Wednesday, 02 January 2008

Birds on The Wire In response to Ari Kelman's post on The Wire at (on?) The Edge of the American West, Sandie writes: What, for example, are the lives of the “Miss Annas,” the foster mothers like? What would it mean to focus on the foster care system and social work, another occupation/institution that is female-dominated? How do all of these areas fit into the puzzle that is Baltimore? Again, I suppose that one could make the argument that the writers are writing what they know, but would it kill them to find out some things that they do not know? To which I responded: You can’t let Simon off the hook so easily. The Corner’s very much about the place of women in the masculine world, and its central character, Fran Boyd, is a script-consultant/on-set verisimilitude-guarantor. Simon knows the effect of this life on women, he just chooses to focus elsewhere. That women aren’t involved in the day-to-day drug operations, or in the dock workers union, isn’t a matter of making masculine what is, in fact, more diverse—it’s a legacy of the extant misogyny in the groups being depicted. Simon knows the toll "the game" takes on those who ply its margins. Consider the families of the Barksdale crew: Donette finesses her way through relationships with one of its top soldiers, D'Angelo Barksdale; and when D'Angelo goes to prison, she insinuates herself with its de facto leader, Stringer Bell. Brianna Barksdale negotiates the increasingly strained relations between Avon and Stringer, and more significantly, their relationship to her son, D'Angelo. Brianna also works to support the families the incarcerated, managing the delicate egos and strident demands of De'Londa Brice and the like. While you may not respect the positions these woman occupy, Simon and his staff portray them with a keen sympathy for the pained decisions which have brought them there. (Even De'Londa becomes sympathetic by proxy, if only as Wee-Bey's wife and Namond's mother.) That said, these figures do exist on the margins of Simon's Baltimore, so you can legitimately criticize him for choosing to depict a world in which women are marginal. Before doing so, rent The Corner, the mini-series Simon helmed for HBO. (Or read the book.) If The Wire neglects to document the toll of the game on women, The Corner focuses so intently on the human cost of the drug war that the structural critique central to The Wire's narrative appeal never emerge. We see the effects of systemic failure, but only hints of its origin and extent. This is more true of the mini-series than the book, as the latter contains explicit criticism of the infrastructure of everything from drug organizations to the political entities who task incompetent law enforcement agencies to incarcerate the dealers et al. in brutal, corrupt correctional facilities. (But only after they're sentenced by number-crunching prosecuting attorneys who overwhelm the meager talents of drunken public defenders before august, indifferent judges.) The Wire contains these beshitted multitudes, weaving their mercenary narratives into something so grand,...

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