Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Wire as Greek/Shakespearean tragedy

Yesterday I did scarcely anything apart from watch 6 episodes of series one of The Wire (the remaining of the series) back to back. As I watched, it struck me that the show's broader canvas is to convey both the decline of the American Empire and explore the tragedy of African American /white American working class life. The tragic aspect seemed partly Shakespearean, partly Greek (what else of course?). There's definitely a sense of both the insight and blindness each character has about their role in "the Game" - an uncanny blurring between the sense of pre-destined fate and utter ignorance of what might happen next.

Moreover, to add to the texture, the show is not averse to comic counterpoint digressions - witness Herc and Ellis' routines, and the scene where McNulty and Bunk investigate an old crime scene and communicate using only variations of the word 'fuck'. Perhaps best of all however is the language of the show - a whole world of Baltimore slang emerges which creates both a strong sense of place as well as an almost complicit intimacy between the Barksdale crew and Daniel's "detail".
It was gratifying to read the show's creator, David Simon, being quoted in similar fashion (here):

In creating “The Wire,” Simon said, he and his colleagues had “ripped off the Greeks: Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides. Not funny boy—not Aristophanes. We’ve basically taken the idea of Greek tragedy and applied it to the modern city-state.” He went on, “What we were trying to do was take the notion of Greek tragedy, of fated and doomed people, and instead of these Olympian gods, indifferent, venal, selfish, hurling lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no reason—instead of those guys whipping it on Oedipus or Achilles, it’s the postmodern institutions . . . those are the indifferent gods.”

There is more analysis of the show here, including analysis of its form as a 'visual novel'.


Opium,  10:14 am  

What about the detective that goes to see a fortune teller as a means of solving his case...Madame Laroo...that was just the funniest.

Toks- Boy 12:38 pm  

J- I bought the whole series several months ago and have been carrying it around in my suitcase promising to watch it on the plane, hotel, train. It wasonly last week that I finally broke it open and started to watch.For me the most strilking thing so far is the character that plays D'Angelo Barksdale. There is so much charisma oozing off that character. And the cadenza of his speech is something else. Like he's reading poetry (which is not surprising becasue some of the writing is poetry).

I'm definitely hooked.

Naapali 5:38 am  

A Sunday (London)Times reviewer once commented on Tolkien's LOTR "The English speaking world is divided into two groups, those who have read the Lord of The Rings, and those who are yet to."

One can paraphrase this to suit the Wire, the TV viewing world is divided into those who have seen the Wire and those who are yet to.

The final season concluded here two months ago now, but I cannot bring myself to delete the season from the DVR. I see the kids on the corners of my neighborhood and wonder who is Pootie, D'Angelo, I hope I never cross the Marlo Stansfields of my neighborhood.


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