Friday, 20 March 2009

Art and Reality in The Wire

I was a latecomer to The Wire. I’d been hearing for years about how it was ‘the most amazing show ever’, but people were saying the same about Battlestar Galactica, and, I mean, come on: it’s about robots or something. But when my wife and I finally started watching, we quickly became hooked. Now, obviously the world doesn’t need yet another person saying that The Wire is the best show of all time (so we’ll take that as read). But just what is it that makes it so good?

Jonathan Jones posted something on this topic on his Guardian blog the other day. According to Jones, the realism of The Wire is ‘in creative tension with its self-consciousness as art.’ Now, it could be argued that this statement is equally true of anything at all except (maybe) CCTV footage. The Wire did not invent the tension between realism and technique. In fact, the question of The Wire’s realism really highlights the inadequacy of the term ‘realism’ for discussing this problem — because, on close examination, The Wire is not a particularly realistic show. Jones is right to praise the inventive dialogue, but there isn’t a single aspect of the show which is not affected, and enriched, by that same inventiveness. The Wire may be the most the most intricately designed series in TV history. Is it ‘realistic’ that the internal concerns of the gangsters and the police should mirror each other so perfectly? That Pryzbylewski should become a teacher just in time for the season devoted to the school system? That Omar Little exists?

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Scenes from the End of Suburbia

Walking in my in-laws’ neighbourhood in Bothell, Washington, a satellite town orbiting northern Seattle, I came across an increasingly common feature of the local scenery. Hidden from the busy suburban street behind a uniform wooden fence, an entire housing development sits in an island of tranquility. One long street stretches perpendicularly from the main drag, and from it radiate three short stubs of road, their names advertised on shiny new street signs — ‘9th DR SE’, ‘20th DR SE’. Everything here is new. The sour smell of new tarmac still lingers over the freshly-paved road, and the white stripes of the pedestrian crossings glow in the sunlight. All is in place, in fact — the street lamps, bright yellow fire hydrants, large communal mailboxes — except the houses. It’s as if they simply vanished in the night.