock-workers (“stevedores”)and their union, schoolteachers, politicians: an endless cavalcade of humanity that, for all the colour of the parade never verges on caricature: you never doubt that you’re witnessing characters drawn from life who echo and express the real life from which they came.

Most remarkably, when in later series the show achieves the remarkable feat of showing the interconnection of all aspects of life in the city via the vast self-propelling system of graft, crime, dodgy deals, and facts that are quickly obscured when they don’t fit with the various ‘target numbers’ of management-marketing bureaucrats it manages to do this without having to resort to any of the gimmicky jump-cut techniques of films like Syriana or Traffic, films which, as Fred Jameson once pointed out, tend to lose the very ‘globalisation’ they are attempting to portray in the manner of an elusive “something that has ‘had a trace put on it’ as we find in a certain kind of Hollywood action film, where the audience sees a map of the world with a light that bounces from LA to New York, to Paris, to Moscow, but then dissipates into the the aether like the argument of an ill-thought out thesis. [Actually, come to think of it, I think Jameson meant that, the vanishing from the map might be a better representation of the reality of globalisation then the attempts to ‘show the connections’ a la Syriana.  But let’s save that for another girl, another planet.]

The first season of The Wire, then, tells what initially looks like the story of cops attempting to catch drug dealers and drug dealers attempting to evade cops: if you didn’t look closely enough, you’d be (as Brooker says) forgiven for thinking that this is “just another cop show”, albeit one with a strong cast and and the standard absence of Manichean distinctions which tends to graitfy all those nice, liberal-in-the-American sense,  well-heeled and well-educated HBO watching types.  But by the second and third seasons (and I’ve spent several months getting to this point in the show), there’s no question that you’re seeing something that goes beyond drugs, that becomes something like a biography, or better, an ethnography of a city.

The show’s quietly devastating second season, is, in the words of the show’s creator David Simon about the “decline of work”, (a theme which, incidentally, it shares with the excellent Australian movie The Boys).

The second season follows the characters from the first series through a series of complex plots that revolve around a dock workers’ (stevedores’) union whose charismatic Polish-American shop steward (is the term used in America? What’s its local equivalent?)  Frank Sabotka (below) is desperately struggling to keep his union alive, while facing among other things, a vendetta stemming from a high-ranking police officer who will even allow a prohibited murder investigation to continue (oh, the irony) if it might humiliate Sabotka in revenge for some past slight.

Sabotka’s job is, as he, but also many of his fellow dockers see it, to keep his struggling men (and their families) waving, rather than drowning in an increasingly desperate economic situation in which the work which has for generations has kept these people alive is turning from a daily reality into a distant memory.  In post-Fordist (but remember pre-financial crisis) Baltimore:  the men (Polish, Irish and African-American) of the stevedores union are guys who would have grown up expecting to spend and even end their lives doing the kind of difficult, physical, full-time work that their fathers and grandfathers did.  But now, they’re struggling.  It’s hard to get more than a few hours a work a week, even with the help of the union (which everyone has joined because it’s a community, a multi-generational family, the only point of resistance against the brutal imperatives of capital).  Thus we are introduced to a number of characters who, unable to pay their bills, and completely unaware of how they might go about getting any other kind of work thus find themselves in a situation very like that of the kids from the Projects, except for dock-workers lacking the dubious “advantage” of their contemporaries in not having been ‘born into’  a world on the fringes of the criminal shadowlands, and who thus are at once less resigned to this world as a condition of existence, but also less capable of surviving in it.

Of course whenever we see poverty attached to ever-present hopes of fulfilling the American dream (even in the relatively sober version of a small (possibly rented) house, a car, some medical insurance, some vestiges of dignity in regular work) the temptation that the dock-workers face is naturally that of finding an easier road than the hard week’s work that is, at any rate, becoming increasingly unavailable to them.  Thus, the second season heads towards a devastating final act that will show us the consequences of these essentially decent (but, again, unsentimentally portrayed) being increasingly by crime and thus embroiled with criminals whose ruthlessness far surpasseswhat these characters are capable of imagining.

This allows the viewer to see even more of the vast networks that  circulate money and influence (and ultimately drugs) through the Byzantine channels that  connect “City Hall”, with the dealers on the corners of the previous season, to the young dock workers and their families,  to our familiar “point of identification” characters who make up the few well-meaning ” po-lice”; to their obstructive, malicious, and vindictive superiors of the former group.   In the second season all of this is also shown to connect with what also seems to be something like a pan-European crime syndicate that is not above the kind of casual murder that would make the druglords of the first season shudder.

The third season is (again I here quote from the show’s creators) about attempts at “reform”.  Thus, it is also, given from the outset that it is a season that will show the kind of rocks upon which both the well- and not-so-well-meaning attempts to ‘clean up the system’ flounder: thus whether it is gangsters trying to convert their operation into a ‘legitimate business’ (a theme of course which recalls The Godfather), to various characters making quixotic attempts to clean up corruption everywhere from the police department to the mayoral office, or even just the admirable attempts of one tired, soon-to-be-retired senior cop who tries to come up with a strategy of simply containing (rather than eliminating) the everyday catastrophe that is the is the total, dismal failure of Baltimore’s (and everywhere else’s) “war on drugs” by coming to an accommodation with the dealers; the third season continually rubs in its audience’s face a stark, wince-inducing portrayal of an all-too-familiar aspect of modern life that was already burned through the audiences’ eyeballs in scene after scene of the previous two seasons: I’m talking here about the soul-destroying, ruthless, reign of numbers (not only money, but of particular pre-delineated ways of counting what is and isn’t reality)  to which the show continually testifies.  By the reign of number, I’m talking about the classic bureaucratic ‘if it’s on the page it’s fine, if it’s not on the page it doesn’t exist’ (No hole in the symbolic, in other words,: reality is what can be measured/counted accoridng to the ways we’ve counted, c.f. my Middlesex post).  This, we all know is how institutions work whose bureaucracies have been infected with  management and marketing principles that now serve as the only legitimation discourse of the instiutiton.

Baltimore, we see, is run, not only by a modern version of the Benthamite philosophy that forms the basis of Dickens’ Hard Times, but by that familiar-to-everyone-these-days combination of corporate Newspeak acting as the basis for legislation that pays no attention to reality, and that uses  numbers and spreadsheet data (“is the murder rate up or down…if it’s too high we’ll have to pretend that a few of those murders didn’t really happen/or that we solved them, by arresting someone random from the streets who no-one will care about”):  as the only guage for reality.  Everything is subordinated to giving the higher echelons of the bureaucracy the ‘numbers’ they need, given that these numbers have now become the only legitimate way of finding out what counts as reality: all else is subjective psychosis.

Thus, some of what I found to be the hardest scenes to watch in the whole show (thus far) occur in the third season.  These are not brutal gun fights that leave the streets bloodied (although this season in particular certainly has its share of such things).  Instead, the really unwatchable scenes, for me, are the ones that involve smug, smarmy, insouciant, and cautiously corrupt higher-ranking policeman publically humiliating their subordinates for not making their ‘policing data’ turn out the way they’re supposed to and, in the process, being awarded with ever more promotions for their exemplary ‘management’.  The worst thing about this, is that we know, from our own experience in considerably less desperate and tragic worlds than that of The Wire that the same kind of principles run the world at large: the university, the public service, and other once last bastions of a different logic, a different way of counting reality, are of course, no exception to this.

In essence: I’ve never seen anything to match The Wire for portraying corruption as so embedded in the heart of a city (and a social system) so capable of completely resisting the efforts of the few remaining honest men and women.  At the same time, it’s important to note the way that this pervasive, systematic  ‘corruption’ is portrayed.  

Essentially, the show tackles corruption in a way that multiplies moral ambiguities at epidemic speed: it’s not just the usual “oh, we  get to see the light and dark sides of both dealers and of cops thus humanizing them both” blather: instead, the audience is constantly being given unpleasant forced choices between varying degrees of corruption.  Thus a character whom we have seen commit some act of unmitigated bastardry suddenly looks like a crusading hero when he’s moved for complex reasons to oppose the machinations of another character who will himself look like the lesser of two evils in a different situation in which he is not a power-broker.  

This focus on systematic corruption means that there’s no evil in the show in the sense of a metaphysical (or naturalized) property attached to certain individuals: there’s no Joker figure continually motivated only by an obscure desire to cause mayhem.  Instead, everyone is alternately decent and a monster according to the logic of different situations and how these characters perceive the extent to which their interests can be advanced or threatened.   Obviously, the point here is not to deny the existence of human freedom, nor of the mind’s capacity for transcendence: the show -does- portray  characters who nobly sacrifice themselves in adherence to principles and who refrain from letting their principles be dictated by the exigencies of a situation: but although these characters are (for certain obvious reasons) protagonists they are never 1) never portrayed as White Knights and more importantly 2) we get, very often, to see these good-guy through the eyes of their colleagues and superiors: i.e. as  lunatics who are hubristically setting themselves up for disaster.

To give you a sense of how much this theme of all pervasive and yet graded corruption permeates the show, early in the first season we see one of the show’s most consistently sympathetic characters beating an adolescent with a night-stick, for the minor crime of having basically shoved one of her fellow police officers.  It’s a brutal scene, that comes at the climax of an episode, and that places most of the violence off-camera such that we get the disturbing vision of the beating continuing as the credits roll in our living rooms.  We’re just left with the feeling that even the show’s “good po-lice” still have their moments of relishing the violence that, it is, after all, so often part of their de facto if not de jure brief to inflict especially when it comes to one of the show’ frequent, futile  ‘let’s appease the media’ with a few raids on the  housing projects).  Casual police violence to witnesses that would have led to a whole story arc in other shows are mainly shrugged off by even the most sensitive of characters: it’s the way things /‘battles have to be picked’ / and so on.

Last of all I suppose I should attempt some criticism of the show.  The weakest character in the Wire is undoubtedly at least to my mind) its putative protagonist (despite the excellent performance by English actor Dominic West).  

West’s character McNulty, though undoubtedly a likable Irish-American rogue is too much of a cop-show stereotype (hard-drinking, divorced, unable to quite make his alimony payments &c., dedicated to solving the case to the detriment of everything else in his life) to be of comparable interest to some of the other characters, despite the fact that he does have a 3-dimensionality that elevates him above his equivalents in more pedestrian programs.  But even the relative blandness of McNulty is really a small flaw, because the show never seems to make the character more than a lynchpin: a familiar face that we can follow into unfamiliar parts of town with some sympathy, and some recognition.  In this sense, the show is from its beginning, and ever more from its first season onwards, an ensemble piece where the ensemble recalls not only a modern Dickens but his inevitable French “version” (to say a phrase that would have me lynched in Paris) Victor Hugo.

Lastly, I should also say, at the risk of anti-climax that the show has one character, who, I’m tempted to say belongs to the literary-treasure house of the world, despite the fact that his presence in the show marks the intersection of the world of The Wire with something from a completely different genre.  I am talking here about the character of Omar Little (played by Michael K. Williams).  

Omar is a character, who among all of the rhythmic, poetic dialogue, has perhaps the most rhythmical delivery and poetic phrasing of any of the characters: it’s a delight to watch him saunter between one scene and the next, scattering his strange drawling in  the argot of the Baltimore street like a kind of gangster Zen master whose always one step away from turning to the camera for a Shakespearean soliloquy that will have the audience in tears.  Omar’s role is brilliantly, wonderfully preposterous:  a  scarred, openly gay, fearless, muscular, shotgun-carrying lunatic/urban-cum-avenging angel who makes his living (as he happily admits to anyone who asks) stealing drugs from other drug-dealers at shot-gun point, in between sleeping with handsome young men, and (later in the series) keeping together a tight family-like “crew” that includes gun-toting lesbian couples of a kind that might have sprung from a late night drinking session between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

If you think that this seems like a strange carry-over from the  graphic-novel superhero story you’d be right.  And yet (the Dickensian thing again) Omar is, like Estella, or Sidney Carson or Scrooge or Jean Valjean or Eponine or Monsieur Thernadiér  or Claude Frollo is completely believable as much as he is ludicrously extravagant, and present for the purpose of delighting the audience.    In fact, the poignancy of what happens to his character, as the show goes on is all the greater because it’s like seeing an Immortal character from a more comic-book kind of film (Clint Eastwood’s character from a spaghetti Western, or even “Iron Man”) suddenly being forced to realise that not even the man with super-powers is  immune to the toll taken by everyday life on the streets of  Baltimore.  (Oh, and a propos of nothing, Williams should  definitely be cast as ‘Thor’ in the upcoming film of the same name.)

Thus, for all of Omar’s extravagance and charisma, we never doubt that his prototype could have really once walked the streets of the real (as opposed to fictional) Baltimore.  It is interesting on this note that, even the actor who plays Omar apparently has – more than anyone else in the cast — a  background most similar to that of his character.  One example of this is the fact that the enormous scar that marrs Omar’s face is not the result of any labour by  The Wire’s make-up department.

What this demonstrates is the well-known principle that the legend is sometimes closer to the reality – that if you leave out the more extravagant, fanciful parts of reality and only to print what seems to fit the sober law of averages and bell curves, you miss part of realit just as much as if you had told a story that featured nothing but caricatures.  

And no-one, believe me could ever accuse The Wire of “Romanticism” a word which, in the endlessly evocative ‘tattoo-across-the-soul’ Baltimore’ that it presents, probably means something like “hoping that your most diligent works might make even an iota of difference to anything or anyone.”  On this theme, it’s possible that the show will be (or has been) criticized in some quarters for the ostensibly ‘pacifying’ effects of its pessimism.  

But I’m not at all sure that this would be justified.  

While, of course, watching The Wire is, in one sense, as ‘passive’ as watching any other television show (i.e. no-one has yet found, that I know of, a way to storm the Bastille from the couch, )I see no reason to suggest that the show’s attempt to portray systematic injustice unflinchingly (as opposed to the tragedy of this or that individual soul), yet with the dramatic nous that makes it a genuine pleasure to watch should be as a sign that the show contributes to cynicism, and thus to apathy or despair.   This argument would make sense only if you were prepared to argue that any focus on structural problems as opposed to simply enumerating the rich possibilities for collective action inevitably had the lesson that ‘there’s no point in doing anything’: at, any rate, by this logic Das Kapital is ‘pacifying.’

Against this, I”ll suggest that there’s always something at least potentially emancipating in a gaze that is prepared to look for the truth of something.  As long as we don’t make the classic cynical mistake of taking truth for merely the absence of illusions, it’s still possible to find that a gaze that tries to, in journalistic cliché, “stare unflinchingly at reality” may succeed at the important task of making what was previously invisible, visible.  And every change in the distribution of the visibile and the invisible is one more step towards changes in what we take for granted as setting the bounds of the psosible.   Anymore than this, is obviously, up to us, becomes genuinely political:  hard to ask more of entertainmen,  especially of the kind that by its nature tends to be consumed in (at least relative) isolation.

[Original article (includes pictures, parenthetical remarks and links to other websites can be found at http://http://prettycoolforaniconodule.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/born-into-this-in-which-i-review-three-seasons-of-the-wire-and-mention-avatar-with-the-lip-curling-scorn-it-deserves/]



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Maladjusted is a philosophy PhD student from Melbourne Australia whose interest include Plato, Alain Badiou, psychoanalysis, the history of political philosophy and contemporary Christian theology.  His second blog ‘pretty cool (for an iconodule)” is dedicated to  cultural criticism, satire and shameless auto-hagioraphy.




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the wire, racism, capitalism, poverty, avatar, james cameron, david simon, philosophy, dickens

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Maladjusted is a philosophy PhD student from Melbourne Australia whose interest include Plato, Alain Badiou, psychoanalysis, the history of political philosophy and contemporary Christian theology.  His second blog ‘pretty cool (for an iconodule)” is dedicated to  cultural criticism, satire and shameless auto-hagioraphy.




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