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Friday, August 29, 2008

A Difficult Medium: Is "The Wire" Art?

Posted by Tariq al Haydar

 

by Tariq al Hayder

It's very easy for me to classify Al Green's rendition of "Just the Two of Us" as "art". I also have no qualms describing Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" or e.e. cummings' "the boys i mean are not refined" as such. Music is art. Literature is definitely art. But I always was a little suspicious of celluloid. As much as I loved "The Godfather," I often wondered if it was a different breed of creativity, something a little too close to commercialism perhaps. Is "Pan's Labyrinth" art or just a superior piece of entertainment?

Of course, this is an entirely subjective question. But I like to think that in the arts, objectivity is to be strived for, even though it can never be reached, and in my subjective opinion, The Wire, more so than anything ever before filmed, deserves to be classified as "art." 

Why?

I could point to the superlative performances from a cast that, over five seasons, has exceeded a hundred actors. Their performances are so good that I only remember the names of the characters: McNulty is not some British actor, he's real Baltimore po-lice. In real life, Marlo Stanfield is Marlo Stanfield, forever the gangster. And there is no Michael K. Williams...there is only Omar. But still, the acting is not what makes The Wire art; many films and TV series can boast equally impressive performances.

So what is it?

I'm not really sure, but it begins and ends with series creator David Simon. See, I think that The Wire just HAPPENED to be a TV show, when really, it's just an artifact. When people fifty years from now see The Wire (and they will), they won't see a cop drama, they'll see a living, breathing Baltimore, with its corrupt and honest cops, its criminals with codes, its scoundrels, its fiends, its politicians who want to make a difference but can't, its teachers who desperately want to believe that the kids they come across aren't doomed and the people who are all players in one game or another.

Oh, and then there's the writing.

I want to write a novel. It's a dream of mine. I try to steal stuff from Vonnegut and from Conrad and from Murakami. But you know what I also do? I take a little spiral notebook and a blue ball point pen, pop in episode 1 of season 1, turn on the subtitles, and study. I study Landsman's monologues. I study the Chicken McNugget and chess metaphors D'Angelo shares with Bodie, Wallace and Poot. I study the intricacies of character, how something small, like a kid staying put when the others around him are running, reveals what MUST happen. How a look or a gesture is a valid form of communication. I watch this and I actually learn, because this is how real people interact.

I'm not writing this to lament the lack of Emmy recognition or the low ratings. I'm writing this with sadness. I'm in mourning, because last night I saw the last episode of the last season of The Wire for the first time, and I know I will never see anything like it ever again.

4 comments:

Hursty said...

So since I haven't seen the Wire I cant really comment. But it is art. That must be obvious to everyone. Its a form of expression hence art. BTW some new stuff has been put up on Hibachi. It'd be nice if ya'll checked it out and let comments occasionally. PEACE!

Tariq al Hayder said...

hursty, I wouldn't classify any form of expression as art. Go to a poetry workshop at any college, and you'll find people engaging in self-expression. The word that describes their writing, however, is not "art" but "shit". Trust me, I attended some of those workshops and wrote my fair share of excrement!

TADOne said...

Well then, I don't feel so bad when people said to me I was "full of shit". From now on I will take that as a term of endearment.

As always, great "shit" Tariq.

Hursty said...

yeh thats true I suppose but people will always their own opinion on 'shit' regardless of whether or not its any good. But the point can be made that it is art even if its obvious 'shit' from everyone elses point of view but 'art' from the artists view.