Category Archives: reading responses

Generation Kill: Distance

Simon Cellan Jones and Sussana White use  camera distance to communicate the marine’s emotional distance from the hajji people. In most occurrences when Hajji people are killed the slaying occurs from remote locales. The characters further explicate distance in physical means by explaining to Evan Wright that to Americans, Iraq might seem a dangerous place but behind the wheel it is safe. Again Generation Kill exposits the marines yearning for war, by the first combat initiation at 9:00 minutes in. Sergeant Brad attempts to inform the engaged soldiers to cease fire, but the marines appear unable to hear or ignore the order completely. It is tragic because the people the marines are shooting at are believed to be women and children. What is unknown to the marines extends their lack of emotionality. At one moment Chromlie can be seen joyously shooting at camels, culminating in harming a Hajji child civilian. Then there is Captain America who is represented as completely unfit to lead and oblivious to the actualities of the marines climate. He frequently gives his platoons erroneous orders to engage non-combatants and shoot at objects of no purpose. This emotional distance and lack of empathy is articulated in Bravo company’s later debrief. A marine states that his fellow marines must start seeing the hajji people as people. That they are not there to destroy the Hajji way of life. He explains that the variant context does not warrant the taking of their lives. Within this sequence Generation Kill dialogically explicates the bifurcation of Marines and enemies must be obviated. Although on opposing sides, war does necessitate the dehumanization of opposing forces.

The Godfather is deployed as a municipal leader, whose decision is to be followed exactly even at the cost of their lives. I can’t help but laugh at his melodramatic speeches. He refers to himself in third person and silences dissent that may undermine his leadership. Just for the fulfillment of his orders he declares a space of engagement free for all fire. When faced with the boy killed as a result of his order he informs his personnel that he can not treat the boy as he would treat a marine. That there is zero healthcare treatment for the civilians and marine policy is that they should be treated as such. Given that the greater aggregate of marine platoons act according to the Godfather’s orders his reasoning reinforces marine emotional distance. The Godfather’s disposition as an irreconcilable leader renders the marine groups monolithic in their exercise of military duty. The military is exposited devoid of variant delineations of military character with the exception of brief instances of religious remorse and individuated marine sympathy.

Generation Kill: Through it all

In the 2nd episode of Generation Kill the Bravo squad marines are engaged in combat. The soldiers become fixated with killing, insisting since the war provides the opportunity it is their obligation to execute their slayings. The killings are visceral, filled with  blood and dismembered bodies that line the war topography. Even marines are depicted in mutilated positions, at times with blood sprawling the wheels of humvees. The Hajji are frequently vilified and subordinated despite Hajji non-combatants who do not oppose the marines. Generation Kill integrate marine’s usage of the camera, evidencing military authorship practices. One marine comments that footage would easily be sold to CNN, while at another moment his camera  graces the bodies of a fallen victims to the point of revulsion. It is not until the image of a lifeless girl is captured within their recording that men stop filming.

Just because Captain America wants to shoot, he shoots at inoperable and unmoving vehicles and later guns down an unarmed Hajji. He is represented as an incompetent leader, however because of his rank his subordinates rarely oppose his orders. Chromlie, the rookie marine is discontent with being unable to shoot.  He repeatedly protests the fulfillment of his libidinal aspirations without respite. He is often represented accounting how he will engage in combat and assault Hajji people. Soon, the bodies become so common to the desert terrain that Chromlie smiles at devastation wrought upon Hajji citizens.

The marines whimsical affinity for killing Hajji is buttressed by their musical renditions. In transit the marines are seen singing pop culture tunes, however lyrics are rearticulated with lines that call for Hajji death. The violence is representationally heightened by the marines marriage of violence with musical sentiment, insinuating killing is an enjoyable process. A marine attempts to assuage the group’s rancor by stating “if it goes a little different we could have all be killed today”. Upon brief silence from the crowd. the marines resume laughter, gaffing at the notion that Iraqis can kill marines.

The show nears end with the godfather’s soliloquy affirming marine’s military expertise. His stature is backed by the radiance of the sun. In this scene the glorification of the military is so gratuitous that it conversely bolsters the war’s absurdity. By taking the Hajji lives the characters are unabashedly self glorifying themselves. Additionally accentuating this episode’s conveyance of marine disillusionment is the Sergeant Major who comes demands the marines shave. His insistence on adherence to grooming policy amidst violence and moral deprivation further demonstrates the marine total incomprehension and coping strategies for the tasks of war.

Generation Kill renders a military dialectic. Within military protocol amorality seems mandated for marine performance. The vilification and sexualization of Hajji people is necessitated by Marines inability to properly cope with the war environment. Although there are glimpses of sympathy towards the Hajji people and amongst themselves, such instances lapse into demeaning rhetoric and hetero-erotic and homo-erotic espousals. Within the text the actuality of killing, dismembering, and subjugating another people is never named, but rather posited as a subtext that affects Marine psyche, military practice, and emotional stability.

Complicating Racial Lines

In “Across Racial Lines” Nelson George explains the profundity of The Wire individual and systemic analysis. The Wire dismantles monolithic and unitary articulations of historicized black tropes and archetypes by complicating character representations and nuancing character construction. George goes on to cite that the show is written by a predominantly white male writing staff, yet is able to represent complicated portrayals of African-American life. Nelson goes on to contend that despite the phenomenal acting of the African-American actors and the ephemeral existence of a show that articulates African-American complexities, The Wire did not receive much acclaim amongst African-American constituents and did not receive acknowledgement at the NAACP awards.

While I agree with Nelson on The Wire’s complicated elucidation of African-American constituents I incite criticism of the show’s construction, its space of representation, and history. The Wire takes place within the Baltimore, Maryland locale. More specifically the show transpires within an economically desolate and morally conflictive space. The affluent space and constituents of Baltimore are absent from The Wire’s representation. Although white constituents are exposited within the dock institution their character construction does not coalesce with the historicized ascription of whiteness. Their bodies are reconfigured within The Wire’s context, which although contains different representations of blackness, forefronts impoverished African-Americans within a specific locale of Baltimore, Maryland. It is imperative to interrogate The Wire’s construction because The Wire performs a particular work. It does not destabilize all historic archetypes of blackness, and by its reification of systemic inevitably it reinscribes perpetual black criminal participation within the city.

Systemic or Individual

In “All in the Game: The Wire, Serial Storytelling and Procedural Logic”, Professor Jason Mittell negates the authorial espousal of David Simon and televisual scholars who promulgate The Wire as a televisual novel. Mittell cites the hierarchization of the televisual and literary mediums, which renders the novel as the pantheon of cultural diegesis. At one historical moment the novel was deemed cultural fodder however since the introduction of television it has signified cultural elitism. During its initial television run The Wire had a low spectator rate, however within social and internet collectives it is highly acclaimed. The talk of The Wire outside its immediate audience demonstrates how the text transverses television parameters and moves beyond spectatorial parameters. Within the article Mittell delineates terming The Wire a televisual novel attempts to legitimize the work with outside its medium. As The Wire is named a televisual novel, it implies television as a medium does not suffice as a site for the exposition of The Wire’s systemic analysis.

Mittell goes on to explicate The Wire functions similarly to a video game, citing the characters instances of configuring drug trafficking and their participation as a game. Mittell goes on to articulate the participatory involvement of the spectator, who does not generate or actively move the narrative forward, however by oratory rearticulation the viewer/fan generates The Wire narrative outside televisual demarcations. After explicating how The Wire functions as a game, codified and simulative of practices in reality, Mittell subsequently asserts The Wire must be situated within the medium it is presented.

The Wire absences hyper-sensational camera techniques, editing mechanics, and visual and dialogic flashbacks to centralize the contemporary moment within the show. The Wire augments procedural precedents by taking in depth analysis at various institutional stems, citing their interconnections and collective performances. However, as Mittell explains the function of The Wire in televisual space as a mean or reifying and asserting why televisual space licenses The Wire’s efficacy, Mittell reproduces the work he accuses Simon and other scholars of. He situates video games as the explanatory reference for the elucidation of The Wire’s form. By positing The Wire as a televisual video game Mittell reasserts television’s illegitimacy, absenting the interactive and novel mediums are referents that inform rather than assert The Wire’s construction.

Reinforcing work

In “All in the Game: The Wire, Serial Storytelling and Procedural Logic”, Professor Jason Mittell negates the authorial espousal of David Simon and televisual scholars who promulgate The Wire as a televisual novel. Mittell cites the hierarchization of the televisual and literary mediums, which renders the novel as the pantheon of cultural diegesis. At one historical moment the novel was deemed cultural fodder however since the introduction of television it has signified cultural elitism. During its initial television run The Wire had a low spectator rate, however within social and internet collectives it is highly acclaimed. The talk of The Wire outside its immediate audience demonstrates how the text transverses television parameters and moves beyond spectatorial parameters. Within the article Mittell delineates terming The Wire a televisual novel attempts to legitimize the work with outside its medium. As The Wire is named a televisual novel, it implies television as a medium does not suffice as a site for the exposition of The Wire’s systemic analysis.

Mittell goes on to explicate The Wire functions similarly to a video game, citing the characters instances of configuring drug trafficking and their participation as a game. Mittell goes on to articulate the participatory involvement of the spectator, who does not generate or actively move the narrative forward, however by oratory rearticulation the viewer/fan generates The Wire narrative outside televisual demarcations. After explicating how The Wire functions as a game, codified and simulative of practices in reality, Mittell subsequently asserts The Wire must be situated within the medium it is presented.

The Wire absences hyper-sensational camera techniques, editing mechanics, and visual and dialogic flashbacks to centralize the contemporary moment within the show. The Wire augments procedural precedents by taking in depth analysis at various institutional stems, citing their interconnections and collective performances. However, as Mittell explains the function of The Wire in televisual space as a mean or reifying and asserting why televisual space licenses The Wire’s efficacy, Mittell reproduces the work he accuses Simon and other scholars of. He situates video games as the explanatory reference for the elucidation of The Wire’s form. By positing The Wire as a televisual video game Mittell reasserts television’s illegitimacy, absenting the interactive and novel mediums are referents that inform rather than assert The Wire’s construction.

On the Lost Boys

In “The Lost Boys of the Baltimore: Beauty and Desire in the Hood”, James S. Williams explicates the aesthetic rhetoric of The Wire. Within the text black male bodies are exposited in homoerotic spaces in the context of televisual voyeurism. The project and urban locales in which the black male bodies are deposited in are operationalized as panoptic surveillance centers for black male activity. Even within the bureaucratic space of the police institution homoerotic discourse is always present and dually deployed for derision and comradery.

As Williams cites varied accounts of black male representation within The Wire display the body in aesthetic relations to the camera. The black male bodies are not merely deployed to continue the narrative but to equivocate a scopophilic pleasure in looking in at an urban locale through the lens of an oppositional text. Although somewhat paradoxical, although The Wire propagates and reaffirms the historical hyper-eroticism of the black male body, this discourse concomitantly functions with The Wire’s subversion of institutional practices that subjugate the blackness and holistically constituent citizenry. Williams incisively asserts the representation of the black body and its consequential eroticism occurs in coalescence with camera mechanics. As Williams cites, the centrifugal movement of the camera, despite moments of inertia, depicts the black male body in constant motion. Camera tracking, panning, zooming, and composite shots effectively intrude in the space of The Wire’s black male televisual referents. Characters such as Marlo, Michael, Bubbles, and Dookie are televisual referents for spectator insertion within a privatize locale. Thus the private is always eroticized and rendered public space for the spectator and other characters that enter hood space. As Williams delineates, the black male cameras are never exposited in their own private space, or habitual activities outside their criminal occupation. Their criminality is rendered ubiquitous, and although complex within the workings of the corner, The Wire does not exhibit character complexities outside criminal activity.

Although alluded to, Williams fails to cite the incrimination of the viewer in gazing at the black male body and a space not familiarized within televisual discourse. In the article Williams uses “we” to infer the viewing practices of the collective. Although we all participate in the practice of looking, race, gender, age, and class dispositions alter the practices. Isolation and inclusion within the text is interdependent with spectator disposition. Although The Wire can never be entered, it does elicit varied responses because of its intertextuality. Williams most insightfully argues The Wire is constructed by a team of predominantly white authors, which alters the text and demonstrates the aesthetic collusiveness with the historicized eroticism of the black male body and the homoerotic subtext. Within the construction of the text, while women are present they are consigned to residual space within The Wire’s sexual discourse. Griggs, the representational referent is represented as an occupationally motivated woman with a predilection for different partners. When her body is viewed in a sexual context it is bereft of camera intimacy. Conversely the shows occupation with the black male body is reasserted 

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.

Characterization (or the Lack Thereof) in Generation Kill

Like the other interviews with David Simon that we’ve read, I found Richard Beck’s question and answer session with Simon especially informative and ripe for analysis. I was bothered by Simon’s assertion that he “didn’t care if [the majority of the marines portrayed in Generation Kill] were a blur.” I understand his reasoning that in real-life war soldiers undergo a process of deindividuation and blend with one another. Nevertheless, as someone who views characterization as an essential component of storytelling—particularly in the work of someone like Simon who strives to approximate reality—I’m reluctant to accept any defense of throwing characterization to the wayside as sound. Simon cheapens the rightfulness of our urge to differentiate among different characters by analogizing this task to a quiz testing our reading (or viewing) comprehension. How can we relate to camouflage-clad men veiled by anonymity, and how can we “[f]eel the movie,” as Simon encourages, if we don’t appreciate its characters? What’s more, what is the point of depicting the experiences of actual rather than fictional marines—even their names are retained—if the characters resemble mere “thumbnail sketches,” as Nancy Franklin describes? Doesn’t Simon’s approach contradict his self-proclaimed vow to swear by Evan Wright’s book, to make choices as if the text were his bible? After all, Wright dedicates whole paragraphs to distinguishing individual marines. Indeed, Franklin derives one of her major criticisms from this issue. She writes,

If we got to know any of the characters in “Generation Kill,” the show might be more interesting, or, at least, more memorable. But only a few accidental distinctions set them apart: a raspy voice in once case (an officer who had throat cancer), hair and skin color in others. Some talk more than others.

The final wry statement in the excerpt demonstrates that we must dig to find even minor distinctions. I don’t doubt that Simon’s treatment of character was deliberate, but I don’t believe that his choice is effective. Without adequate characterization, a narrative cannot fully be brought to life. Furthermore, Simon constantly claims that he conveys reality’s complexity, but to deem the marines one and the same is an oversimplification that runs counter to Simon’s alleged ruthless construction of authenticity. While the homogenization of soldiers undoubtedly exists at some level, ultimately it’s an appearance; though the marines act as a singular force, seemingly stripped of their identities on the conveyer belt of the faceless killing machine, in truth, they remain individuals. Surely Simon would have objected to blurring the league of drug dealers in The Wire, so why doesn’t neglecting to isolate the personalities of the marines in Generation Kill fluster him?

All of that being said, I still give Simon credit for challenging viewers by conveying the messiness of war. He explains his refusal to appease “people who want to be told that the world is what they already think it is, or … want to be very quickly told what to think.” Simon effectively communicates that nothing war-related can be compartmentalized, sorted into boxes and clearly labeled, but rather, like in the operations of Baltimore that he portrays in The Wire, entangled interactions shade controversial themes grey, leaving us with no easy conclusions.

On a different note, I was fascinated by one of Beck’s subtle yet meaningful opening remarks. “[Simon’s] speech,” he notes, “is highly declarative. When he became animated, he would sit up and lean forward in his seat.” This observation supports the sense of Simon’s temperament that we’ve received through the aggregate of articles about him that we’ve read. Simon is clearly opinionated and arguably obstinate. The question is to what extent these aspects of his personality show through his work. Though he proclaims otherwise, is he at all susceptible to black-and-white thinking?

Response to Beck & the Series

After reading Beck’s interview with David Simon, I too felt he was overly defensive and simply incorrect. Generation Kill the series did not work for me for reasons both explainable and unexplainable. Firstly, it was boring. The Wire was sometimes too, but it was so complex and intricate, I couldn’t allow myself to get bored. In Generation Kill there is the unit and that is it. You either like it or you don’t. I liked the Marines and found them to be entertaining to watch and listen to, mainly because I have no idea what it is like to be a Marine. I was intrigued by their humor and found it funny that they made fun of these kids that were forced by their teachers to write letters to them. Cpl. Person his comedic monologues were undeniably funny, which David Simon in the interview with Beck was quick to point out were sometimes crafted by him. Although there was humor and intrigue, the lack of action and repetitiveness wore the series down, and overall, it wasn’t enjoyable to watch. I found myself extremely confused trying to keep up with all terms, resulting in me having no idea why they were invading a certain place or whether or not they would end up killing civilians. Even some of the realism that Simon talks about bothered me; “Godfather” was hard to hear and the guy with the intense accent was too much to handle. As Beck points out, there was a criticism that two of the characters looked too similar with Simon’s response being that there is disorientation in the unit and that the viewer doesn’t need to being holding a scorecard when watching to keep track of characters. As a previous poster said, this was a weird response, as this ultimately detracted from the viewing experience finding myself trying to figure one from the other in the first couple episodes. In the ensemble cast, I don’t think there is the luxury of not being able to distinguish characters. There were the four main characters in the Humvee, yet outside of it, it was hard to keep track of who was who and who was supposed to be important. With that said, Cpl. Person was very prominent, very funny at times, yet hard to embrace as a central character to latch on to, like a McNulty was, especially when everyone kept thinking about his character as Ziggy. Lastly, certain emphasis such as on the mustaches in the first couple of episodes was unnecessary and boring. More action was required ot keep the viewer interested as the weaving of plots that held The Wire together was not available to Generation Kill.

It was a unique perspective to take on the Iraq War and it worked in certain aspects, but overall Generation Kill did not match Simon’s craft in other productions. I don’t think we can expect him to admit that, but certainly we have the background to make the claim.

Beck & Franklin

Not a long post, but I wanted to say that these articles were so great to read right at the end of the year. I feel like they really dismantled some of the assumed notions people have about creative authorship in television (in particular to David Simon) as well as shined a light on the transformations material takes as its moved up the production chain to television (especially when the material falls into the hands of someone who may not share the writer’s vision).

With that in mind, what kind of conflicts do you see arising for television in the future? Looking at these articles, it’s clear on a specific level the obvious issues between Simon (who comes off as pompously all-encompassing) and Wright, whose style got lost in the production process. This is only one example where, even though the issue didn’t stem from viewers in particular, their idea for what they wanted the viewer to experience differed greatly. Thoughts?