Author Archives: 7thveil

Killer Elite War

In The New Yorker article by Nancy Franklin, she points out that Evan Wright’s original articles were part of a magazine series title “The Killer Elite.” I agree that this title seems more apt than “Generation Kill.” The “Elite” signify a special group of Marines trained to kill without guilt. Other comments that the series lost its zip as it experienced various media – newspaper print, book printing, and television miniseries – seem to hold true. The interview with Wright and the real Marines made one thing clear that didn’t seem to come through in the miniseries. And, that is that the Marines shown with Wright are very intelligent men who take their work quite seriously and obviously feel its effects in very different and individual ways; all the while masking any feelings that might break through that buffered demeanor. I wonder whether this kind of war can be filmed and viewed as entertainment or edutainment. It is impressive that most of the blogs I read with comments from actual Marines touted the show as being true to the reality of the desert war circumstances and situations. Being in the military is truly one of those dirty jobs that somebody has to do. And that’s too bad.

GenKill Dialogue

The dialogue in GenKill sizzles with pop culture and homophobic references, racial slurs, sexual innuendo and even a little history. GenKill is reflexive in that it critiques its own narrative about the military, including its leadership. Most of the narrative is politically incorrect and irreverent. It appears, however, that the irreverence and political incorrectness act as primary coping mechanisms. These mostly young and some older men who make up this spear head group of Recon Marines prepared to go up against the “haji” seem trapped in a distorted realm of masculinity. Wright points out that these Marines are different from portrayals of WWII vets who appear on film and TV as patriotic, adult men who have found and taken their places in society. Wright’s Marines are the misfits, what he calls the “throw away” generation of young men. While the visuals of this desert engagement convey the horrors of war, they somehow don’t seem so devastating and horrendous amid the sexual, racial and off the wall banter of men trying to stay sane in an insane environment. One Marine (I’m having trouble identifying who’s who) makes a reference, “country music, homosexual, special Olympics gay.” Another said that the Marine mission is “semper gumby, always flexible.” Episode 2 makes reference to the Vietnam War with an accompanying remark “gotta respect the pajamas.” Still another admits that the Marines are “so homoerotic.” Another communicates that a cheap, vibrating thrill can be had if you lay with your “cock on the ground” when the tanks go by. Then there’s the social commentary – “Fifty percent of Americans are obese” and the dialogue goes on to identify them as white trash, poor Mexicans and Blacks. With a reference to incest, one Marine talks about “sister fucking” and “cross-eyed hicks.” Thai pussy is a subject for discussion as well as one Marine’s quest to finally shoot his gun and kill someone. These examples of dialogue cover up the fact that supplies are hard to come by, maps are unreliable and blame is carried on the lowest rungs of the military ladder. Religion creeps into the narrative in the form of Buddhism and Islam. One Marine chants “nam myoho renge kyo’ as he prepares to shoot an Iraqi. Another shouts, “as salaam alaikum” to young Muslim girls along the road into the city. One message comes across loud and clear and that is that the “white man got to rule the world … white man won’t be denied.” The topsy turvy world of the Recon Marines chooses the Corps over community college and for one Marine “messed up is the way I roll.” That the Marines are indeed in the cradle of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers is not a factor as they survive in the tight area of the humvee with too much equipment and protective clothing for the hot desert sun. One Marine’s solution to stop the killing is to put a McDonald’s on every corner. The most telling remark in Episode 2 with regard to war and the quest for control of resources – “the white man’s oppression and the white man’s burden.”

Winning an Emmy – TV History Speaks

“Stealing Life” and several other articles make much of the fact that The Wire never won an Emmy even while it received praise as ground-breaking television. And for all its narrative authenticity springing from journalism and homicide detective backgrounds, The Wire was nominated only once for a script (George Pelacanos) which didn’t win (5). In terms of audience, it contrasts sharply with the popularity of The Sopranos (5). It seems The Wire was popular only with “people who identify with inner-city characters, and critics” (5). Due to its serial format, The Wire did not translate or edit well to syndication on BET (much like Sex and the City on TBS). Andrew Salomon writes in (9-20-07) that out of a cast of 70, about 52 are African-American. He wonders “if there’s a direct connection between the show’s racial makeup and Hollywood’s screaming indifference toward it” (1). In a TimeOnline (3-16-09) article that discusses The Wire airing in the UK, Andre Billen explores whether there are “break-out great characters” in the series. Of course, he mentions McNulty as a possibility, but notes that “Soon … the black actors eclipse even him (3). Salomon’s concluding comments suggest a conspiracy and a “pattern to the way The Wire is passed over year after year … and reflects a consensus from every quarter of the television industry: actors, writers, directors and producers” (2). A lack of recognition and “industry affirmation and acclaim” makes The Wire a ‘one trick pony’ whose portrayals, subjects and perspectives will “remain a singular achievement” (2). This may be the issue that makes The Wire worth our time to study. It can be placed on a particular point on the postmodern timeline of both television and society as a representation of what Simon says he intends as “The faces and voices of the real city” (Stealing 3). Alex Haley’s Roots aired as a “miniseries” on ABC over eight nights in 1977; it also had a majority African-American cast working within a narrative of individual and historic moments in time. Roots garnered record audiences who had little qualms about the subject matter and were able to receive it without explanation or glossary. It received numerous Emmy awards in several categories: best and supporting actor and actress; art direction; scenic design; costume design; cinematography; best director; best editing; best music; best sound mixing; best sound editing; and best writing. It seems that television viewers and the industry prefer the less complex idealized past over Simon’s serialized social commentary that encompasses the legacy of the Roots narrative even as it updates its images and geography.

Locker Room Television as Spectacle

I’m glad to know that Stringer Bell’s wife-beater t-shirt, among other things, elicited critical analysis that focused on the spectacle of the black male body as well as the homoerotic aspects of that spectacle as portrayed in The Wire. The boys locker room is a story older than the Greek lyceum and much more titillating when color is added (ala Caliban, Othello, and Crusoe’s Friday to name a few). Simon’s focus since Homicide has been on more than drugs, the ravaged inner-city and its prey and predators. The all too obvious side show is one of white patriarchal spectacle that culminates in the critically acclaimed conflation of The Wire as ground-breaking television and searing comment on urban communities. James S. Williams’ detailed article delineates and reduces The Wire to an ethnographic and anthropological “visual novel” with “elegantly choreographed and discrete scenes [that] stand out dramatically from the rest of the action” (59). Williams confirms that “Only young black male characters receive this degree of visual investment [in The Wire] which at times achieves a Cocteau-like intensity [perhaps a reference to Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast] and sensory rhythm” (59). Williams casts the obvious gay blade thug in the persona of Omar, murderous thief that he may be, as such a “half-mythical figure living in the shadows that he attracts a cinematic glow whenever he appears” (61). Maybe Omar does exude an aura that I can’t see, but he appears more on the screen, especially at night, as a Batman like figure. In the daylight, he looks like a broken down thug. I do, however, agree with Williams’ conclusion that The Wire provides “one of the most far-reaching formal explorations yet of the relations between race and spectatorial desire and opens up the possibility for new forms of gay realism in both television and film” (63). The question remains as to Simon’s intent, or was this homoerotic portrayal a side effect of aiming the camera on this slice of life? Do we have Simon to thank for gay organized crime members like Vito in The Sopranos and the cowboy lovers in Brokeback Mountain? Is this how the literary and filmic patriarchal pyramid will collapse in on itself?

Kinder Issues

There is one sentence in Kinder’s article that I didn’t fully understand: “But CSI never illuminates its urban context – either its actual setting of Las Vegas or the city of Los Angeles, whose race-based trials of O.J. Simpson and the cops who battered Rodney King and their disturbing outcomes help explain the popular appeal of this escapist procedural series” (50). I’m having trouble with the premise of the “race-based trials” as an explanation for “popular appeal of this escapist procedural series.” If there is a connection, perhaps it needs more illumination. Kinder’s references to cinematic processes and film history as foundational to television narrative and storytelling provide a broad framework from which to draw. The references to “precursors within the crime film genre” that combined “realism and emotional identification” bring Kinder’s discussion of “systemic analysis” onto a larger stage of media study (51). However, the one point about The Wire that comes through in Kinder’s article is that the characters are expendable and “can be killed off at any moment, as in real life” (52). The ensuing paragraph that discusses this expendability seems to apply to only the ghetto denizens. I recall that Kima Greggs, the only female on the case, gets shot up pretty badly; did any other cops get injured or killed? Kinder posits that viewers care about the public issues brought to the fore in The Wire because of the “characters who emerge from the ensemble cast” (52). If The Wire as a “powerful counter-example” that “never won an Emmy” had an audience “less than half of what The Sopranos normally drew,” – a show that garnered 22 Emmys, it would appear as if not very many of us were affected (57). Kinder makes a point about “television’s expanded narrative field” allowed by the concept of the series. However, with all the background and comparisons of film to television, Kinder does not mention the popularity of serial adventure, sci-fi and western films from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

TV More Than Market

The dynamics of television and its electronic/digital spinoffs paint a picture whose focus shifts in the face of advancing technologies. Television has historically been a passive experience, recaptured only in reruns. However, now all manner and sort of television programming history is available in one media format or another. Perhaps as the history of television accumulates, patterns will emerge that not only track industry practices, profits and programming, but also connect with some of the same layered societal elements explored in The Wire. Simon’s approach as a journalist pays off in The Wire as noted in Lanahan’s Secrets of the City. Over five seasons, The Wire attempts to make sense of the criminal, educational, political, and media elements of a 100,000 piece urban jigsaw puzzle that has about 10,000 pieces missing and not a large enough surface on which to complete the puzzle. Most of our reading indicates that what has come through the tube, what is coming through now, and what will come through in the future acts as a measure and indicator of what the producers think the market will allow. DVD box sets, VHS sets and other media texts make up a kind of encyclopedia of knowledge that will be useful for study in fields that operate on the assumption that television has become more than market. Yes, television is an industry – almost everything is – but what is its purpose and sphere of influence. I’m waiting for the name of television to change to something that reflects its true nature, even though I’m sure I don’t know its true nature.

Existential Viewer

I’m familiar with only two – Sex and the City and Survivor – of the five case study television shows that Lotz uses to “illustrate the interconnections among changes in multiple production components” (216). I tried to watch Arrested Development once or twice, but it didn’t work for me. Never watched The Shield and never heard of Off to War. This is a small example of how we have become viewers that watch what we individually consider, in Lotz’ terms the “exceptional niche-specific shows and channels for distinctive audience” and we also watch some “mass hits” (240), not to mention the various technologies that we use in addition to/in lieu of television to view these products. This move away from television’s vast and historical cultural center recognizes a wider range of options that de-center an idealized past. Compared to literature and film, television might be considered an infant technology, witness its mostly passive, box/screen existence. Lots of early television network shows can still be seen on basic cable; TVLand as time capsule. I Love Lucy remains a profitable product. At the same time, new shows come and go (except for Law and Order), and compete against favorite re-runs and popular syndicated programming. The mixture of viewing outlets reflects a still larger landscape of individual choice – watching TV product online, taped, DVD boxed set, etc. In a description of her TV viewing habits, Lotz suggests that we may adopt network-like behavior and schedule our DVR viewing to certain times of the day and watch certain shows based on a need to “multitask while viewing” (242). Lotz’ description suggests a schedule and options designed to suite a busy, engaged lifestyle. While Lotz writes that we have become used to “expanded choice and control,” she emphasizes that “convenience, customization, and community” are the components that must integrate in order for the viewer of the post-network era to fully realize his or her new media, digital self.

The Wire, Baltimore as Character, Annotated Bibliography

Preliminary annotated bibliography for research paper on an episode of The Wire that examines how it depicts the City of Baltimore as social location and geographic character in the episode.

Bowden, Mark. “The Angriest Man in Television.” The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2008. 13 September 2009
This article focuses on Simon’s distrust of the “political structure” and disenchantment with the newspaper as well as television industries and how he has turned his anger into a fictional vision of what he knows as the City of Baltimore. This article reflects on Simon’s personal and professional confrontations and tells how one affects the other. I anticipate that this piece will answer the question of motivation for the series The Wire.

Burns, Ed, et al. “The Wire’s War on the Drug War.” Time, 5 March 2008. 25 October 2009,8599,1719872,00.html.
An article by the major writers on The Wire, including Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Richard Price and David Simon contextualizes the drug scene in Baltimore and on a national level and names the resultant consequences such as high incarceration numbers among society’s most marginalized populations. This information will add perspective to the drug piece of The Wire pie.

Kinder, Marsha. “Re-Wiring Baltimore: The Emotive Power of Systemics, Seriality, and the City.” Film Quarterly Winter 2008-09, 50+.
This article joins the institutional processes and practices with the characters from The Wire to produce a synthesized view of the City of Baltimore as the symbol for all urban communities. Kinder posits that the city presents the foundation for the stories told in The Wire. This discussion will support my analysis of one episode of The Wire and how it depicts Baltimore through its storytelling mechanisms.

Massood, Paula. Black City Cinema: African American Urban Experiences in Film. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003.
While the book focuses on film, it offers some insight as to how spatial temporal locations are used to convey certain narrative sensibilities and representations. Its premise will speak to the motivation of choice of location for The Wire and shed light on the urban trope played out in black television culture.

Rose, Brian. “The Wire.” The Essential HBO Reader. Eds. Gary Edgerton and Jeffrey Jones. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008.
This essay focuses on the motivations of Simon and Burns to turn the cop genre on its head and focus on “urban sociology … politics and … macroeconomics” (82). The essay posits that Simon and Burns wanted to create a more comprehensive storyline that reflected the reality of the urban socio-economic-cultural-political mix. I anticipate that this information will help construct my argument of the City as a central character of The Wire.

Simon, David. “Transcript: David Simon on Why He Created The Wire.” TimesOnline, 13 October 2009. 13 October 2009…
This is a new piece from the London TimesOnline that is in reality an excerpt from a 2004 book by Rafael Alvarez, a former Wire staffer which includes this essay by Simon. I’ve ordered the book, however, this excerpt gives Simon’s overriding purpose and reasons and his view of the City as the new Western frontier to be explored, revealed and settled. I look forward to more in the book about the symbolism of the City in the postmodern age.

Taylor, Sara. “The Wire: Investigating the Use of Neoliberal Institutional Apparatus and a ‘New Humanist’ Philosophical Apparatus.” Darkmatter Journal, May 2009. 25 October 2009
The premise of this article centers on The Wire as an expression of neoliberalism and a new humanist culture in broadcasting circles. Neoliberalism as a “conversion of global cultures into market cultures” is one definition used to characterize the motivations of HBO programming executives. From this article, I hope to find a theoretical context in which to place my discussion.

Literary Surveillance

Considering the degree to which the police-crime drama has played out within the black urban confines in Homicide, The Corner and now Clockers, the opposing representations of good (cops) vs bad (murderers, addicts, dealers) prevail, even when they blur to gray. While Simon as a journalist relied on his notes, the cooperation of the Baltimore police and interviews with community residents, Price as a fiction writer turned his observations and experience into dramatic license to embellish the dystopian world of what one reviewer called “an in-depth vision of America Narcotica” (Paul West, National Review 8/3/92). Hardly. The “real” world of Simon’s journalism seems to underpin and add credibility to Price’s “virtual” fictional world. Although in a 2004 interview, Price said that he “grew up in a housing project in the Bronx, pre-Vietnam, pre-Beatles … I had instant history and instant mythology” ( This history and mythology is seen in his first novel The Wanderers which was made into a film about white guys in black leather jackets who went up against other ethnic gangs in and around NYC. As discussed in class, the geography of Clockers places it in a specific place and time that defines its characteristics and its denizens. Even though he was from the projects, Price observed that he was amazed at “how the projects went from launching pads for [white] working-class families to just terminals where generations [of black families] are stacked up in the same apartment because there’s no place to go” (Paula J. Massood, Black City Cinema, 193). What Simon observed from afar, Price experienced growing up. He saw his and other neighborhoods change and deteriorate over time and used them as the backdrop to tell stories about the people who live out these fictional and nonfictional lives. Price tries and succeeds in striking (no pun intended) a balance between Klein and Strike, but the social, political, and economic limits of the full influence of the drug trade are centered on a very small and marginalized group. That both Simon and Price use the black, urban locale to center their stories might be interpreted as a form of geo-cultural surveillance that in turn is used as a prop in the support of the existing hierarchy in which such circumstances are allowed to exist.

Final Paper – David Simon Storytelling

As a result of reading an article in “Film Quarterly” on The Wire and the transcript of a TimesOnline interview with David Simon on why he created The Wire, and my own interest in the progression of Simon’s storytelling, journalism, narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction, and social journalism, I am leaning toward researching and writing a final paper that discusses Simon’s progression as a storyteller. The paper would discuss how the series Homicide is Simon’s first engagement with representations of the underside of society to television audiences. In the book Homicide, billed as a work of journalism, Simon stands on the outside with the police authorities looking in on a series of murders, and eventually he melds into their routines. An analysis of The Corner would reveal how it represents Simon’s direct confrontation with the lives of the neighborhood characters, even though he retains relationships with the police. In the instance of The Corner, Simon has inserted himself on the inside of the community to reveal its frightening nature to the outside, the television viewer. Billed as “stand around and watch journalism,” the narrative truth of The Corner leaves itself open to question and discussion that it leans more toward “creative nonfiction” than journalism. Simon states unequivocally that The Wire is fiction. However, its themes over the seasons, the complexities and ambiguities of its characters, and the urban, social, cultural, economic, political and governmental scenarios that it creates and connects represent a culmination of Simon’s storytelling and journalistic concerns. I am not completely sure what the research will turn up over the next few days, but I think a case can be made to connect Simon’s storytelling progression in these three series, each with its own distinctions, with his concern for creating entertainment that comes with the opportunity for the interrogation of socio-economic, cultural and political conditions. This may be too much to tackle and I’ll have to figure out a way to hone it down to a manageable thesis. I need to put more thought into the actual thesis question I’m attempting to answer. I’m open to any suggestions.