Friday, January 25, 2008

Does life imitate art?

I've been reading the Baltimore Sun a lot lately, and several times I've been struck by events in life that are analogous to events on "The Wire."

The first thing I noticed was that there are suspicions that the real Baltimore is juking the stats. The rate of violent crime is on the decline in Baltimore, while the murder rate is again on the rise (it has fallen every year since 1999, but spiked again in 2007). That's interesting, right? Public officials are quick to remind the public that most murders are perpetrated by young black men on other black men, the vast majority of whom are involved in the illegal drug trade. They allay the fears of the taxpayers by reinforcing the idea that some people's lives matter and some don't.

David Simon says Carcetti is fictional, but he may as well be Martin O’Malley. They look alike, they sound alike, and they are the golden boys of Maryland politics. They both have black female heads of city council. They even pull the same political maneuvers. Carcetti demanded that the bodies in the vacants be found before January, so he could blame those murders on Royce’s administration. When O’Malley took office in 1999, he commissioned an audit of that year’s crime statistics. Whereas Kurt Schmoke (the black incumbent who is secretly pro-drug legalization, just like Royce) had juked the stats to make 1999 look like the safest year in decades, O’Malley turned the statistics upside down (his own version of juking the stats). Whereas crimes were being classified as lesser, technically nonviolent offenses, O’Malley’s administration retroactively changed them, making 1999 the most violent year in Baltimore in twenty years. Of course afterwards, he could continue juking the stats just like Schmoke did to make it look like the rate of violent crime was going down. In 2006 O’Malley had the audacity to announce, in a city with a murder rate 7 times that of New York City, that he had been responsible for lowering the rate of violent crime by 40%. Are you fucking kidding me?

On to Wire parallel number two: the city is selling things at half price to developers, essentially robbing tax payers while rewarding developers who have made political contributions. Yesterday the Sun reported that a developer called "Fells Point Station" has purchased a long-vacant police station at 1661 Bank Street for $584,000, well under the building's appraised value of $1 million. While I doubt this is the first instance of this actually occurring, this is the first incident that has become widely publicized. Although the Sun's article on this was critical of the city government's actions, there was one bit that was confusing enough to some people to shut them up. The article lists the appraised value of the building at $1 million and then indicates that thousands of dollars of work will have to go into clearing out asbestos, lead paint, and other hazards. In the comments after this article, many people said it was OK to sell at that price because of the work that needed to be done. But what people don't seem to understand is that those things were factored into the $1 million appraised value. The city was robbed of $416,000. Why?

Because Daniel P. Henson (former city housing commissioner) and A. Rod Womack (CEO of CIMG, a developer) comprise "Fells Point Station." Henson gave $6000 to Sheila Dixon and Martin O'Malley, among others, and Womack has given $3000 to Democrats. A little bit of digging on the part of the Sun revealed that a Catherine Fennell is also employed by CIMG. She was the city's director of development until 2000, when she was forced to step down because it came to light that she was working for the city as well as a developer who had business with her office. What. The. Fuck.

On to parallel number three: guys being shot in a liquor store. This is kind of a stretch, but I don't care. The first thing I thought about when I read the Sun this morning and saw that two men had been shot in a liquor store on North Stricker Street was the incident with Snoop and Chris shooting up the liquor store in search of Omar. Now I know that some people might think that crap like that happens all the time in Baltimore, but that is not the case. Most Baltimore shootings occur in the streets and victims are found in the streets or alleys. You rarely hear about a shooting happening in a place of business (sometimes in a house, sometimes at a party, but rarely at a store).

While I do think these are just interesting coincidences, they're interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"We cannot police our way out of this"

The following link is probably one of the most comprehensive looks at Baltimore's homicide rate in recent history. Written by a former editor of mine who runs the "Murder Ink" column in City Paper, the piece is stat-heavy but still very insightful:

Bloodletting: Can Anything Be Done to Bring Baltimore's Homicide Rate Down?

I always feel hopeful at the beginning of the year, but then again Baltimore's first murder of 2008 did occur on Jan. 1 at 12:02 a.m.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Simon on Simon

Not quite sure how I found this, as it apparently isn't slated for publication till next month. Ah well, it's a damn good story anyhow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hi Tripp

Hey guys, sorry I haven't posted. To be horrifyingly honest, my dad got rid of HBO and I've only been able to see the first episode of season five. Terrible, I know. But I'm moving out soon/might use some of my friends in the meantime. Tripp I am flattered that you invited me and I assure you that I will post when I get caught up.

For now, though, I saw this on Slate last week and wanted to share it, in case you guys haven't seen it yet:

Quite the tone, huh?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Well it worked for The Sopranos

This is me, yo, right here...

Anybody recognize this fellow? Give it a minute. It's a little shocking.

This is from the Season 5 premier...I just thought it was interesting.

Wire-fans Wettest Dreams

I can't believe they actually did this

Katie sent this to me. Thanks Katie. :-)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stories Don't Matter

This is a response to Adam's excellent post. The idea that stories don't matter is a chilling concept, at least for someone who, like me and others on this blog, have invested much of our young lives as writers. There was an editorial in the NY Times yesterday by Stanley Fish, trying to defend the value of the humanties. I don't know how to link to it because I'm new at this, but basically after going through and dismissing the standard round of conventional wisdom to have humanities--critical thinking, galvanizing social movements, lessons for life etc.--Fish concludes that what is most valuable about the humanities is precisely their lack of exclusive, tangible utility. They simply enrich. Or, if you prefer a more utilitarian characterization of them, are simply useless and indulgent. The same can be said of stories, and indeed, all disciplines of the humanities are grounded in creating workable narratives to explain human motivation.
But back to Adam's point about the ultimate meaninglessness of stories, as it is expressed in The Wire. I want to flesh this out in the context of the show's previous four seasons and this season as well. For while I think Adam's insight about this scene in The Wire is a good one, it reveals only one side of storytelling, whereas The Wire actually treats the function of storytelling the same way it views the public school system: operating in a dynamic and fluid context.
What I am trying to say, I suppose, is that there are many times in The Wire where storytelling is not dismissed as recycled and useless. Where it instead has real and palpable consequences that affect the lives of many. Consider one of the very first scenes in the show. After D'Angelo Barksdale's acquittal, McNulty goes to his friend, the judge, and tells him a story of two men, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell, who have colonized the streets of West Baltimore, operate a cartel-like drug trade, and wield such force and intimidation in the community that no individual will testify against them, even when they are an eyewitness to a murder. McNulty is opening the judge's eyes to "the reality", but that does not negate the fact that does so through a verbal narrative. He does not, for example, drag the judge down to West Baltimore to see for himself. And this story has an impact. The judge hears it, puts pressure on the comissioner and the homicide department and a homicide detail is set up as a result.
Better yet is the case of Bunny Colvin and Hamsterdam. He simply re-writes the rules of law to make police work more effective. While the true story stays hidden, the story being told is of a 14% unexplained drop in crime rates.
In both examples, the stories being told, whether true or false, the consequences from their telling are quite real. In other words, if these stories are not told the Detail never gets formed. Hamsterdam is discovered and squashed out while Bunny is still trying to figure out how to get the corner boys to listen to him.
The major strain upon these stories is that their power is constantly atrophying under the force of real life events. In the first season the Barksdale case remains unifinished. In the third season Hamsterdam is quickly taken down when the media catches wind of what Colvin has done. So the feeling we are left with throughout much of the Wire is not that stories lack power, but that this power crumbles a little bit more with each moment after its telling so that eventually it shatters or just dissipates, like Carcetti's ideal vision of Baltimore, into the indistinguishable grime of life.
What Adam points out, however, is that the emphasis on storytelling this season is far more self-conscious. When the newspapermen are commenting on the "Dickensian" story about the public schools we see the simplification necessary for all storytelling, BUT it is the story we have grown to love over the last four seasons that is being reduced to a watery cliche. In this image stories really are useless, but this has much to do with self-consciousness of season five as it does with the actual uselessness of stories. The higher the self-consciousness, the greater the doubt.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Do Stories Matter?

Well done Dario, and welcome to the blog. I think you really hit the nail when you say the resistance to Marlo’s ways - from Bunk, Omar, Bodie and in this last episode Michael - stems from a nostalgia for simpler times.

In this post I'd like to talk about expectations. Naturally, viewers have high expectations this season. The question among Wire fans has not been is season five good, but is it good relative to season four.

After watching episode two, it's clear to me that the two cannot be compared.

I admit I was seduced to compare in the beginning. Given how much I loved season four, it was only natural to wonder if I would enjoy the new season as much. This being the last season only made the question more relevant. For a short time I even wondered whether the choice to make season five about the media was a good one. Season four was billed as being "about the schools," but it could have easily been described as "about the roots." It dealt with where the Stringers, Marlos and Barksdales come from. Wouldn't the roots have been an equally worthy place to end?

Having seen episode two, I know now that the answer to that question is a resounding NO. Furthermore, I am even more eager and excited about season five because I now see why the media is the perfect place to end.

It's complicated, so let me take you through my process:

In episode two there's a scene in the newsroom where, during a staff meeting, the editor proposes a feature piece on Baltimore's schools. He wants to follow the lives of a few children as the move through the system, using their stories to highlight the flaws in the schools. He says he wants it to be a "Dickensian" series of articles.

I immediately recognized this as an allusion to the fourth season made in the language typically used to discuss the Wire by fans and critics. People are always saying the Wire is great because it is "Dickensian," and the fourth season did exactly what the editor suggests (Though perhaps better. The editor's idea is actually rather simple compared to season four. It is really Gus' suggestion to take into account the context of these childern's lives that resonates most as the true plot of season four. And that idea is shot down).

It struck me as a strange convergence on materials in one scene, and at first I thought, has the Wire gone meta on us? The scene is, ostensibly, one in which characters in The Wire are talking about The Wire. But there's more than mere fun and games at work here.

You have to ask what's really going on in this scene. In the most basic sense, reporters and editors are developing a story. The story they develop is a familiar one to us: it is the story of season four. Once you realize this, a tragedy emerges: they're too late. Namond, Randy, Michael, Duquan, and all the other children we never met already suffered the shortcomings of Baltimore's schools. That the newspaper is only now discussing a story about what everyone who has watched season four knows highlights the basic failure of the story. It's come to late to save anyone, to affect any change. That the story The Sun plans to do is really just a watered-down version of season four (since Gus' idea is dismissed) means that not only does the story come too late, but it is also wrong.

I wonder if this will be the great tragedy of season five, the brutal truth we will find: stories don’t matter. They always come last and when they do arrive their subjects are beyond saving. This, I realized, is why season five HAS to be about the media, because ending with a story about how we tell stories is the only place for The Wire to end.

I pose these final questions to you:

If I'm right, then what should we make of The Wire as a series? It’s a story, too. Does this mean The Wire itself doesn’t matter? Have the writers turned the lens inward, suggesting, subtly, that despite the praise leveled upon it the show is too late to help Baltimore…or any of America’s cities. It's a bit self-destructive, and that might make the idea unpalatable, but it could be a beautiful explosion.

What do you think?

Marlow's Militia

I was talking to Adam today about the change between Marlow's tactics of intimidation as opposed to Avon's. Its hard to tell if there really is a difference. Bodie's comments in season 4 after Marlow kills Little Kevin (or is it Lil Kevin?), that Marlow doesn't even bother to find out whether or not someone has or has not snitched before killing them; he acts simply upon suspicion. We see a similar theme revived when Michael questions Snoop and Chris in the car before killing someone (whose name escapes me) simply because they heard he was "talkin shit 'bout Marlow." The nostalgia for a simpler, more just era is a theme that characters return to in both drug circles and police circles. The Wire tends to present such statements in earnest on the part of the characters--see Bunk lecturing Omar--but in the overall context of the show, these statements tend to suggest not a yearning for the past, but an uneasiness about the hyper-mechanization of modern culture. And this indeed is what separates Marlow from Avon. The impression one gets of Avon's "muscle" in the first season (WeeBay, Stinkum, Bird etc.) is of men who simply have the capacity to kill. Their primary qualification for the job is having the nerve to do it without panicking, being impulsive or any of the other problems that we see with Avon's much reduced muscle in Season 3. But many of the images we see of Avon's muscle involve recreation as much as violence. Marlow, Snoop and Chris, by contrast, are always shown "on the job." Even in the most recent episode when it appears Marlow is going into a hotel for some nookie, it turns out to be a diversion for a meeting of Prop Joe's Cooperative. But more than that, Marlow builds his muscle far more efficiently. One of the recurring images we saw in Seasons 3 and 4 was of young black men being trained as efficient killers. Up close, head shot. Further away, aim for the balls. Don't aim for the chest because he might be wearing a vest. They set up simulations with paint ball guns, plan retreats to gorges for shooting practice. They are less a gang and more a militia. The term "muscle" has outlasted its relevance. It implies the use of physical stregnth, and--if you notice--most of Marlow's crew are not physically intimidating. Chris and Snoop are assassins. They would be ideal recruits for Blackwater Security Force.
The larger commentary here is about the marketplace. The man with the most efficient product gets the most business, but in the modern world efficiency means the most ruthless, most mechanical, least human. And this is the disquieting sense that Marlow gives the viewer: that he is almost inhuman in his stolid silence. That he is emotionless.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Big Brother in Baltimore?

As anyone who has been to Baltimore City (or has flown over or driven past on 95) knows, there are several hundred police cameras dotting the city. They have bright blue flashing lights and are usually attached to tall lampposts. They are intended to monitor the roughest areas of the city and to aid in preventing and prosecuting crimes. The first case to bring a conviction from the evidence provided by these cameras was that of a beating on North Avenue in June, 2006.

Whereas I understand how these cameras are helpful, the civil libertarian in me is outraged. I lived in Pigtown, I walked and drove past these cameras all the time. I know that they are meant for good. George W. Bush can't seem to stop saying, "if you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about." But I don't like the idea that someone can watch my every move, whether I'm committing a crime, reading a book, or picking my nose. While some might say that this is a great way to deter crime as well as prosecute it after the fact, I disagree. Setting up cameras only moves crime to darker, camera-less locations. It also breeds resentment and mistrust from the people who are being watched. Who wants to feel like they're being babysat? On top of this, these cameras are painfully apparent. The flashing blue lights on them are there intentionally, to broadcast the cameras' presence. If you take a look at Baltimore from a plane or from 95, you can see clusters of them. You won't find a camera in Mount Vernon (at least not as of May, 2007), but you'll find plenty in Washington Hill, along Broadway. If you're driving somewhere and you see one of those cameras, you instantly know you're in a bad area. The cameras say, "everyone knows this is a bad area." I think that's fucked up. We've probably all also heard the quote from Ben Franklin, "those who would give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."

Anyway, now Martin O'Malley, as governor of Maryland, wants to implement another "crime fighting strategy." He was praised for the introduction of CitiStat when he was mayor of Baltimore. This article in today's Baltimore Sun compares O'Malley's new plan to CitiStat. I laughed when I read the last paragraph of this article. CitiStat is a method of gathering information about the city, making sure it reaches the right people, and using it to implement better (?) management practices. Who could argue against that? No one. O'Malley's new plan, to attach GPS units to the ankles of 200 juvenile offenders to monitor their every move, is absolutely ridiculous to me. He has already set aside $1 million to kickstart the program. He should probably set aside another million to use to fight the lawsuits that the ACLU will rightly bring the second we try and slap one of those on someone. Is he fucking kidding? I know that crime in Baltimore is out of control. I know that juvenile offenders are rarely single offenders. I know that they grow up to be adult offenders. I know that this would be a useful tool in determining where someone was when a crime occurred (of course, just because person A was at Ashland and Caroline when person B was murdered, doesn't mean that person A did it or even saw anything). I don't have a soft spot in my heart for the young thugs of Baltimore. But I do have a soft spot for civil liberties, and this smacks of our Orwellian future. We have to draw the line somewhere before we're living in 1984.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

They Stole My Title

As Katie, Jess and some others can attest, a little over a year ago I made my own "The Wire" soundtrack, and I called it "All The Pieces Matter". Now the official, HBO-and-David-Simon-sanctioned one has come out with the same title. Sons of bitches. Anyway, here's a link to it and the Pitchforkmedia review (as you can guess if you're familiar with the site, they like it, but only a little...pretentious bastards).

About a Wire

This is from The Believer, came to me in an e-mail...I thought I'd seen all Simon's interviews but I really enjoyed this one...not to mention the idea of two of my favorite writers sitting around and bull-shitting.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Advances, None Miraculous

Some minor notes here before my next real post. Now I truly know how much it sucks to be an aspiring writer as opposed to an "established" one. I wrote a story in 2003 about cops, not a very good one I admit, but it involved a certain, ah, gimmick. I re-wrote the story in 2007 and actually turned it in to my graduate workshop. It contained the same gimmick and it was pretty much panned across the board. That's okay, it really wasn't all that good, but I remember several people negatively commenting on my gimmick. It would never happen, it was too silly, too coincidental, so on and so forth. And now I fucking see it in The Wire.

**The following is from episode doesn't really have any spoilers, but if you're like me and don't want to know ANYTHING about the upcoming episodes before you see them, stop reading here**

Kima gets to Chris and Snoop's murder scene, which has had uniform cops present for at least a little while, and after a quick examination she follows a weird noise to a closet, where she finds a live, shivering little boy. In my story, the person in the closet was actually the killer, a very stupid and doped up young man who didn't have the good sense to run and chose the first hiding place he could find and the first cops on scene were only slightly less dumb in not fully clearing the crime scene. Okay, perhaps it is a little hokey, and I'm not trying to get the damn thing published or anything, but was my exact idea. Stings, yo.

Second, I love Steve Earle. Having said that, I understand why anyone doesn't like his cover of "Way Down in the Hole". Even I could without the programmed bass beats, or "hot beats" as I've heard some say. For God's sake Steve, this is Baltimore-the gods will not save you, and neither will The Dust Brothers. Still, his voice adds a nice grit to the song, not as soulful as The Blind Boys or Neville Bros., not as horrifically twisted as Mr Waits, not as dark and intense as DoMaJe, but still, it adds a depth and dimension to the song previously (to my mind) unheard. I am biased to like the cover, and his acting, cause I love his music so much. The acting I will stand by, I have no idea how (cause I don't think he's an actor) but the man projects so much gravity and prideful sorrow and fucking truth, he just owns the role of Waylon...I didn't even realize it was him when I first saw it, till I saw the credits. The voice did kinda tweak something in my mind, but I suppose I never made the connection because my subconscious told me that'd be just too crazy. While I'm on the subject, I'd like to comment on the fact that Clarence Fucking Clemons, saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen's legendary E-Street Band, plays Roman in season 3. What the goddamm hell. It's amazing, but confusing. The rock star connection is strange, especially they've managed to get rock stars that can act.

Finally, I'd like to thank Lefton, Katie and Angela for their posts; in just over 48 hours of this thing's existence they've all posted and rocked this blog harder than I'd ever expected; in just this tiny space of time it has already surpassed all my expectations. Hopefully we'll get a few more people with more different perspectives to keep this humming. Rock on.

P.S.-When I watched episode 51 OnDemand, there was no "previously on", not one of the four or five times I watched it. There was for 52, so I have no idea why they left it out. But they did.


I feel ya

Hey Katie, long time no speak or see. I just read your first post about living in Baltimore and I wanted to thank you for sharing it. I think Angela and I go through some similar shit up here in New York.

The hardest thing about it for me is dealing with the loss of control. When you live in a city you're like a pinball, bounced around from bell to bell, flipper to flipper, and a lot of what happens to you is outside of your control. It's okay, at first, because you think I can avoid this, I can avoid that. I can move here, I can go there, and maybe these little decisions can help me feel in control. But then you realize no one is actually playing the game; there's no one in charge and there are no rules. Avoid one street, and you'll find trouble on the next. Leave the problems of one neighborhood, enter the despair another. The game runs itself and so it can't be stopped or paused or understood. You either keep bouncing or give up.

It's so hard to resist the urge to give up.

Simon Strikes Back

David Simon commented on Ubiquitous Marketing about Slate's discussion of the fifth season.


If you are serious in addressing something, then ideas matter, not the man. The Wire's depiction of the multitude of problems facing newspapers and high-end journalism will either stand or fall on what happens on screen, not on the back-hallway debate over the past histories, opinions passions or peculiarities of those who create it.

"The Wire" in Newsweek

There is a 3-page article about "The Wire" in Newsweek this week. While it's great to see it getting some press, it is, of course, hidden towards the back of the magazine. In any case, it's a very well-written article with some interesting comments from David Simon. In deference to the writers' strike, he is refusing interviews at this time (even though I'm sure he's desperate to get the word out about his fucking awesome show). However, this interview was completed before the writers' strike, and Simon agreed to answer a few follow-up questions for that reason.

It's pretty clear that he sees the fire in episode one as a metaphor for urban ills, mostly violence. The reporters watch it, but they don't have jobs unless nothing is done to fix it. The following quote is from the Newsweek article, written by David Simon in an e-mail in December.
He says that the show is "very much a critique [of] the fixation that Americans have with the pornography of violence, as opposed to the root causes of violence. We have zero interest in why the vast majority of violence actually happens and what might be done to address the issue. But give us a killer doing twisted shit or, better still, doing it to pretty white girls, and the media and its consumers lose all perspective."

As for critiques that the newsroom characters lack depth, Simon disagrees. My own opinion is that they do lack depth, but it's not all Simon's fault. We have 10 episodes in which to meet and get to know these characters, whereas we've had at least 13 episodes in the previous seasons, and for many of the characters, we've had all four seasons to learn their intricacies. Simon has said that the ten-episode season will feel accelerated to the viewer. He lobbied for 13 episodes, but HBO offered 6. They compromised at 10.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reading about the Wire

So I've been reading other people's thoughts on the first episode (here and at Slate), and here are my thoughts on other people's thoughts:

Everyone's being way too critical about the show's treatment of the newsroom. These are new characters! Yes, The Wire's strength is building ambiguious characters. But people forget those characters need to be built, layer after layer. They don't just show up on the screen, frame one, perfectly textured and grey. Could you see the many sides of Herc when we first met him in season one? Stringer? Carver? Any of the dock workers in season two? No, they fit into certain types until events showed otherwise.

Anyone writing about this season needs to give the Sun newsroom time to develop. After four amazing seasons, Simon has earned our patience.

Puss-ai [poo-sahy ] - noun, plural 1. more than one pussy

Bunk and McNulty go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Whenever they're in a scene together, I ache like a frat boy watching girl-on-girl to see them hug or even just pat each other. And despite McNulty's return to alcoholism and infidelity, I'm really happy to see him back together with Bunk. When I saw the previews on YouTube I was incredibly disappointed as I read, "And McNulty's drinking again."

Because Beedy is such a nice GIRL! Even though her son is played by one seriously over-acting kid, I really liked seeing him in their little house with a GOOD woman. But Adam's right - it would be bad writing if McNulty DIDN'T return to his old ways now that he's doing real police work again. And one thing you will not see in The Wire is bad writing. EVER. But I gotta tell you, for a moment at the opening I felt like it was getting a little too, er, obvious. When Bunk informs us that most Americans are stupid I was like, "Uh huh, DUH!" Its context was almost a little too preachy for me, but then I reminded myself what this season is about - the media! If there was ever a place to insert such an anti-American statement, it's at the opening of The Wire: Season Five!

I'm excited to grow attached to these journalists (with the exception of the grubby old men who chain-smoke outside the office while talking about boobies and such.) I especially like the Rupert Murdoch-esque bossman who lords over the staff, manipulating the paper to be less news-worthy and more politically attuned to his own interests and opinions. What an asshole! (Don't watch Fox News.) I've a feeling this character is going to make all of us reeeeeeeally angry.

Bunk's statement comes just in time for this country to prove its smarts by voting for the RIGHT presidential candidate. I'm excited to see all of this unfurl - The Wire's last season and the 2008 elections - side by side. I believe Simon to be a rather prophetic man and think we'll be watching our DVD box sets in the coming years getting chills over how close to reality all of this continues to run.

And back to my man-love theme: WHERE is Omar?! Besides in my heart. (Indeed!) I love that guy and can't wait til he pops a cap in Marlo's ass! He's got such superhero status and BRAVO, Simon, for making him gay! Talk about innovative! He is by far my most favorite character. When he went to jail I lost SLEEP waiting for them to get him out. (Good boy, Bunk!) And did Omar shiv that guy in the scrotum region? He won't say the "F" word, but he'll stab a guy THERE?! Oh, Omar! You so crazy! You can stab or shoot a fool ANYWHERE and bubble hearts will STILL float around my head whenever you're on screen!

I miss the kids though. Michael and Duquan worry me, but frankly, I was far more attached to Namond and Randy. Maybe because those characters emoted more. I love to think of Namond in his REAL house with a REAL dad, but at the level this image warms me, Randy's fate chills me even more. I'll find myself cleaning the stove and thinking, "Why couldn't a nice family have discovered Randy's potential and taken him in?! It's just not fair!"

And that seems to be the real theme of The Wire: The system is whack. Life isn't fair.

However, I still have a lot of faith in Carcetti, even if we aren't inside his head. The fact that he resisted boinking his campaign manager at the end of Season Four was inspiring. (Plus that actress was REALLY pregnant and trying to hide it at the time - maybe he's just not into that.) He should've taken the governor's money though. Still, he's a good guy who really cares. But now we get to see just how useless that sort of caring is to a broke-ass city.

Despite their drunken shenanigans, McNulty and Bunk have QUITE a heavy-handed season ahead of them. Unlike several of my other favorite series which have left us hangin', I trust this final season of The Wire to pan out nicely. Unfortunately, somebody's gonna die fo sho. The only other downfall of this season: The opening song. BLEH! Steve Earle is a fine singer (and he's great as Bubbles' sponsor) but to go to THIS version after listening to so many soulful voices cover it?! It's like listening to Rod Stewart do Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind." It's like eating an Oreo with no creamy center! It's like Omar without his shotgun. (Bubble hearts!)

And you know what, America? The fact that The Wire has yet to win an Emmy only proves how right Bunk is - this country is stupid. Hell, even McNulty doesn't vote!

The Wire: A Baltimorean's Perspective

I am contributing to this blog as a white woman (girl?) who grew up near Baltimore and spent the last half-decade living in various parts of downtown. My posts will probably have more to do with real life in Baltimore than the others. I do love "The Wire," and I've seen every episode, but the reason it's so meaningful for me is because I recognize every shot, I know the slang they use, I know the arcane references to restaurants and places, but more than anything, the show piques a morbid curiosity in me. I grew up in Jay Landsman's hometown, lived on the West Side, went to school where Stringer studied economics, and worked as a bike messenger in every downtown building you see on the show.

I think that part of what makes the show palatable is the mantra of, "it's all in the game." This is reiterated in David Simon's literary works, especially "The Corner." Everyone recognizes this refrain as Omar's tagline in "The Wire." Whether a corner kid is getting shot or metal piping is being stolen from a vacant, the offenders repeat that what they're doing is all part of the game, and so are the victims. However, this is the one area in which I disagree with David Simon and his characters. The victims of the drug trade and urban poverty are everywhere. In Baltimore this is striking because of how the city has gentrified. The best example I can think of right now is Washington Village, aka Pigtown or Billytown. Pigtown is situated downtown, just west of MLK. Until recently, it was indistinguishable from everything west and north of it (the West Side, where "The Wire" is set). Empty houses, trash in the street, lots of "carry outs," etc. Developers decided that this was prime real estate, close to downtown, Lexington and Hollins Markets, museums, and the stadiums, and they would fix a up a few homes and market the crap out of the area. In truth, it is a fine location, but MLK may be an insurmountable barrier to improvement in that area. East of MLK is downtown. West of MLK is ghetto all the way to Catonsville. It's a wide road for a city, three and four lanes wide. I rarely see pedestrians crossing the street (except for the occasional med students who live in the first block west of MLK and go to school one block east of MLK). People started snapping up houses in this area at the inflated rates of the early 2000's, and now people are desperate to get out. Homes can't be completed because their parts are being stolen, people are afraid to walk their dogs at night, and cars are broken into regularly. Now there are corner people and taxpayers living in the exact same place and the corners are winning as the area empties and houses are re-abandoned. These newcomers aren't part of the game. Yet they fell victim to it and are leaving in droves.

When I first moved to the city, I moved to the 400 block of West Redwood Street, a block from University Hospital. The McDonald's at Baltimore and Paca had bars on the windows. Pawn shops and shady convenience stores were everywhere. But two blocks south stand Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium, with the convention center close by. This is another example of Baltimore's dichotomous nature. In two blocks you go from $900 a month studio apartments to stores with bars on the windows to major downtown attractions. One day, on my way back from Lexington Market, I was approached by a large black man. He started hitting on me and trying to get me to stop walking. I looked down for a second and when I looked up I saw the door of a running car on the curb open and the man lunged toward me. Was he going to push me into the car? I don't know. I ran, which caused pedestrians in the area to take notice, and the guy jumped in the car and it sped off. At that point, that was the closest I'd come to the game.

After that incident, I decided to move to Canton. Canton is on the east side along the harbor. It's one of the trendy gentrified neighborhoods downtown and arguably the safest neighborhood in the city. All was well until my bike was stolen in broad daylight at Boston and Hudson by a black guy in a raggy tank top. In tears and in the rain, I walked through the projects east of Little Italy, thinking I might see my beloved bike, my sole means of transportation. I didn't see mine, but I saw many others that were too nice to have been purchased by people on welfare in public housing, probably stolen from people in Canton. Once again I was a victim, but I'm not in the game.

After Canton I lived in Pigtown. Yes, I bought into the whole idea of the area improving because I'm an optimisitc idiot. My running shoes were stolen off my front porch. My front steps filled with trash, needles, and urine. My roommate's boyfriend, a former addict, was sucked back into the world of drugs by the carryout near the corner of Washington Boulevard and Poppleton Street. My electricity bill for a ten foot wide rowhouse was in excess of $300 a month, no doubt because during the renovations that happened just prior to my moving in, someone ran a line out, though I could never prove it. My parents' BG&E bills for a house ten times the size of that one were about $125. I'm still not in the game, and now I fucking hate it.

After Pigtown came Mount Vernon. I was working as a messenger and wanted to live close to downtown, but away from the crime. What was I thinking? It's Baltimore...crime finds you. My first night in Mount Vernon I rode my bike down to an O's game. The next morning, I discovered that overnight, someone had broken into my and my boyfriend's cars. They were both parked on the Biddle Street bridge over the JFX. What's on the other side of the JFX? Johnston Square. A public housing area that is also home to the city jail. It looks like this (this is the 1100 block of Barclay Street; one home is occupied):

That is two blocks east of this picture, taken from my front steps at Calvert and Biddle:

My boyfriend's $1200 stereo system was stolen, as was some Percoset that was in my center console (I broke my back messengering, hence the Percoset). Now, I'm pissed at the game.

Four weeks later, we rode our bikes down to Tide Point to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. On the way back, we got caught in a huge amount of traffic downtown at Pratt and Light Streets. I got off my bike and decided to walk because there were so many pedestrians moving between the stopped cars. Before my boyfriend could unclip from his pedals (he was clipped in and stopped between two cars; he had a hand on one of them to keep him upright), someone crossing the street tripped over his rear wheel. Before I knew what was happening, three young teenaged yos were beating the shit out of my boyfriend. I screamed in the street at the top of my lungs. I couldn't reach him; both of our bikes were between us and we were wedged between cars. They punched him from behind while he was immobilized, still clipped into his bike. As soon as he could unclip, they walked off into the night. They walked. The dozens of police officers in the area stood motionless on the sidewalks. I made my way toward one. "DID YOU SEE THAT?!" I screamed. Chip followed me, bleeding from him face, his eye almost swollen shut, and an egg the size of a golf ball on his forehead. "Yeah," the cop said. "Do you want an ice pack?" "Are you going to do anything?" I screamed hysterically. "I'm just a medic," he said. At that moment, I felt more alone than anyone has ever felt while standing in a throng of thousands of people. My screams fell on deaf ears, and the police, those who should have protected us, did nothing. We walked home, silent except for our crying. Fuck the game, and fuck the ghetto eye for an eye mentality that we see in Namond, Marlo, and everyone else on the corners.

A few months later, I graduated from college and decided it was time to get the fuck out. The city was getting too dangerous. If I stayed too long, I could end up like Zach Sowers. Or worse. I moved to a town in California that hasn't seen a murder in a decade, but not before my neighbor's car was broken into less than a foot outside my bedroom window. When those yos broke Chip's nose, they broke my faith in humanity. In a month we'd had our things stolen and our physical selves violated. Moreover, the police witnessed it, and did nothing. Now I live in suburbia and am still visited with nightmares about the 4th of July. Every ten seconds or so while I'm out walking the dog, I feel compelled to stop and turn around, to make sure no one is behind me. I don't leave anything except trash out on my front porch. I think twice about where I park the car. I still get nervous leaving my bike locked up outside, even though the wheels are bolted on.

So why do I watch "The Wire?" I miss the city. I fucking miss Baltimore fucking City. I don't even want to visit because I'm afraid I won't leave. It's my fucking home, and nothing else feels like it. The first time I heard Tootsie Duvall talk about "meeyath and sahnce" ("math and science" in Bawldamorese), it brought tears to my eyes. I stop every time I hear myself say, "Bawldamore" instead of "Bal-ti-more," when I order a Jamba juice with "prayotein," and when I occasionally punctuate a sentence with "hon." People ask where I'm from and I instantly say, "Baltimore" instead of California. I crave Utz chips, Natty Boh, Nino's pizza, and Otterbein's cookies. The bloody, corrupt heap of shit that is Baltimore is part of me. I don't feel complete without it. “The Wire” shows Baltimore in all its gritty glory.

Please Don't Evacuate Me!

This piece at New York Magazine addresses the use of "evacuate" on The Wire. According to the article, current usage rules allow for people to be evacuated (it's been allowed since WW II), and if you read the comments below you'll see that an editor-at-large at Webster's confirms this.

I still stand by my point about Guttierez's reaction: it's genuine. But I that a Webster's dictionary she's consulting?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Carcetti for President

Thanks, Tripp, for inviting me to blog here. I think it's one of your best ideas, and hopefully Angela and the others who join us have a lot to say. You forgot to mention you were inspired to start this by last year's Slate blog (they're doing it again, in case you haven't noticed). I've enjoyed the Slate blog, but I sometimes think they focus too much on the social implications of The Wire and Simon's source material. They always return to The Wire as a social mirror, reflecting the real city of Baltimore and the American urban experience. While I love that aspect of the show (I admit it would be a far less weighty and important show without it), I think their blog can fall short of discussing how beautiful the show is as a stand-alone work of television art. That's not saying I don't think those bloggers believe it is; they clearly love the show as much as everyone else. They just get hung up on the real-life of it, the stats, you might say. I'm not one for the stats, but then again I haven't read any of Simon's non-fiction. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me the kind of discussion on the Slate blog is typical of those about The Wire. Maybe someone could explain to me why this is? Why this obsession with the stats and the non-fiction roots of the show? Is it not, by itself, beautiful? Is this why it hasn't won an Emmy? Because the sociological overshadows just how perfect it is as a show?

Until then, on to episode one...

While I think the quasi-religious experience you had watching the opening scene sounds like a blast, I can't help but point out that when the original episode aired on Sunday there was a "previously on" clip before the shot of Bunk's splendid face. I do, however, agree with your impression of the opening scene. Simon writes great openings. This may be the most overtly symbolic opener of the series, though. The message, as you said, is this is a season about lies. But Bunk isn't merely lying to the suspect in this scene. He is molding a lie so that another will see it as truth. It is more dangerous than the simple boy who cried wolf, and I think we'll see that season five isn't about only lies, but also the smoke and mirrors put up to present those lies as truth. It will be about the great lengths people go to turn their lies to truth, and the equally great lengths others go to expose their machinations. Ultimately, it will ask the question: does truth exist at all in Baltimore? Or is it all just sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I think we might already know the answer, but I expect the path the show takes to be brutal.

One of my questions going into the season was how Simon would use the kids. Randy, Michael, Duquan and Namond broke our hearts in season four, and I needed to know how their lives turned out. So far, we know Michael is earning his keep for Marlo and Duquan is still living with him, working on the corner and taking care of Michael's younger brother, Bug. Is it just me, or does Duquan look a lot older now? Michael doesn't seem to have aged a bit, but Dukie is taller, and he no longer has that baby face. No intention on the writers' part presumed (words can't make a kid older), but Duquan's appearance has me optimistic. In this episode Michael takes him off the corner, telling him he can earn his money taking care of Bug. When Duquan asks him what he's supposed to do all day, with Bug at school, now that he's off the corner, Michael tells him his days are his to do whatever he wants. I really hope he goes back to school. He at least looks old enough to stand up to those ninth grade bullies. Maybe he pays a visit to his old teacher Prez to help him get back in the system?

Michael and Duquan were the two kids I was sure would appear in season four. Namond might get some screen time, too; his story didn't seem like it came to its natural end in season four. But Randy - oh it makes me shiver just to think about it - Randy, I'm not so sure we'll see him in season five. When Randy gets beat up during the montage at the end of season four, you get the feeling that it's just going to be more of the same for him for many years. I hope The Wire proves me wrong, but I don't hold out hope it will. It is an unforgiving show. Take McNulty; he's drinking again. Why? Because that is what McNulty does. Believe me, the fan in me wants to see him redeemed, but It would be bad writing to have him do real police work sober.

Before I go, I want to take issue with some posts I read at Slate today about episode one. The bloggers there are unsatisfied with the portrayal of the staff at The Baltimore Sun. One of them wisely points out that perhaps this is due to the fact that they are reporters themselves writing about reporters on television, and are thus predisposed to find the characters trite and cliche. Well, I'm not a reporter, and I have no problem with them. After one episode, they remind me of the dock workers. I didn't care much about Frank, Ziggy and Nick at first, but by end of season two I cried for them (I really did cry for Ziggy).

I like "Gus" Haynes (City Editor). He has a good sense of humor and a likable, as opposed to patronizing, been-there-done-that attitude. And, unlike the blogger at Slate, I LIKED the moment with Alma Gutierrez when she looks up the proper use of the word "evacuate." I work in a business of words too - Publishing - and when I'm corrected by my older colleagues I only truly accept the new information once I've looked it up myself. It is a humble and private moment of self-reflection and growth, and I think that's the intention of the scene. When her young, male cohort asks her what she's talking about, you'll note she doesn't tell him.

As for Marlo and Sergei, I think the king is trying to go around the co-op to find a direct line to the drugs. Do you remember the scene last season when Marlo met with Spiros? He probed him for a direct connect to the drugs. Marlo has been going along with co-op out of necessity only, and I think he's going to try to get to the drugs through Sergei.

You're probably wondering now, what's with the title of this post. Carcetti for President. Well, throughout the first episode I was struck by the eerie similarities between our favorite fallen mayor of Baltimore and the golden boy of the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama. Carcetti promised "A New Day'; Barack: "Change We Can Believe In." They're also both racially atypical. Carcetti a white mayor in a black city and Obama a black presidential candidate in a white nation.

It's a strange coincidence that we Wire fans, many of whom I assume are Democrats (because Republicans are really more the Dancing with the Stars crowd), are watching Carcetti come to terms with the obstacles that lie between the old ways and his new day as Barack, a Wire fan himself, presents to us that same message of change. I hope, for our sake, Barack's a better closer.


Episode 51-"More With Less"

"The bigger the lie, the more they believe."

The famous HBO logo rises from out of the static and what sounds, to me anyway, like very ominous monks wordlessly chanting. Black screen. Then, no "previously on", no recap, no slowly approaching panning shot, but Wendell Pierce, The Bunk himself, disinterestedly glaring into the camera. He explains to the unfortunate young man sitting across from him in one of Homicide Division's interrogation rooms that he is screwed. They have witnesses who place him at the scene, his buddy has just ratted him out, he ought to make it easy on himself and confess. It's about all he can do, really. Stupid not to. And it's quite convincing. You'd go for it. I probably would too, in theory, but I know something about Detective William "Bunk" Moreland: in this case at least, he's completely full of shit.

Welcome to season five of The Wire. The lie referred to in the epigraph is a pretty big one, as the accused's friend, we soon see, has not said a word about him and even after they treat him to some McDonald's he re-affirms "I still ain't sayin' shit to y'all." Then Bunk and his partners Det. Ed Norris (played by the former police commissioner of Baltimore of the same name) and Sgt. Jay Landsman tape his hand to a "lie detector" (copy machine) and using pre-loaded "Truth" and "Lie" sheets of paper convince the kid to spill his guts. The whole thing is directly out of David Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Norris and Bunk walk away chuckling, and as Bunk unsheathes one of his trademark cigars he utters the line.

So what does it mean? This being The Wire, and the opening scene of a season to boot, we know it is meant as a metaphor for the upcoming season. Snoop was educated about nail guns in 4, Bodie/Poot saw the deception of forced reform and its dusty consequences in 3, McNulty watched his job as a policeman turn into aquatic lackey in mere minutes in 2, and of course the immortal "This America, man" speech in 1. What is the lie? Who's telling it, and who are they telling it to?

The media is what the focus is on this time around, so they make a good candidate, but they're not alone. We discover Carcetti, the great white hope of a mayor who ran and won and crime reform has dumped all available money into the bankrupt school system, to the point where the entire police force has gone nearly two months without a paycheck. Major Crimes still watches Marlo Stanfield (it's been fifteen months) and they both pretend it's a covert operation. Herk works for resident scumbag attorney Maury Levy, pretending it was an overblown racial incident that got him fired, not the $4000 camera he stole and then lost, but not before using it to make a bogus and illegal arrest. Everyone lies, everyone pays. Bubbles doesn't seem to be lying, and he's clean and living in his sister's basement again, but he has gotten to the boring stage of recovery, literally: he just sits around being bored and realizing that not shooting up is no longer enough to sustain his waking hours. I'm really interested in where he's going, and I really hope we get some scenes between him and his N.A. sponsor Waylon, played by a favorite musician of mine named Steve Earle.

Finally, just like last season, Major Crimes is disbanded. McNulty and Greggs go back to Homicide, and Freamon and Sydnor go to the state's attorney for-get this-the Clay Davis investigation. Yeah, Mr. Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit himself, possibly the most believably corrupt politician in fiction since Willy Stark, seems to be about to get his.

2 moments that exemplify why this show is brilliant:
-Chris Partlow asking Rhonda Pearlman and Daniels directions in the courthouse. Pearlman and Partlow are two of the most random characters I could think of to throw together. It only lasts a second but it's almost shocking, especially when you see Daniels trying to remember how he knows the man standing before him. I'm not sure if he does or not, I'd assume if he did he would have said something.

-McNulty, drinking and about to get adulterous, stumbles to the pay phone like he always used to. He roots around in his pocket for a quarter, and removes a cellphone. He stares at it uncomprehendingly for a moment, and we see his thoughts. What's this? Shit, it's a cellphone! Do I have a cell phone? I don't remember getting one. Then he smiles a little. I forgot that I bought this cause I'm drunk...ha that's kinda funny. We see all that in maybe ten seconds, with no words and very little gesticulation. Props to Dominic West of course, but I know Simon wrote that explicitly in the script.

I don't know how much I can say about this episode at this point-it's all set-up and without the upcoming episodes I can't isolate major themes or motifs. But I can say it lived up to every single one of my expectations, which is saying quite a lot. Plus I've only watched it twice...or I've only watched it twice while sober and not horribly sleep-deprived. I figure this is a learn-as-we-go project anyway, so this only what Lester might refer to as the baseline. Adam and Angela I'm sure will come along soon with much better observations too, so all is not yet lost.

I leave you with a hint at one of the episode's biggest surprises, my favorite:

"Boris. Why is it always Boris?"

The beginning of the end for the straight-up best television ever made:

Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit indeed.

This is a blog dedicated to David Simon's masterpiece "The Wire", specifically to its fifth and final season, the first episode of which premiered January 6, 2008 on HBO. Throughout the season's ten-week run, our contributing writers of various ages, locales, nationalities (and opinions) will be posting about the most recent episodes as well as earlier seasons, various themes and/or characters, and the series in general.

It should be mentioned that this is a blog for people who have been watching the show up to this point and are watching it now; in other words, there will generally be spoilers in pretty much every post, so if you haven't seen the current episode or parts of previous seasons, here is your official warning-if you continue reading it will likely be ruined for you. Perhaps...even...spoiled? Anyway, I hate them and I've had parts of all four seasons tainted for me because of them and I don't want to put others through it. Of course, the show itself isn't too good about it-recall that the death of a major character in season 2 is pictured next to the episode in which it occurs on the DVD packaging. So, long story short (too late), spoilers lie ahead. One last note on this: all the episodes are available at HBO On Demand the week before they air, and though some of us have it we will not be discussing episodes until after they officially air, out of respect for those who wait, and I'd ask anyone who comments here do the same and not mention upcoming content.

Each writer will introduce themselves as they appear, and we have a fairly exciting stable this time around. So, without further ado, let the games begin.

Well get on with it motherfuckers.