Blog discussion of The Wire

A discussion of the HBO series The Wire over at Matt Yglesias’ blog at the Atlantic centers on politics, urban development, and how realistic the show is.

One of the issues is whether the show is too bleak. Obviously for American TV it is on the bleak side, but that’s irrelevant to whether the show is getting at something real or not. Is it that institutions are fundamentally corrupted in modern America? By contrast, another popular TV show on politics, the West Wing, featured perhaps the typical neoliberal politicians who fundamentally bought into the system and just played around at the edges (based on Bill Clinton obviously).

David Simon (creator and writer of the Wire) found the discussion and left this comment:

The Wire is dissent; it argues that our systems are no longer viable for the greater good of the most, that America is no longer operating as a utilitarian and democratic experiment. If you are not comfortable with that notion, you won’t agree with some of the tonalities of the show. I would argue that people comfortable with the economic and political trends in the United States right now — and thinking that the nation and its institutions are equipped to respond meaningfully to the problems depicted with some care and accuracy on The Wire (we reported each season fresh, we did not write solely from memory) — well, perhaps they’re playing with the tuning knobs when the back of the appliance is in flames.

I don’t think you’ll find many such voices on US or UK TV willing to say that (outside of documentary makers).

The critical point here is that the show is about the failure of modern politics as much as anything else (as a commentator notes).

What is to be done about that? Someone else uses the Foucault quote “it’s not that everything is bad, it’s that everything is dangerous” to illustrate this:

Simon is pessimistic about the possibilities of maintaining such change, and very clear that change is dangerous, but we see possibilities here, and we wish it would continue.

I think of a great Foucault quote from the later interviews. He said, “It’s not that I think everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous.” This led him to engage in what he described as pessimistic hyper-activism.

It’s interesting here that danger engenders activism, rather than say passivity.


3 Responses

  1. I’ve always been a little bothered by this. “Everything is dangerous” sounds all too much like the paranoid whacko Foucault is caricatured as. It can also be interpreted as the mimetic response to “the dangerous individual”: a concept Foucault analysed and reacted against. A version of this accusation of mimetic violence is given in Baudrillard’s (otherwise fairly insubstantial) Forget Foucault.

    Now obviously the individual is not dangerous, but the system is. But I rather suspect there is something altogether more disturbing motivating Foucault’s thoughts here. A moment of carelessness? I don’t think so.

  2. Foucault’s use of the term ‘Dangerous Individual’ presents a highly debatable start point to consider such issues as “dangerousness” in relation to pre conceived notions of cause and effect in late modern society.

    Please take a moment to view the art work.

  3. i think you have to look at the straussian influenced idea of “reshuffling the deck” that derrida talks about in structure, sign and play. the center keeps on being substituted in the wire (different mayor, different police chief) but the superstructure generally remains the same and the totality of the “elements at play” cannot change (ie, the actual conditions for people in baltimore won’t change). though the people at the center of power in the wire get replaced by other characters, these new city leaders act the same way as those before them–such as mayor carcetti abandoning his drive to make the school system solvent in order to become governor. and as a result, the same pattens continue. in the last episode, the character “Michael” replaces the fallen “omar” as the preeminent stick up artiste. “Duquan,” a talented and smart public school kid, becomes a heroin addict, replacing the sober “bubs.” “Stringer bell” is long dead by the 5th season, but “marlow” is now the one in a suit attending functions with wealthy baltimore business men (aided by stringer bell’s lawyer–the players at the center may change but the lawyers who attend to them seem to forever remain a constant). so unless there’s a qualitative change, a rupture of the structure/system where the values of the politicians are reshuffled into a deck that places a higher value on helping the city instead of furthering their own ends, things will keep on going in circles and the younger characters will eventually be replaced by other, even residents of baltimore.

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