Saturday, November 13, 2004

On The Wire

A blogospheric parable of sorts...

In the midst of discussing Porter Goss's upcoming (or rather ongoing) pogrom of those in the CIA who tried to leak just enough to cause Bush to lose the elections, Matt Yglesias reaches out to The Wire and cites Omar

"If you come at the King, you'd best not miss"
Brad Delong counters with a more classical reference from Alessandro Farnese
'He who draws his sword against the prince needs to throw away his scabbard.'
Arcane Gazebo then trumps both pointing to Cersei Lannister
"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."
As someone whose professional life has been spent trying to develop software tools that allow serendipitous group-forming this is all music to my ears. Not to mention that I'm also a fan of the show being discussed and admire its sense of language.

If I was a Clay Shirky type, I'd be talking about how such exchanges are the natural outgrowth of the confluence of ease of publishing with tools like Blogger and Moveable Type, standards like Atom/RSS, HTML and XML, the ubiquity of REST-ful platforms based on HTTP, URIs and distributed hypermedia as well as search infrastructure like Google and Technorati that has come to terms with end-to-end intelligence and the virtue of the link.

I'd say all that and more. I'd add in some theory about how this infrastructure is helping us harness those beneficial network effects bounded by Metcalfe's Law and Reed's Law. That such fun and informed repartee is the endpoint of contributors from Gutenberg on etc.

Now I suppose that policy wonks and Berkeley economists would be inevitably part of the same community. But would someone like me have been able to add in my own take in this debate without that great global water cooler conversation engine that is the blogosphere?

Surrounding all this commentary is the shared context of a novelistic TV show. It helps to have to some artist mining the cultural zeitgeist, the kind the social lubrication I pondered in that Sign Of The Times piece. This is what sociologists like Elster call The Cement of Society: the shared cultural context of literature, music, religion, history, film and, yes, also the infrastructure that smoothes these exchanges.

I'm positive that this is what David Simon and Ed Burns set out to do when they conceived of the show. They have assembled a fine set of writers who weave these gritty urban tales together. To my ear, it's probably novelist George Pelecanos (now also a producer on the show) who authored Omar's line. It's the kind of classicism I've read in some of his works like The Big Blowdown and Soul Circus. In this season, they've also reached out to such crime novel stalwarts as Dennis Lehane and Richard Price. I'd also note the as yet unheralded Rafael Alvarez who was the conscience of the Greek dockworkers of the second season. With such fireworks in the writing department, boosted by an amazing cast and strong direction by the likes of Ernest Dickerson, it stands to reason that we'd be drawing on its lessons in our own discourse. The framework they have set down is quite simple: Baltimore city as a character, bureacracies on both sides The Law and The Street, the occasional mavericks, doomed but sympathetic characters like Bubbles and an ear for language that rings true to life. So now let me add some more fodder to the conversation from The Wire.

Consider the always quotable Proposition Joe wrapping up a Godfather-like gathering of drug crews in a conference room in a Baltimore hotel, the dealers have just decided to set aside lethal differences to combine resources to buy better drug product from New York.
"For a cold-ass crew of gangsters, y'all carried it like Republicans an' shit."
Isn't that akin to the coalition that came together to re-elect Bush?

Or from the democratic standpoint, what about Blind Butchie who notes in his inimitable trancelike way:
"Conscience do cost"
when Omar has to cough up $1,500 to retrieve a cop's lost gun and return it to the authorities. Detective Bunk's tirade about predatory people like Omar (who incidentally was only a few years behind him in high school) touched a nerve and Omar tries to asuage the unease Bunk raised when he evoked the old days
"We had us a community back then".
Doesn't that stand close to the kind of wrangling half of the country is going through (and the rest of the world I might add) as it anticipates what will be lost of its soul in the next four years under Bush?

Excusing the street ebonics if you will, I tend to agree: conscience do cost.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments. As a 60-yr-old white retired English teacher, I was one who saw the Shakespearean subtext in "The Wire". Since I live in Baltimore, my 86-yr.-old Dad was worried that I was under the influence of this "criminal" subset. HEHEHE.
I responded that I live in Bush's America. Talk about your criminal subsets!
Also, Baltimore is converting the last of the grain elevators into a luxury condo. Talk about life imitating art (Season 2) .

Anonymous said...

I, like many others, am jaded with "reality TV" that is nothing like reality. There is nothing on TV that holds my attention on a continuing basis these days, nothing worth watching, nothing worth taking the time to follow on a continuing basis. But it would seem that I need to start watching The Wire ...

As an aside, in the Washington Post piece, there is another language gem of a quote from an agency official who says

"Everyone is waiting for the centipede to drop all his shoes."

Koranteng said...

I love the language of bureaucracy.