Sunday, February 8, 2009

What Makes The Wire Different

Middlebury College is offering a Spring 2009 course titled "Watching The Wire." The syllabus is posted online, and it includes a pitch letter written by series creator David Simon to two HBO executives. Here is my favorite section of the note, which acts as a type of thesis statement for the show:
But The Wire is, I would argue, the next challenge to the network logic and the next challenge for HBO. It is grounded in the most basic network universe--the cop show--and yet, very shortly, it becomes clear to any viewer that something subversive is being done with that universal. Suddenly, the police bureaucracy is amoral, dysfunctional, and criminality, in the form of the drug culture, is just as suddenly a bureaucracy. Scene by scene, viewers find their carefully formed presumptions about cops and robbers undercut by alternative realities. Real police work endangers people who attempt it. Things that work in network cop shows fall flat in this alternative world. Police work is at times marginal or incompetent. Criminals are neither stupid nor cartoonish, and neither are they all sociopathic. And the idea--as yet unspoken on American TV--that no one in authority has any reason to care what happens in an American ghetto as long as it stays within the ghetto is brought into the open. Moreover, within a few hours of viewing, the national drug policy--and by extension our basic law enforcement model--is revealed as calcified, cynical, and unworkable.
And, while we're here, David Foster Wallace loved The Wire:
He was, in fact, extremely fond of The Wire -- he stopped me in the hall one day last year and said, look, I really want to sit down and pick your brain about this, because I'm really developing the conviction that the best writing being done in America today is being done for The Wire. Am I crazy to think that?

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