Friday, 04 January 2008

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Narrative Exhaustion Strung Along The Wire On that same post by Ari Kelman, ac wonders whether The Wire doesn't appeal to those it condemns: Isn’t it also something to do with the audience at whom violent gangster stories are directed? There is a voyeuristic or vicarious observance for the male viewer, too. It’s not like most men watching operate in violent code-of-the-warrior mode themselves. Even ogged—of "there's no such thing as an anti-war war movie" fame—concedes there may be something to the notion that The Wire defies this (extensive) logic, that it may be an anti-gangster gangster serial. Not that ac and ogged have no point: who sympathizes with law enforcement while watching The Godfather? (That Fredo's execution has become an object of cultural parody indicates the extent to which viewers sympathetically identify with Michael Corleone.) The Wire escapes that voyeuristic pull for two reasons, one simple, the other so complex I've auditioned it before many, many, many people without working up the gall put in writing. The Simple Reason The Wire combines the narrative perspective of three previous David Simon-related projects: Homicide, Oz, and The Corner. As if to underscore this, at one point we see Omar Little and his boyfriend curled up watching Oz. (If that ain't irony enough for you, they're watching Chris Keller threaten to rape Toby Beecher, and Keller's played by Christopher Merloni, a.k.a. Elliot Stabler from Law & Order: SVU. So you have two gay men watching one gay man who plays a sex crimes officer rape a straight man and haven't we been down this road with these same folk before?) The multiple perspectives force the viewer to adopt an almost sociological attitude toward the characters in each group. We adore detectives McNulty and Bunk one moment, D'Angelo and Bodie the next. The narratives splinter our sympathies, forcing us to confront the limitations films like The Godfather would have us embrace: We root for D'Angelo while hoping CID destroys his cousin (and employer) Avon's organization. Simon and company disseminate our allegiances so wide and thin that when conflict arises we feel genuine confusion. The algebra of identification grows to calculus so quickly that we stare, dumbfounded, unable to understand the ramifications of what we witnessed. This confusion is essential to the show's appeal. Knowing what happened is less important than understanding the potential consequences. (As is dramatized, via nail-gun, on numerous occasions in Season Four.) The More Complicated Reason I crib from sources sage and wise: The Wire isn’t simply the best show on television, in many ways, it’s not a television show at all, generically speaking. To judge it by the standards you’d apply to other shows denies it its uniqueness, denudes of it what makes it it. I know that sounds abstract, but let me explain the experience of watching it: The age of television on DVD has created a Culture of Marathon. We purchase entire seasons, then watch them in one or two consecutive evenings. At least, the desire to do so is there, as if...

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