playing with the tuning knobs when the back of the appliance is in flames
January 3, 2008 8:45 AM   Subscribe

The Wire is dissent; it argues that our systems are no longer viable for the greater good of the most, that America is no longer operating as a utilitarian and democratic experiment. An already-quite-good discussion about The Wire, originating in Mark Bowden's Atlantic article ('The Angriest Man in Television') and continuing through Mark Bowden's post on the show's nihilistic bleakness gets even more interesting on Matt Yglesias's blog, where the creator of the show stops by to give his opinion on what it's all supposed to mean.
posted by gerryblog (76 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
Writing to affirm what people are saying about my faith in individuals to rebel against rigged systems and exert for dignity, while at the same time doubtful that the institutions of a capital-obsessed oligarchy will reform themselves short of outright economic depression (New Deal, the rise of collective bargaining) or systemic moral failure that actually threatens middle-class lives (Vietnam and the resulting, though brief commitment to rethinking our brutal foreign-policy footprints around the world). The Wire is dissent; it argues that our systems are no longer viable for the greater good of the most, that America is no longer operating as a utilitarian and democratic experiment. If you are not comfortable with that notion, you won't agree with some of the tonalities of the show. I would argue that people comfortable with the economic and political trends in the United States right now -- and thinking that the nation and its institutions are equipped to respond meaningfully to the problems depicted with some care and accuracy on The Wire (we reported each season fresh, we did not write solely from memory) -- well, perhaps they're playing with the tuning knobs when the back of the appliance is in flames.
posted by gerryblog at 8:45 AM on January 3, 2008


oh my god. David Simon talking about Camus.

I just peed a little...
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:53 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Idris Elba makes me reconsider heterosexuality.

I just finished the third season on DVD and can't wait for season 4. Love this show. Was Frank Sobotka meant to be a sympathetic character? Because I really felt for him, he seemed to be a pretty decent guy.
posted by vito90 at 9:06 AM on January 3, 2008


The Wire is dissent; it argues that our systems are no longer viable for the greater good of the most, that America is no longer operating as a utilitarian and democratic experiment.

Only on HBO.
posted by dead_ at 9:12 AM on January 3, 2008


Was Frank Sobotka meant to be a sympathetic character? Because I really felt for him, he seemed to be a pretty decent guy.

Yup. He was the hero of a tragedy.

I had a dream last night where I was watching season five of The Wire and it sucked hard. I was very sad about that.

Is season five discussed in the links? I don't want to know anything.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:13 AM on January 3, 2008


I have only seen one episode of the Wire, and obviously it was confusing and out of context (I wasn't sure until halfway through who the main character was).

On the subject of Baltimore, though, reading David Simon's comment rang true. The city is still standing because nothing has tried to knock it down. It is the northeast's New Orleans or Detroit. If a catastrophe reigned down on Baltimore, it would never come back. Maybe the inner harbor and the surrounding four blocks, and way up Charles St. where the university is and the wealthier neighborhoods, but the bulk of the city would remain in ruin until the federal government bulldozed it or nature reclaimed it.

The problem with a comment like this:

my faith in individuals to rebel against rigged systems and exert for dignity, while at the same time doubtful that the institutions of a capital-obsessed oligarchy will reform themselves short of outright economic depression (New Deal, the rise of collective bargaining) or systemic moral failure that actually threatens middle-class lives (Vietnam and the resulting, though brief commitment to rethinking our brutal foreign-policy footprints around the world)

is that part of that reformation process would require places like Baltimore and Detroit to disintegrate. The social and economic structure of the United States cannot support cities like those any longer. The largest employers in Baltimore are Johns Hopkins University and Medical Center and the Social Security Administration, followed by a number of defense contractors and numerous other hospitals. That is not a thriving city, that's a city on life support. SSA could be anywhere, and the only reason the hospitals are still there is because people have been left behind by industries that have moved on.

A few neighborhoods in Baltimore have become gentrified, but there is no way for this city to ever "come back". The best it can do is transition people out. It's sad because the city has it's charms and it's place in U.S. history. If Detroit is dying and it has the auto industry, there really isn't hope for Baltimore.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:13 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Is season five discussed in the links? I don't want to know anything. Except for the well-publicized fact that The Baltimore Sun will play a big role in the upcoming season, it wouldn't seem to give anything away.
posted by gerryblog at 9:19 AM on January 3, 2008


It is the northeast's New Orleans or Detroit. If a catastrophe reigned down on Baltimore, it would never come back.

Nope. I lived in Detroit for years before moving to Baltimore. Detroit has given up on itself. The city is actively trying to kill the few functional neighbourhoods that are left. There are *no* jobs. The mayor has been bought and paid for by rich white folks from north of 8 Mile (the suburbs), and funnels what little money is left to them. There is little hope.

Baltimore is still trying. Yeah, the mayor is corrupt, or at least surrounded by corruption, but she still will come out to a neighbourhood, knock on the door of a problem house and chew the residents out. The city tries to help the neighbourhoods, by providing dumpsters, trees, shovels, brooms and bags on request. There is still hope.

So, while I don't care what some centrist and right bloggers say about "The Wire" being too negative (they don't have a clue, and can stay in their damned suburbs), it is a part of what Baltimore is. But, just a part.

Baltimore isn't anywhere near Detroit, and it isn't heading that direction. I mourn Detroit. I don't mourn Baltimore.
posted by QIbHom at 9:37 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah. Detroit is America's Beirut. It's sad. It was a vital amazing city once.
posted by tkchrist at 9:40 AM on January 3, 2008


So during my recent trip back home to Maryland for the holidays, my wife, mother, sister, and I headed up to Baltimore to see the sights (Geppi's, mainly, it was pouring rain which kinda put the kibosh on wandering about). After a stop to Lexington Market for gyros and Berger's, my sister said, "I did Habitat For Humanity! Wanna see the house I helped build?"

I said "No" because I knew where said house was - deep in Wire territory. I'm a huge fan of the show - huge - but I really, really didn't want to see the streets for myself. I'm a white guy coward, you see, but that wasn't my only reason for not wanting to cross North Washington street in a nigh brand new SUV with three women.

I didn't want to go because I was still clinging to the fiction that The Wire is fictional. I really wanted to believe that the producers of the show "grittied" things up before shooting, that things were not as bad or bleak as presented.

Of course, I was wrong. As my sister got lost (I felt like Kima, sitting in the back as I was driven off to Who Knows) and drove up and down the streets, I saw at least three streets that could have been Hampsterdam, four corners where I could have sworn Bodie was hanging out, and at least two squad cars with their lights on.

It was brutal. Because if The Wire has managed to capture the despair of the corners, then by extension, they've likely latched on to the corruption of the city officials, the juking of stats by the cops, the decay of the docks, and the complete failure of the education system. So even after you're gone and are back on the happy side of Lombard, the entire city's changed. Instead of a historic park, I see Camden Yards as a source of graft and wonder how many B&B Enterprises warehouses got development 'grants' in its shadow. Instead of an Inner Harbor filled with shops and revitalization, I see people asleep on benches and peeing into trashcans. And because of The Wire's relentless pounding on the failure of institutions to adapt to reality, I know that there's not a hell of a lot I can do about it, even if I were to become some latter day Mother Theresa.

It's easy to see why Baltimore has such a problem with The Wire. The city can't embrace the show, even if with every airing it gets more people talking and thinking about Charm City than they did a decade ago. How could it? I suppose there could be some small industry in 'Trauma Tourism,' the sort of thing that draws ghouls to Ground Zero or Belfast every year*, but that's about it.

Anything else requires an admission that the institutions of Baltimore, maybe even Baltimore itself, have failed and the only hope its to bulldoze everything and construct a gleaming Delta City with a dozen Inner Harbors to cover the bleached post-industrial bones.

* I recall being in Derry a few years ago, just days before 9/11, and feeling really awkward that most of the tours my bus tour was going on involved the Troubles. "Thank you for showing me where that car exploded and killed all those kids and telling me about the time you were kidnapped by Orangemen - here's 5 dollars American money!"
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:46 AM on January 3, 2008 [27 favorites]


Yeah. Detroit is America's Beirut.

Before the Israeli bombing, wasn't Beirut doing pretty well?

From Wikipedia:
In Travel and Leisure magazine's World Best Awards 2006, Beirut was ranked the 9th (out of 10) city in the world, falling just short of New York City and coming ahead of San Francisco.[21]
posted by delmoi at 9:47 AM on January 3, 2008


A few neighborhoods in Baltimore have become gentrified, but there is no way for this city to ever "come back". The best it can do is transition people out. It's sad because the city has it's charms and it's place in U.S. history. If Detroit is dying and it has the auto industry, there really isn't hope for Baltimore.

... and the worst thing that can happen in situation like this is forcing nationalism in a top-down fashion. What I mean is a top-down policy for the war on drugs, welfare, healthcare, etc. I am not arguing against the breakup of the United States, but to think that what works for Des Moines can work for Baltimore or Detroit is absurd. I am very much for governance on the local level, where the culture and economic conditions can dictate what takes place. Hamsterdam and the depiction of the schools are a great example of this. Imposing things like No Child Left Behind on inner-city Baltimore and Westport, Conneticut is really a joke. It doesn't require the destruction of federalism and the good things it takes with it (e.g., equal rights, minimum wage), more bottom-up experimentation by cities. Federalism as it was viewed by our founding fathers works great in a pre-Industrial agrarian society. Now it seems more of a hindrance than anything else. What the Wire doesn't explore, and I wish it did a little more in depth, is that the rich tax base often separates itself from the rest of the city. Literally, they move to different administrative regions (and drastically in the case of Kansas City, to another state) and leave the urban core as sort of a hole, without even a middle class.

A good example of what I am talking about, Kansas City in the 30s. It was thriving, it was probably one of the major cities you'd go to. It ignored prohibition imposed at a national level, and instead of an early death, really, really thrived. Pendergast had his problems, but the administration was local. A whole culture of jazz (after night clubs, gambling) sprung up around it. The state eventually took over the police force, the people, seeing that there was nothing in the city for them, fled to the suburbs. Now you have a variety of tax abatements and other sorts of things to move people back to the city. Why would anyone want to move to KC though? A sports bar downtown with its urban decay or a sports bar in the suburbs? I'd pick a sports bar in the suburbs, the lesser of two evils. What has taken place over the last several decades across cities was done in order to save them, and did more damage than not. The War on Drugs, No Child Left Behind, these initiatives imploded the cities by their indifferent institutions (Simon's words, not mine).

My biggest fear is that outside of a few cities with large, thriving industries, the idea of the American city is dead. It'll be nothing more than an airport and a sports team, with an extensive interstate system to transport you to the suburbs and the corporations they contain. The central character of The Wire is Baltimore really, and the various personalities are just facets of a larger self. When Simon said the economy no longer needs the people of the inner-cities, he was right. The Prussian school system we work with is no longer relevant and the jobs it is suppose to foster are dead. I am not advocating a hedonistic paradise, but beyond basic services, I would love to see cities govern themselves. It is an experiment in democracy that I hope someone has the guts to try.
posted by geoff. at 9:52 AM on January 3, 2008 [10 favorites]


Before the Israeli bombing, wasn't Beirut doing pretty well?

Go back a bit further and Beirut was the jewel of the middle east. The tragedy of Baltimore, Detroit, and New Orleans is that it becoming clear that American Foreign Policy has come home to roost. Not in the sense of consequences but in terms of actually treating parts of the country as foreign by lobbing some token aid and platitudes in their direction while systematically undermining them. I wish it were just a current administration problem but it isn't.
posted by srboisvert at 9:57 AM on January 3, 2008


Except for the well-publicized fact that The Baltimore Sun will play a big role in the upcoming season, it wouldn't seem to give anything away.

Well that and some clown in The Atlantic's comments seems to think people will be impressed with the details he provides from bittorrented copies of season 5's first episodes.
posted by yerfatma at 9:58 AM on January 3, 2008


Before the Israeli bombing, wasn't Beirut doing pretty well?

And yet everyone else got the point.

posted by yerfatma at 9:59 AM on January 3, 2008


Yay! More posts about The Wire! I just read this interview of David Simon by Nick Hornby (August 2007), which was linked from McSweeney's today.
posted by hopeless romantique at 10:01 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


geoff, what makes you think that local solutions can solve national, or even global problems? Or even regional issues, like getting people to work in non-gridlocked ways?

Simon has said that "The Wire" is about how institutions screw individuals. In Baltimore, the neighbourhood can be an institution. That is why Brodie, in the first season, asks if there are any other guys from Western when he ends up in the juvenile facility.

There are a number of different Baltimores. There are at least 5 just in my neighbourhood. "The Wire" isn't only about the Poe Homes.
posted by QIbHom at 10:01 AM on January 3, 2008


The Wire with a laugh track...
posted by destinyland at 10:02 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, um, which of these articles should I avoid, because they contain spoilers for seasons 4 and 5?
posted by darth_tedious at 10:09 AM on January 3, 2008


geoff, what makes you think that local solutions can solve national, or even global problems? Or even regional issues, like getting people to work in non-gridlocked ways?

They cannot. I am in the middle of a book a friend gave me entitled The Discovery of France by Graham Robb, which is influencing my thoughts on local governance right now. I highly recommend it, but to the point.

I am not against national solutions, but I think the farther you get up the heirarchy the more important and broad the edicts should be. Case and point: Schwarzenegger wants to raise the MPG of cars in California, the EPA says that national standards are fine. Wouldn't Schwarzenegger know what's better for California? Isn't a little experimentation what we need? Keeping on California, they want to, more or less, legalize marijuana. That's what they have effectively done and I have yet to year reports of West Hollywood turning into some sort of Mad Max world. A lot of people in California smoke pot, enjoy it, and want to enjoy it without physical or legal harm to themselves. So California provides this and the national government denies it.

An interesting example comes from New Orleans where it is legal to have open containers. No other city (except very recently, Kansas City) allows open containers. Does it give to the character of New Orleans? Is it why we have an affinity for New Orleans over a city such as Detroit? Yes, and alcohol laws will be more liberal and flexible because of the large alcohol lobby. I am saying we don't or shouldn't need a large lobby to make things work.

I am not trying to be an extreme libertarian on these issues, but I follow Kansas City rather closely, as they are trying to engineer a sort of revival downtown. They had a great bottom-up revival in the Crossroads district, I heard, seriously, prominent artists in Cheslea galleries talk about it several years ago. Land and buildings were cheap, alcohol was served freely, and often to underage people, and served way past the 12:30 or 1:30 closing time the city imposed. Yet you heard no downsides, no great drunk driving accidents, no vandalism. It didn't turn into party central for underage kids and artists. The city/state found out, stepped in, banned it, then came back and opened it up with a careful eye on it. If you have ever been to downtown Kansas City you know that there is absolutely nothing going on there. Nothing. It is like everyone left in 1939 and never came back. They took advantage of the lack of city ordinances on noise and a relatively low profile to boost a part of a dead city that should, for all intents and purposes, should be dead.

I am in favor of letting cities, even neighborhoods, experiment with what works best for them. Often this runs counter to initiatives and laws, however well meaning that are already in place. Usually it is a small minority of vocal citizens who want these enforced. I am not saying abolish the federal government, abolish the interstate system and and abolish the department of education. Far from it. I would, however, like to see schools and neighborhoods be able to experiment, free from arbitrary constraints. I don't like the idea of nationalism being imposed top-down. Sure we'll see some neighborhood fail, and seem some disasters, but we can learn from the successes. Right now we don't have that sort of experimentation. We have a lot of bureaucracies which do what bureaucracies do best, keeping things as they are.
posted by geoff. at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think I can make my point without examples: bottom-up solutions is what we need to save our cities. Top-down mandates rarely work, and seem to delay the inevitable decay. I would rather foster a diverse culture in our cities, and I don't think that works by imposing institutions who are as beholden to people above them, abstracted, than they are from the people they are actually dealing with.
posted by geoff. at 10:25 AM on January 3, 2008


the details he provides from bittorrented copies of season 5's first episodes.

Just an FYI, but the first episode of season 5 is already available on Comcast On-Demand; don't need bittorrent to see it.
posted by inigo2 at 10:27 AM on January 3, 2008


All that said, I am the product of a C-average GPA and a general studies degree from a state university and thirteen years of careful reporting about one rustbelt city. Hell do I know. Maybe my head is up my ass.

I've never seen the Wire, though I've been told it's amazing. I think I'm gonna go rent it now.
posted by shmegegge at 10:40 AM on January 3, 2008


Yeah, I know, it's just that the person makes such a point of "a particular Internet service starting with b" or whatever. I can't stand that kind of sorry snobbery. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to ignoring the On Demand episodes because they're not in HD.
posted by yerfatma at 10:41 AM on January 3, 2008


Bob: I am the product of a C-average GPA and a general studies degree from a state university and thirteen years of careful reporting about one rustbelt city. Hell do I know. Maybe my head is up my ass
Charlotte: ...ok.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:48 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cool, Geoff. That is more flexible than I thought at first. Sorry, I misread.

I'd argue that we need a combination of local and larger solutions, but I also hate hierarchy, so I'll admit to some odd political views.

Transportation is a regional issue, so here in Baltimore, the buses, trains and subway are run by the state. This makes sense. But, I want to require that the white suburban guys who are at the top of the MTA actually ride the buses, trains and subways, every day, to work. Especially when the jr. high kids are on them (by law, the MTA has to transport the school kids).
posted by QIbHom at 11:02 AM on January 3, 2008


From the Hornby interview

My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.



Man-crush activated.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:14 AM on January 3, 2008 [14 favorites]


I just read this interview of David Simon by Nick Hornby

"We won’t discriminate against a British actor who gives the best read, regardless of what you fucks did to our capital in 1812."
posted by kirkaracha at 11:26 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The dockworker/Frank Sobotka season is my favorite so far. I think I may be alone in this, but the part that kills me is when (this is going to be a spoiler, look away!) Frank's nephew, on his way to turn witness for the prosecution, stands and looks out over the nearly abandoned harbor, and you watch in real time the death of the American Working Man's ability to provide for his family with honest labor.

(I have no objectivity. I love The Wire more than anything else I've ever seen, pretty much.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:32 AM on January 3, 2008


hopeless romantique, that Simon interview is better than any of the links in the FPP. Thank you.
posted by QIbHom at 11:34 AM on January 3, 2008


I just want to say, Hooray for the Internet. 10 years ago, the same article by Bowden could have been written, but the conversation around it would have been in living rooms and not between dozens of unconnected, interesting people-- including the show's creator!
posted by cell divide at 11:35 AM on January 3, 2008


I love me some "The Wire". It's a good show. A great one, even. But I don't understand that hagiography surrounding it concerning it being the Greatest Show That Has Ever Existed. It may be an important show as well as a great one, but judged solely on the show itself I don't see it as being clearly superior to a great number of other shows.

Deadwood, just to pick one example, was at least as good.
posted by Justinian at 11:38 AM on January 3, 2008


Deadwood, just to pick one example, was at least as good.

I loved the first two seasons of Deadwood, but in my opinion, the third season went pretty wrong as Milch let the importance of the show drag the story to a dead halt. The Wire succeeds because no matter how many messages it brings, it is first a story. A hell of a story.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:41 AM on January 3, 2008


I love The Wire, have seen every episode at least twice and think it is more likely than any novel published this decade to be discussed 100 years from now.

But I wonder if David Simon just plain hates bosses. I am thinking not just at all the times the sympathetic characters say "fuck the bosses" but also of his skewering of COMPSTAT and testing in schools. No one likes to be held accountable, but there might just be a reason that people think it is a good idea to test kids once in a while to see how they are doing relative to their peers, or to count up how many tickets each cop gives in a month.

I think The Wire has a slight tendency to just say "the man is keepin me down with all his numbers" and leave it at that. What would the beat cops be doing with no COMPSTAT? Community policing or napping?
posted by shothotbot at 11:57 AM on January 3, 2008


The mayor has been bought and paid for by rich white folks from north of 8 Mile (the suburbs), and funnels what little money is left to them. There is little hope.

Erm. Kwame Kilpatrick? Really? It's an interesting sort of rich white folk who would "buy" America's First Hip-Hop Mayor.

...doubtful that the institutions of a capital-obsessed oligarchy will reform themselves short of outright economic depression (New Deal, the rise of collective bargaining) or systemic moral failure that actually threatens middle-class lives ...that America is no longer operating as a utilitarian and democratic experiment. If you are not comfortable with that notion, you won't agree with some of the tonalities of the show.


It's funny, I've read a hundred times from writers, creators, and critics that the show is anti-capitalist. I'm an ideologue, of course, but I don't see that at all. It's not capitalism or oligarchy that leads to the endemic corruption in the show-- it's the classic sausage-making of democracy. The fall of Hamsterdam is not the result of laissez-faire, but rather the criminalization of voluntary conduct. The failing schools are those of the government, operated by union members.

And, FFS, why would an anticapitalist use the Frank Sobotka story? The crooked leader of a corrupt union* full of layabouts and ne'er-do-wells fails in his bid to buy influence from democratically-elected leaders, and is eventually offed by his co-conspirator. How is that a scathing indictment of capitalism?

Frankly, the show is a Reaganite's wet dream! Unions, government, poor people-- each is portrayed as corrupt, ineffectual, and stupid!

And the fact that the union in question is a longshoreman's union-- just about the best paid manual laborers in the world-- is even harder to grasp as anti-capitalist.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:17 PM on January 3, 2008


Kwantsar, I invite you to check Mayor Kilpatrick's campaign contributions. I believe the Freep gave the top 10. While you are at it, you might want to check his mother's.

Then you can start in on who is getting all the city contracts. Really, it isn't difficult to follow.
posted by QIbHom at 12:27 PM on January 3, 2008


Every significant problem in America comes back to the fact that we never truly addressed the problem of racism.

Racism begets a culture of poverty begets urban blight begets urban sprawl begets co2 emissions and dependence on foreign oil begets global warming and the Iraq war.

Nobody wants to address this issue because, let's face it, it's a loser, politically. It's a serious problem with no easy, profitable solution.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:32 PM on January 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


But I wonder if David Simon just plain hates bosses.

it's definitely a possibility: "David considers himself the ultimate police reporter, and he disdains anyone else who succeeds at it. Bill Marimow won two Pulitzers as a police reporter; David won zero. One doesn’t need a degree in psychology to understand why David is so enraged about both Bill and the Pulitzers."
posted by yerfatma at 12:34 PM on January 3, 2008


The failing schools are those of the government, operated by union members.

Let's be fair: the schools are shown to fail in spite of the (unionized) teachers, not because of them.

[E]ventually offed by his co-conspirator. How is that a scathing indictment of capitalism?

Capitalism allows the ones in charge (state, city and federal government setting dredging policies; gang bosses like Stringer and the Greek determining the street-level activity) to set workers at each others' throats, fighting over scraps?

Unions, government, poor people-- each is portrayed as corrupt, ineffectual, and stupid!

Well, one of of three ain't bad.

Unions aren't really touched upon much, and if anything, drug "crews" are portrayed like guilds, with hierarchy within a tight family. Poor people get around police authority at all times (indeed, getting around the law is the cause for the show's existence each season).

The only ones skewered are the ones in charge, and specifically those at the top of the pile.

I doubt there is much for Reaganites to fall in love with here, with a truly critical look at and understanding of the show's details.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:36 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Very mild (and predictable) spoilers for the first episode of season 5: is anyone else appalled by how obviously Simon has written himself in as the heroic (black!) reporter?

And, FFS, why would an anticapitalist use the Frank Sobotka story? The crooked leader of a corrupt union* full of layabouts and ne'er-do-wells fails in his bid to buy influence from democratically-elected leaders, and is eventually offed by his co-conspirator. How is that a scathing indictment of capitalism?

That union, and all its members, were being cast aside to die by the economic and political powers of their city because they weren't worth as much as upscale riverside apartments. They failed to buy influence because they were outdone by the concentrated capital of Andy Kraw, the property developer. They were the losers in capitalism's creative destruction.

More generally, the "sausage-making" is going wrong because of concentrated wealth. The gangs and the drug-war counterinsurgency are flourishing because their victims are worthless financially, so they're also worthless politically. The politicians, if they're at all career-minded, are reduced to making things even more comfortable for those who are already well-off. Stringer Bell tried to play the money game and Frank Sobotka tried to reform it, but the only Horatio Alger in the show is Clay Davis.
posted by stammer at 12:38 PM on January 3, 2008


Many in Baltimore feel the influx of 30,000 jobs at the new military base will be a real shot in the arm. Baltimore has a full array of problems, but "no hope"? I wonder what that billion dollars per month we spend on the Iraq war and reconstruction could do for a place like Baltimore?

Wake up, America. Insist on:

1. Schools of uniform, high quality.
2. Universal health care.
3. Decent, affordable housing.
4. Jobs and a living wage.
5. Well-maintained infrastructure, including mass and public transportation.
6. Protection of the environment.

No tax hawks can argue we "can't afford it" any longer. Obviously, we could have afforded all of the above all along. We're just lacking the will and/or funds have been diverted.

I have not seen this 'The Wire' program that you speak of, but yes, large parts of Baltimore are full of vacant, city-owned property and substandard housing that probably has to get plowed under at this point. There is illiteracy, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, a high murder rate, and even cancer has a higher incidence. If we the people insisted on 1-6 above - and one trillion dollars would go a long way towards addressing these basic needs - the supposedly intractable problems would fade fast.

We also need to start retooling Green, which will be the source of jobs in the coming decades. Before we can make the above happen, we have to regain the right to tamper-free voting, of course. That will solve the worst of the corruption issues - throw the bums out! 2008 is the end of the pall of the Bush administration. There will be rough times ahead, but to quote Sly Stone "We Can Make It If We Try". These comments are not making a very good case for why Baltimore can't be a viable city.
posted by AppleSeed at 12:40 PM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


And, FFS, why would an anticapitalist use the Frank Sobotka story? The crooked leader of a corrupt union* full of layabouts and ne'er-do-wells fails in his bid to buy influence from democratically-elected leaders, and is eventually offed by his co-conspirator. How is that a scathing indictment of capitalism?

Because it's about the bigger picture, not just the story of one corrupt union official and his attempts to grease political wheels into motion. There's a line Sobotka has in one of the season two episodes; he's speaking, if I remember correctly, to his nephew, lamenting the fact that a grainery is, more likely than not, soon to be turned into another waterfront condo (it is, in the end). "You know what's wrong with this contry?" Sobotka asks. "We used to make stuff. Now we've just got our hands in the next guy's pockets." (I paraphrase, but not much.)

This is the nub of the show's indictment of capitalism: why are the docks failing, and why does America not make stuff anymore? Because it's all been outsourced to Eastern Europe, or China, or Indonesia, or anywhere else it can be done cheaper by companies so vast that national borders mean absolutely nothing. That's capitalism, that's what Simon thinks is fucked. Without an industrial manufacturing base, and the workers needed to keep it running, whole sections of society are left behind. Capitalism says: if they can retrain and work in the service sector, then fine; if not, fuck 'em, let them rot, they're a class of people whose outdated skills are no use to us, because we can get it cheaper elsewhere.

On preview: pretty much what stammer said.
posted by Len at 12:41 PM on January 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Before the Israeli bombing, wasn't Beirut doing pretty well?
In Travel and Leisure magazine's World Best Awards 2006, Beirut was ranked the 9th (out of 10) city in the world, falling just short of New York City and coming ahead of San Francisco.[21]


Yeah. I guess the 18 odd years of civil war in San Francisco has finally taken it's toll on tourism. What with the sectarian fighting in the streets and car bombings most of the down town still laying in ruins and unemployment soaring. Then there is Oakland constantly invading and bombing with their F-16's to stop those guys in Berkley from launching rockets. Thank god they pulled their troops out of the wine country. Finally.

And damn it if Sacramento would just stay out of San Francisco internal affairs and quit assassinating people. It was tragic when Ronald Reagan sent troops into the Presidio and they got suicide bombed by that crazy group of surfers.

What San Francisco needs to do is devalue it's currency and build fortified resorts so it can attract tourist dollars.
posted by tkchrist at 12:41 PM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Before the Israeli bombing, wasn't Beirut doing pretty well?

This is why it needed a little bombing. Lebanon would thoroughly outcompete the Israeli economy if the IDF didn't come in and dismantle everything every ten years or so.
posted by kowalski at 12:53 PM on January 3, 2008


. No other city (except very recently, Kansas City) allows open containers.

Not quite.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:03 PM on January 3, 2008


This is why it needed a little bombing. Lebanon would thoroughly outcompete the Israeli economy if the IDF didn't come in and dismantle everything every ten years or so.

Nah. I'm sure it was all a big coincidence Israel bombs right before Lebanon re-opens it's stock exchange. Damn. Stop being so paranoid!
posted by tkchrist at 1:12 PM on January 3, 2008


Oddly I don't find The Wire (best television program evah!(tm)) that bleak... although the overall message is Capatilsim is griding eveyrone down from top to bottom; within that there are stories of personal victory and redemtion.... there's one character who I expected to be killed everytime he appeared but he survived and prospered...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:23 PM on January 3, 2008


One of the themes in Seasons Three and Four is that Carcetti isn't electable as mayor because he's "the wrong color," but lots of Baltimore's mayors (I'd guess most) have been white.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:45 PM on January 3, 2008


Capitalism says: if they can retrain and work in the service sector, then fine; if not, fuck 'em, let them rot, they're a class of people whose outdated skills are no use to us, because we can get it cheaper elsewhere.

they do re-train, but for the drug game. that's the service sector made available to the excluded and forgotten.
posted by eustatic at 1:59 PM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Brilliant links, brilliant thread, ta very much to all concerned. The Wire is the only programme that can make The Guardians Charlie Brooker come over all serious.
posted by Fat Buddha at 2:07 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Case and point: Schwarzenegger wants to raise the MPG of cars in California, the EPA says that national standards are fine.

The problem with this is that there are other considerations the federal government has considered that California hasn't. California hasn't considered the impact of this on states where cars are manufactured. It hasn't considered the impact of this on higher costs for people who buy cars in other states. The federal government has weighed these other considerations at least by virtue of the fact that the other states get to vote on environmental law. The constitution has granted the federal government the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, which is precisely what EPA as well as drug enforcement and other federal regulations are.

Furthermore, the only reason California is attempting this is because it is so large in comparison to the other states, and no one can refuse to sell cars into California. But the entire purpose of the federal government regulating interstate commerce is to prevent precisely this outcome - larger or more wealthy states shifting burdens to smaller states.

I understand the appeal of local government experimenting with new ways of doing things, but a few comments above someone mentioned a military base bringing 30,000 new jobs to the city. That isn't the result of a successful experiment by the city of Baltimore or the state of Maryland, that's socialism from the top down - national defense spending going to help the city of Baltimore (let's face it, does Baltimore really need a military base?).
posted by Pastabagel at 2:08 PM on January 3, 2008


kirkaracha: Carcetti is based on Martin O'Malley. Carcetti's friend, Tony Gray, is based on O'Malley's friend, Lawrence Bell. If you remember the third and fourth season well, this should ring some bells:

At a critical juncture in the primary campaign, race was, in fact, the only issue, and O'Malley had been accused of entering the contest only after he was persuaded that the black vote would be split. [...] Baltimore has been bleeding population at the rate of 1,000 citizens a month, most of whom are white, and in the last mayoral election in 1995 between incumbent Kurt Schmoke and then-City Council president Mary Pat Clarke, race was used to great effect. Schmoke adopted the colors of the flag of African liberation -- black, green and red -- for his campaign signs, which read "Kurt Schmoke Makes Us Proud."
posted by stammer at 2:15 PM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


they do re-train, but for the drug game. that's the service sector made available to the excluded and forgotten.
posted by eustatic at 4:59 PM on January 3


And if drugs were legalized, who do you think would control the narcotics industry? Neighborhood mom and pop shops? Legalize drugs and within two years the drug trade is under the control of four or fewer national consumer products or pharmaceutical companies.

The real reason to legalize drugs is that drug trafficking forces all sorts of legal trade underground, because significant amounts of money from trafficking can not enter the financial system legally and be used for the sorts of things the rest of accumulated wealth is used for (i.e. investment). The same is true for the money that illegal immigrants earn (only there it is even worse, because they can't find housing or healthcare from legit sources easily either).

This is the real disaster from drug laws. The fact that people aren't allowed to do something they enjoy is meaningless to the legalization debate. Hell, I want to insider trade in small amounts, but I can't do that either.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:16 PM on January 3, 2008


The constitution has granted the federal government the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, which is precisely what EPA as well as drug enforcement and other federal regulations are.

I fail to follow. California's proposed rules don't impede interstate commerce in that they don't affect in-state car companies any differently than they affect out-of-state car companies.
posted by Slothrup at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2008


The fall of Hamsterdam is not the result of laissez-faire, but rather the criminalization of voluntary conduct.

Huh? Were we watching the same programme? Because I took a very different message from the Hamsterdam episodes, that went something like this: Sure, the drug laws suck and it's ridiculous to lock people up in return for engaging in activities that are at worst, self-destructive, but a laissez-faire approach to this issue runs the risk of creating as many problems as it solves. Many of these people are extremely vulnerable with complex needs and taking them out of the hands of a predatory state and creating the kind of marginal drug using ghettos that we've seen in places like Zurich's Needle Park only abandons them to exploitation by a hyper-capitalist criminal underclass and is no solution at all.

The only real solutions like in the provision of widespread availability of intelligent, harm reduction services for those people who are determined to continue using, and high quality, low threshold drug treatment for those people who wish to stop.

Incidentally, for those who can't wait any longer, Episodes 1 and 2 of Season 5 have been available on Bittorrent for a couple of days now.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:23 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm almost done with the first episode of SE 05, and I wont give away anything crucial, but let me just say that I choked on my soda when.....to not give anything away I'll just say "burnt doll head"

God I love this show.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:58 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The constitution has granted the federal government the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, which is precisely what EPA as well as drug enforcement and other federal regulations are.

In fact, by that logic, Texas should not be allowed to make dildo sales illegal -- as it interferes with the large California dildo industry.

Sorry for the double derail, but that just (obviously) cheesed me off.
posted by Slothrup at 3:01 PM on January 3, 2008


Incidentally, for those who can't wait any longer, Episodes 1 and 2 of Season 5 have been available on Bittorrent for a couple of days now.

Apparently, I fail at the Internet.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:29 PM on January 3, 2008


Pastabagel wrote: but a few comments above someone mentioned a military base bringing 30,000 new jobs to the city. That isn't the result of a successful experiment by the city of Baltimore or the state of Maryland, that's socialism from the top down - national defense spending going to help the city of Baltimore (let's face it, does Baltimore really need a military base?).

BRAC is not bringing anything directly to Baltimore, but rather to communities theoretically within commuting range. While some are convinced this will help Baltimore (a neighbour of mine's sole job is to convince people moving into Central Maryland due to BRAC to move to Baltimore), some aren't so sure.
posted by QIbHom at 3:40 PM on January 3, 2008


Apparently, I fail at the Internet.

Isohunt is your friend.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:24 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Eps 5 and 6 are up too, but I cant find 3 and 4
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:26 PM on January 3, 2008


That Atlantic article is great, but I think that in his effort to tie what he's learned about David Simon to the show itself, he really misrepresents "The Wire".

In my decades in newsrooms, I encountered my share of hard-core skeptics like Simon, but those resembling the stereotypical Hack were the exceptions. It is true that the more true stories you tell, the more acquainted you are with suffering, stupidity, venality, and vice. But you’re also more acquainted with selflessness, courage, and decency. Old reporters and editors are softened by knowledge and experience. If anything, they become less inclined to suspect or condemn. They encounter incompetence more often than evil, and they see that very few people who screw up do so in ways that are indefensible.

In context, the reader is meant to think that "The Wire" doesn't hold to this kind of hard-won truth, but I think that this passage actually nails the POV of the show. Most of what goes wrong on the show, as in life, does come from incompetence rather than evil, and more often than not, the screw ups are entirely defensible and that's what makes the show more depressing than a show about Good and Bad Guys. Daniels is a "Good Guy", but what happens to Wallace in Season One, for example, is Daniels' fault. My favorite moment of that season is when people start talking about the case and Daniels gets this "oh shit" look on his face as it occurs to him that he's completely forgotten to follow up on the witness he stashed out in the country. Or in Season Four, with all of the problems that result not so much from Herc losing the camera, but from Herc throwing all of his energy into trying to get it back, and trying to hide his mistake. That's part of what makes the show so emotionally difficult for me - rarely are our fuck ups at work and in life a result of Making The Wrong Choice.... usually it's forgetting things, or avoiding things, or rushing through things, or trying to cover up something that's already gone wrong. "The Wire" absolutely takes the side of "incompetence over evil" - is there a character on the show more sympathetic than Prez? And is there a character who has personally caused more suffering and damage than he has?
posted by moxiedoll at 4:32 PM on January 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


Eps 5 and 6 are up too, but I cant find 3 and 4

Yeah, I'm downloading 5 and 6 at the moment, but I haven't seen any signs of 3 or 4 either. They're being upped via the Pirate Bay but I can't find any signs of any of them on there.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:39 PM on January 3, 2008


is there a character on the show more sympathetic than Prez? And is there a character who has personally caused more suffering and damage than he has?

Chris. But I get your point.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:39 PM on January 3, 2008


Oh, I mean Chris as an answer to your second question, not your first, of course.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:40 PM on January 3, 2008


And before any of the Download Morality Cops pounce, not only do I buy the dvds, Ive bought these for other people. No occasion either. Just as a way to get peeps into this world.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:45 PM on January 3, 2008


Episodes 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7 were around but they ~mysteriously~ disappeared yesterday. 3 and 4 were never posted.
posted by palidor at 6:56 PM on January 3, 2008


Oh and as always, best show ever!
posted by palidor at 6:57 PM on January 3, 2008


3 and 4 were never posted

Apparently, there are just two lots of review CD's. The first shows episodes 1 and 2, the second, episodes 5, 6 and 7. The two CD set that shows episodes 5, 6 and 7 just sold on e-bay for $230.

Like Senor C., I also own copies of Season 1, 2 and 3 on DVD, and have bought copies of Season 3 for other people as well. (I'm waiting for the price of Season 4 to drop though.)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:15 PM on January 4, 2008


'But I wonder if David Simon just plain hates bosses. I am thinking not just at all the times the sympathetic characters say "fuck the bosses" but also of his skewering of COMPSTAT and testing in schools. No one likes to be held accountable, but there might just be a reason that people think it is a good idea to test kids once in a while to see how they are doing relative to their peers, or to count up how many tickets each cop gives in a month.

'I think The Wire has a slight tendency to just say "the man is keepin me down with all his numbers" and leave it at that. What would the beat cops be doing with no COMPSTAT? Community policing or napping?'


Simon mentions his problem with police figures in his book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. If I recall correctly the argument was basically that the pressure to meet arrest figures became more and more important. The easiest way to meet those figure for the Baltimore Police was to roust corners and make essentially meaningless arrests of low level slingers. This process became institutionalised, so fast forward a few years and the police are losing the skills to investigate, run informants etc. All they are geared towards is meeting the figures by breaking heads on the corners (see the character of Herc as an example of this type of policeman).

The first season of The Wire is about this, with the Barksdale unit constantly under pressure to produce results (arrests) as there is no quantifiable measure for the hugely valuable information the unit is producing. It's touched on again in the third series, where Bunny is trying to get information on who to speak to in the drug organisations in order to set up Hamsterdam - no one has any good intel except what's left of the Major Case Unit.

While figures can be useful (to an extent) it's too easy for them to become the be all and end all. Is the point of education to train children to pass the tests or should education be about more than that? If the test results are all that are looked at then it's all to easy for them to become all that matters and the whole system focusses on passing those tests (the reason for the rounding up of truant kids in season 4 is to meet enrolment figures to ensure funding, the rest of the time they're left alone despite the fact they're not attending school as it's easier to leave them out of the classroom as they're a disruptive influence.

There are further examples, but these show that The Wire doesn't just say 'the man is keepin me down with all his numbers and leave it at that'. The effects of the figures are alluded to throughout the show.

On the national vs local thing one thing I always remember from The Corner is what happens to the Drug addiction counsellors. The best were former junkies themselves, but when counselling is made more professional (IIRC as a result of national standards being applied) fwew of them have the correct qualifications to be counsellors and so are let go and replaced by people with the correct qualifications who, on the whole, are less effective because they don't share a background with those they are counselling.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 12:19 PM on January 4, 2008


Season Five sorta spoiler:
Jesus, David Simon obviously hates newspaper bosses worst of all.

It's still gold, but this season seems the most heavy-handed.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:56 PM on January 4, 2008


Jesus, David Simon obviously hates newspaper bosses worst of all.
It's still gold, but this season seems the most heavy-handed.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:56 PM on January 4


Agreed. I wonder if budget cuts are coming to the paper? Of course the nice reporter guy will make sure the story gets out. But since this is The Wire, maybe he will end up shooting cub reporter Joey Sunshine for talking back.
posted by shothotbot at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2008


From yesterday's Baltimore Sun

Fake newsroom, real anger
Forget what you've heard about the fifth and final season of The Wire, which begins tonight on HBO. Officially, what some critics have called the greatest show in the history of TV wraps up with a meditation on the evils of corporate newspaper ownership. But really, it's all about revenge.

Though the story goes on to talk about the evolution of Simon's feelings about a few former bosses and how The Wire changed.

And from The Atlantic The Angriest Man In Television
How David Simon’s disappointment with the industry that let him down made The Wire the greatest show on television—and why his searing vision shouldn’t be confused with reality

posted by shothotbot at 7:57 PM on January 7, 2008


It's still gold, but this season seems the most heavy-handed.

Word. I was hoping there was a button I could click to say, "Ok, I get it. Move on to the story." And I don't get the point of McNulty returning to drinking. I suppose I do, but I could do without it.
posted by yerfatma at 4:13 AM on January 8, 2008


As an fyi (if anyone's still in the room) apparently all of this season's upcoming new episodes will be released the previous monday on comcast on-demand. (Not a comcast shill, but very excited about this. Though, like someone said above, I wish they'd put The Wire on their HD on demand. Scumbags.)
posted by inigo2 at 11:00 AM on January 8, 2008


HBO on demand too. I wish I could go into suspended animation until they were all out and then watch them all at once, because just one wire is unsatisfying and I need to re-watch an old one right afterwards.
posted by shothotbot at 11:04 AM on January 8, 2008


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