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March 20, 2012 3:26 PM   Subscribe

The Jimmy McNulty Gambit: Joseph Kony, Foxconn, and "The Wire"

(Season 5 spoilers)
posted by OverlappingElvis (48 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Immediate Season 5 The Wire spoilers btw.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:29 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Immediate Season 5 The Wire spoilers btw.


even though all the child soldiers have finished The Wire and I haven't, I'm still annoyed about that.
posted by dubold at 3:41 PM on March 20, 2012


I literally just inserted season 5 disc 1 of the wire into my dvd player seconds before i clicked the link...spoiler warnings before the fold please. God damn vlc media player update. Thanks for ruining season 5 for me....don't feel too bad it's just a tv show but god dammit.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:46 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to let you know that there's no hard feelings there's a favorite because come on its the wire.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:47 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Love the article, especially this idea:
The pattern, the trend, and the continuity are far more interesting than the individual stories. Part of it is simply the usual racist narcissism of The West, of course, which is and which must always be History’s Protagonist, for which all problems become nails, the better to be serviced by our hammers.
posted by migurski at 3:57 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


[added a spoiler warning]
posted by mathowie at 3:58 PM on March 20, 2012


Um... I dunno if this really counts as a "spoiler" for Season 5. It's not like McNulty's gambit was some kind of secret (to the viewer) operation up until the big reveal in the last episode.

(I'm just starting Season 4 after our last discussion of The Wire here on Metafilter last week; seems like rewatching this show is becoming something of an annual tradition at my place)
posted by ShutterBun at 4:00 PM on March 20, 2012


Just to let you know that there's no hard feelings there's a favorite because come on its the wire.

AElfwine, just so you know, what you've been spoiled on is probably the least interesting thing about season 5 (at least in my opinion).
posted by never used baby shoes at 4:00 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Wire ended its run four years ago and the title of the article explicitly mentions McNulty. The first sentence mentions it's about to discuss season five. If anything is spoiled, you spoiled it for yourself.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:05 PM on March 20, 2012 [24 favorites]


Hmm, seemed like a lot of philosophical rambling. I think I agree with the central point that it's a bad idea to lie and exadurate, he brings up Mike Daisy, who obviously is an idiot - by lying and embellishing the story, he de-legitimized it.

I'm not aware of The Kony 2012 guys lying but they did tell a story that pissed off Ugandans and then, of course there's this, which obviously de-legitimized whatever they were trying to do.

The whole Kony thing didn't make that much sense, since there are a lot more pressing issues right now then what he's doing. It seems like the 'viral success' of this video was kind of out of perportion to the seriousness of the problem.

Here's the thing though, I think more seasoned people would have known to avoid the problems that the video has. It's very much the "western moralizers" and someone with more experience and sense could have avoided it - the fact that they went ahead and used those offensive cliches actually made their video resonate with young people who might not have heard that condescending message before.
posted by delmoi at 4:07 PM on March 20, 2012


That's not a spoiler. It's the kind of info that goes on the back of the DVD box.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:13 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It really isn't a spoiler, it's a major plot point throughout the season. It's about equivalent to saying "Season 4 is about kids and schools and Prez gets a job as a teacher." Also the show has been off the air for years, there has to be some sort of statute of limitations on complaining about spoilers.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 4:14 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some people have this thing they do

I believe that thing is called reading.

Certainly my brain can read an entire sentence long before it's had time to think... uh oh... didn't want to read the end of that sentence.

But, FWIW, that aspect of season 5 is really the thing people don't like about season 5. In my case I had to suspend my disbelief and not let it get in the way of enjoying everything else. And there is plenty to enjoy still.
posted by philipy at 4:17 PM on March 20, 2012


Watchmen also touches on this same idea.
posted by codacorolla at 4:31 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The difference is people didn't spend years praising Watchmen for its incredibly accurate and insightful depiction of contemporary life.

And even then you're left at thinking: "Yeah, but it would never work."

But let's not spoiler Watchmen as well, and incur even more wrath.
posted by philipy at 4:40 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Using The Wire as a crutch to prop up and further your half-baked, contextless assessment of a situation is exactly the the kind of lazy, yet well-intentioned misdirection McNulty is capable of.
posted by antonymous at 4:42 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


In 2010 I worked at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, when The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (TATESJ) was “birthed” at the theatre, and the following spring was the marketing and communications director who worked on the show at Woolly. Today, as an independent consultant, I write as a former marketing director who is no longer bound by the public statement of her institution in this matter, and what I would like to say is this: Mike Daisey, you should be ashamed of yourself.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:44 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The worst thing about Daisey is that he didn't actually lie about the practices of Foxconn et al. Those practices, the maiming, the poisoning of workers; they do exist. Rather, he lied about talking to the victims, and instead cribbed from other accounts.

He could have done it right. He was just lazy. And now he has not only completely discredited his own work, but the work of everyone trying to make life better for Chinese workers. Because he couldn't be bothered to do the research.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:59 PM on March 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Wire ended 4 years ago. People, it's time to shit or get off the pot.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:03 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I always thought the point of the McNulty Serial Killer (and the fact it occurred in series 5) was that news media is utterly broken. This piece seems to accept that as something not even worth considering, as if shitty journalism and the shepherding of the audience to idiocy is an unstoppable, opaque force beyond our ken.
posted by fullerine at 5:06 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems that the meat of the essay is getting diluted within The Wire series reunion party.
posted by danep at 5:11 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought it was a thoughtful look at how much we need narrative in order to make sense about our lives, and morality. The statistic of so many people committing suicide, of the wages, provokes little more than shrugs, but marry it to a name and a story, and you have anger, even if the name and the story are little more than pastiches.

It's emotional manipulation, and it's no wonder both the Kony video and the Foxconn story started with a name. And it gets frustrating when facts, even horrid ones, provoke such apathy. But I can't see using manipulation on that level, whether the facts are real or lies, to try and spur people on.

shitty journalism and the shepherding of the audience to idiocy is an unstoppable, opaque force beyond our ken.

I think it's more that in media bombarded by images, even true ones (war in Afghanistan, rioting in England, starvation in whereever) people get fatigued. And narrative is a powerful tool for empathy, one that plays on deep parts of our conciousness. See also.

I myself have taken to not watching or listening to audio/visual media about current events. I either find the manipulations that seemingly accompany them so obvious they irritate, or so subtle I fear for being manipulated. They are much easier to recognize and categorize in print. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing.
posted by zabuni at 5:19 PM on March 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


With respect to the actual meat of the essay:

I think one factor that seems to make these things come out faster and more recently is the culture of constant internet conversation.

It isn't too hard for a few suspicions to snowball into real fact checking now that this is going on.

"with a million eyeballs all lies are shallow" or something.

I'm sure frauds have been exposed in the past, and there isn't anything special about that, but I do think it happens faster and with more transparency these days.
posted by poe at 5:21 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kony 2012 spoilers BTW
posted by Ad hominem at 5:30 PM on March 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


I always thought the point of the McNulty Serial Killer (and the fact it occurred in series 5) was that news media is utterly broken.

That and the system "broke" the moral compasses of the show. Lester and Mcnulty, faced with repeated roadblocks to justice, decided to break the law in order to bring justice.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll apologize in advance to the students who majored in something other than comparative literature, but while it isn't particularly dense, it may be an unfamiliar argument. Essentially, a culture forms narrative structures that implicitly serve the social structure of that society. In the West, we have fallen into a continuous cycle of outrage and reform. I think we were getting away from it for a while, but we got deep back into it again after 9/11, or perhaps even more accurately 9/11 suspended all outrage except The Outrage until further notice, so in getting started again, we have this need to escalate the level of outrage before anything will get reformed.

There is also this social imperative that there be a Perfect Victim, and indeed in many ways a Perfect Criminal. Imperfect victims -- the rape victim who is also promiscuous, the young black boy cutting through a backyard who was once ticketed for underage drinking -- need not apply. Imperfect criminals are also uncompelling. As such the creation of a perfectly evil Joseph Kony is necessary; the creation of perfectly evil Foxconn is necessary. Certainly McNulty understood what he was doing (this discussion is so early on I hardly consider it a spoiler, and it's thoroughly in tune with his established personality). But the essay is also right on this other point: We love these narratives because they absolve us of solving the larger problems, such as building a working civil society in post-colonial Africa.

I feel this narrative also works in undesirable ways for the right, for instance, Tea Party rhetoric and Scott Walker dissing sweet old teachers as "union thugs". It's maddening because for some segment of the population, it works.
posted by dhartung at 6:36 PM on March 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


Really, we've already had lengthy discussions about spoilers on MetaTalk, starting about a year ago and running for four months in a row.

The basic thrust of these very lengthy threads (if memory serves) is that discussions of truly current media, such as television shows which have aired in the past week or movies which just opened, should probably not be spoiled, but anything which has been out for a while, even a few months, should be considered fair game for discussion. And that it is the responsibility of those who don't want spoilers to click away or not even click through if they don't want them. It isn't the responsibility of the community at large to try to protect late-comers from what is pretty much common knowledge and could likely be found on a Wikipedia page plot summary.

Anyway, back to the actual topic of this thread.
posted by hippybear at 6:47 PM on March 20, 2012


@ His Thoughts Were Red Thoughts: Worth noting that *some* things Daisey said really happened but not to him, but a number of things he said really didn't happen at all. Just from the Retraction episode:

• The detail that first raised suspicion in NPR's China reporters was the mention of armed guards at the factory, which was totally false (only soldiers are armed in China, even police don't carry guns).

• He talked about dorms where there's cameras in every bedroom; not true, although the group areas are monitored.

• He said he saw many underage workers, which would be pretty surprising given that underage workers are quite rare in China, according to NPR's fact-checkers---Apple's audit turned up 91 in a group of several hundred thousand.

• The 30 people in an all-day secret union meeting turned out to be 2 people who spent lunch complaining about factory conditions.

• And then there's the question of how common a lot of things were---Daisey said that hexane poisoning was so frequent that you could walk up to any factory door and find victims, but it seems to have been something that happened to a small group of workers in one factory, which is bad but not at all the same.

Daisey didn't just cast himself as the hero in someone else's story. He made stuff up in order to make the story of China look more like the Victorian England narrative he already knew. It was both deceptive *and* lazy.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:49 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I want to know what he thinks a narcississt is, if he's going to throw it around that much. To be clear, I don't need someone to define it for me, but rather how he defines it. You could easily replace that word with a couple of others and it would still read the same but with different meanings.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:19 PM on March 20, 2012


This essay resonates for me. I'm currently struggling through a reading of Jonathan Littell's "The Kindly Ones" which I think is similar in theme to this piece. Littell's protagonist is a thoroughly evil man, which is compounded even more because his matter-of-fact portrayal of the Holocaust is discordant with the thoughts and emotions stirred in the reader. That's why the book is a struggle to read--it's difficult to reconcile the tone of the book with its content.

As the author of the essay points out, using fabrication to reduce a complex situation into simplicity is understandable if not justifiable. And if I am reading him correctly, his main concern is the extent of our passive compliance with politico-economic rationalizations which tend to allow us to excuse ourselves as "being part of the problem and not part of the solution." But that might be reading a little too much into this.

In any case, I'm glad he has challenged me to think more carefully about some lesser-thought-of aspects of my day-to-day existence which I might otherwise prefer to be, well, passive about. Same sort of challenge with Littell's book.
posted by CincyBlues at 7:37 PM on March 20, 2012


Brandon Blatcher: That and the system "broke" the moral compasses of the show. Lester and Mcnulty, faced with repeated roadblocks to justice, decided to break the law in order to bring justice.

I'd argue the opposite for McNulty. In the previous seasons, he wasn't really fighting the good fight. He only cared about winning- proving he was smarter than everyone else. He built good cases because that's how you win.

In Season Five, however, he was just trying to bring Marlo down, and it didn't seem like he much cared about getting glory or the risk to himself. McNulty actually wanted to make the world better; something he never previously considered to even be a possibility.
posted by spaltavian at 7:46 PM on March 20, 2012


McNulty was an insecure asshole from the very beginning. It's telling that some people somehow fail to pick up on that.
posted by mek at 7:51 PM on March 20, 2012


As the author of the essay points out, using fabrication to reduce a complex situation into simplicity is understandable the foundation of human cognition?
posted by mek at 7:52 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Wire ended 4 years ago. People, it's time to shit or get off the pot

I think you mean Sheeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiit or get off the pot.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:00 PM on March 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


I love how discussion about an interesting and though-provoking topic has to compete with another discussion about television spoilers. FFS, talk about narcissism.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:05 PM on March 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard, thanks for doing the research that I didn't have the time to do. But yes, Daisey certainly did make up a whole bunch of stuff. My point was, he didn't really have to - I think that if he looked hard enough, he would have found real horror stories.

For example, Foxconn workers threatening mass suicide (Xbox 360 plant, but still).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:35 PM on March 20, 2012


This is what I love about The Wire: the linked post, of course, isn't really about The Wire. It's about actual, non-fiction stuff, and pretty important stuff at that. But The Wire is so awesome that half or more of the replies in this thread are just all rhapsodic about its awesomeness and don't touch on the real world stuff at all.

And, yeah, I'm re-watching it again right now.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:06 PM on March 20, 2012


In Season Five, however, he was just trying to bring Marlo down, and it didn't seem like he much cared about getting glory or the risk to himself. McNulty actually wanted to make the world better

All due respect, but SO wrong. It was (once again, and perhaps more than ever) ALL about McNulty doing what McNulty wanted to happen. "Everyone's an asshole when they're in [McNulty's] way", etc.

By the time the Barksdale clan folded, McNulty HAD to know that whoever he brought down, there would inevitably be another to take their place. He wasn't making the world better, or safer, he was simply proving that he was Natural Police, and he was better/smarter than his adversaries (and indeed, most of his fellow officers)

He was working the system in a narcissistic way just to prove he knew best. The fact that he was *ahem, spoiler alert?* using mostly non-murdered victims further demonstrates that this was neither about the means nor the ends. It was about McNulty working the system to get the resources / attention he felt were warranted. Although I'm not sure it was explored in the show (I'm on my 3rd viewing, but haven't gotten to Season 5 yet) I don't recall that they fully explored the notion of "the cost" of McNulty's gambit (i.e. failure to see the big picture; detectives pulled off important cases in order to chase down his "serial killer," etc.)

The comparison with the Kony campaign is very apropos. McNulty sees something that, to him, is a clear-cut problem with a clear-cut solution: Marlo is a killer who needs to be brought to justice, and the police need to spend as many resources as possible on combating this one problem. He gives no regard to the many OTHER problems the city is also facing, nor does he acknowledge the fact (that he should DAMN well know by now) that Marlo is simply the current face of a much deeper problem which not only *allows* Marlo to exist, it all but *necessitates* Marlo's existence.

McNulty is about taking down targets, not solving problems or making things better. He just wants to win, because he is smarter than them, and, in the words of Carver, the bad guys "do not get to win."
posted by ShutterBun at 10:34 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whenever i see a post about this character I immediately mistake it for this Jimmy McNulty.
posted by clarknova at 10:43 PM on March 20, 2012


One of the most powerful elements of "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" was the explicit message Of Mike Daisey's narrative: "I went to Shenzen and I saw all of this happen in one week." The audience is invited to extrapolate about what happens all through China in a year. When much of the narrative turns out to be non-literal concatenation of events, locales, reporters, and even general perception (i.e. the made-up gunmen guarding Foxconn's entrance), it's not just the dramatist who is sullied by the backlash - it's the true underlying story.
posted by SakuraK at 11:33 PM on March 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm begging anyone interested in the Daisey story to listen to his Georgetown talk from the other day, in which he acknowledges the full depth and breadth of his failure, attempts to explain how it happened (slowly, steadily, with many snowballing rookie mistakes and conflicts of memory and reflexive agreements), goes through everything point by point, and basically demonstrates why I've been defending him for days despite feeling the worst anger one can feel, which is the anger of a fan betrayed.

It's one thing to sigh over this mess with perfect objectivity, and it's another thing to listen to one of our best speak about it de-fucking-profundis. Because make no mistake: Daisey was and remains one of our best. It's a scary thought, because he's no less of a fuckup than we are, but there it is.

(Much of the first half of the talk is review; if you're strapped for time, the really pertinent part begins around the 25th minute and it builds from there.)
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:33 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, Mike Daisey is an entertainer / educator, and we shouldn't hold him to the same standards as a journalist, right?
posted by ShutterBun at 2:54 AM on March 21, 2012


Because make no mistake: Daisey was and remains one of our best.

The only reason anyone knows who he is is because he lied about Apple, and no one will remember him a year from now.
posted by empath at 6:13 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, Mike Daisey is an entertainer / educator, and we shouldn't hold him to the same standards as a journalist, right?

Well, he's an entertainer, certainly not an educator if what he's teaching is lies. That's called being a propagandist.

Anyway, the reason he is being held up to journalistic standards is because he himself approached This American Life to carry his story (and a story it is, not reporting at all). This means he puts himself into the same league as journalists. And it was carried on TAL as a bit of reporting, not as a work of fiction. And when other journalists started to look into his story, the entire house of cards began to fall apart. He even went so far as to try to deliberately obscure his sources so fact-checking couldn't be done, but he wasn't very clever about even that.

He opened this particular can of worms himself through his own hubris.
posted by hippybear at 6:35 AM on March 21, 2012


Consider also The Lifespan of a Fact, which combines a similarly "arted-up" essay about a teen suicide in Las Vegas with a massive fact-checking takedown that more or less exhaustively documents what was true and what was filtered through the fictive lens of the author.

In a nicely meta twist, it also turns out that much of the book itself was fabricated.
posted by Naberius at 6:37 AM on March 21, 2012


Oh, also, while we're mentioning Watchmen, Rorschach dies at the end.
posted by Naberius at 6:38 AM on March 21, 2012


Higgins was Robin Masters.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2012


delmoi, your post here is in error. You should have checked Yahoo Answers first.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


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