Sunday, July 31, 2011

When TV Breaks Your Heart

I finished watching the four season of The Wire last night.  I think my heart is still on the floor, as it was ripped out of my chest.  What a moving, draining, funny, sad, and dynamic depiction of inner city life.  And it all works because it demands the viewers to pay attention and to remember stuff from the first three seasons.  Alan Sepinwall has some very useful re-caps posted--useful because I am watching the show years after it appeared and am not co-watching it. 

The political scientist in me marvels at how much of this show is just the absolutely best depiction of politics--that a politician (Tommy Carcetti) constantly has to face heaps of tradeoffs between competing priorities and between his own ambition and what is best for the city. There are rarely any clear policy choices, and every actor has their own set of incentives to work at cross-purposes--the president of the city council, the governor, the police commissioner, his number two, and everyone else. 

As someone who has watched way too much TV over the past few decades, I can simply say that The Wire is just fantastic and is must-see TV, more than any other program for both its quality and its social relevance.  I have learned so much urban and municipal and bureaucratic politics that I almost wish I could just show this program to my classes for weeks on end.  Instead, I will eventually have to figure out which five minute slice of the five years (once I finish the fifth year) does the best job of showing bureaucratic politics at its best/worst.  I am already thinking of using the discussion between Stringer and Avon about whether one needs to dominate territory in order to do well in the economy of the 21st century for my IR lecture on globalization.

Any other suggestions for using the Wire for IR and/or ethnic conflict classes?


Steve Greene said...

Sometimes I think my Criminal Justice Policy students would be better off if I just required them to watch the Wire. Never shown any clips because I'm too lazy to find them.

Tony Kondaks said...

I really, really wanted to see "The Wire" because so many had said how great it was.

So a year or so ago while I was still living in the States, I rented the first season on my Netflix account (the postal service one, NOT the instant one). I got through 45 minutes of the first episode of the first season and had to eject it. Every other word was the "F" word or the "S" word or, of course, the worst, the "MF" word.

I don't care how supposedly realistic swearing is and representative of real life in the ghetto, I simply can't sit through much of it. It is taxing and draining for me. The only time I can stand it is Quentin Tarantino movies because they make up for it with their incredible creativity. Or, in comedy, by George Carlin, for the same reason.

Swearing for the most part in movies (when it's done to excess) is just an excuse not to write a good script. Jerry Seinfeld says the same about swearing in stand-up comedy where swearing is so prevalent.

Swearing is a short-cut. Write better and you won't have to use it.

Steve Saideman said...

Sorry you feel that way. The Wire is the best written show that has been on TV in the past decade or two. The language is part of depicting things realistically. The really offensive word is the N-word, in my humble opinion, but the show is so very good, so very sharp that you should try again.