Friday, September 12, 2008
The Wire’s high-wire act: McCain & Obama
Having finally seen all five seasons of the popular HBO series The Wire, I found it interesting recently to note that John McCain has said that he is a big fan of that show.
The Wire is a gritty police drama set in Baltimore that pushes the envelope—particularly the envelope of depicting lots of black people involved in crime, oftentimes horrible and savage crimes. Of course, the show’s producers, writers and directors are solidly ensconced in the paradigm of politically correct multi-culturalism (PC MC). So how do they get away with depicting blacks as savages? How do they get away with having many scenes entirely involving blacks, all doing bad things, all demonstrating sociopathic habits of lying, cheating, laziness, corruption, thievery, murderousness? Easy: by contextualizing all those facets of black pathology in a larger matrix of mostly white corruption in high places in city government.
That is to say, a ruthless spotlight on the predominantly black complexion of the grim reality of “the street” is saved from being “racist” by simply shifting the blame of all that savagery onto “the System” of “da Man”. This, in a microcosm, is the PC MC paradigm by which all corruption, chaos and violence throughout the Third World is explained: it’s the fault of the white West, of course, and the Third World Noble Savage is never burdened with the ethical responsibility that would ever shift any of the blame on him. That burden is the white man’s.
This television drama tactic, of contextualizing black and other minority violence in a larger matrix of white corruption, was not invented by the creators of The Wire, of course. It has been standard fare for all “gritty” police dramas and other shows that deal with “the street”, going all the way back to the shows of the 70s, like Baretta and Toma (the persona and charisma of the star of the latter, Tony Musante, in many ways reincarnated by Dominic West’s Detective Jimmy McNulty, the main character of The Wire); in the 80s, with Hill Street Blues; and in the 90s, with NYPD Blue. What distinguishes The Wire in this regard is only a matter of degree, not a qualitative paradigm shift.
Now, there are two ways to appreciate this dramatic style of “gritty” realism. A viewer and fan of The Wire may, to the degree that he has been deformed by the PC MC paradigm, swallow the moral of the story with which each episode, each season, and the entire series, is richly saturated: namely, that the moral responsibility for all black urban pathology, no matter how vicious and callow, is to be shifted onto the political system, whose endemic corruption is mostly represented by whites, with a generous sprinkling of token blacks here and there—and certainly is emblematic of an ultimately white-controlled reality.
Or, another type of viewer and fan of The Wire may, to the degree that he has not been deformed by the PC MC paradigm, find himself deeply refreshed by the numerous and lengthy depictions of blacks indulging in all of the seven mortal sins—a sight that has been so rare in Western media in general, whether fiction or non-fiction, that it is remarkable to see on such a highly acclaimed show. This type of viewer can more or less ignore the persistent insinuation of the aforementioned moral of the story, and simply sit back and enjoy even those scenes that try to “educate” its audience—in that characteristically condescending and paternalistic manner typical of Leftists (one gets unctuously treacly tastes of that from watching David Simon, the show’s creator, articulate the overall vision of the show on one of the DVD features). That PC MC “education”, nevertheless, is otherwise so excellently written, acted and directed, and the aforementioned moral is for the most part sufficiently subtle, that in the long run it is not so painful for the more enlightened, undeformed viewer to watch.
Thus, The Wire manages to accomplish an interesting balance between toeing the line of the PC MC dogma that all black pathology is due to white corruption, on the one hand, and yet at the same time conveying that pathology so unflinchingly in all its utterly frank ugliness it cannot avoid eliciting at least in some viewers a dismay that might awaken some doubts about the wisdom of that dogma.
The Wire’s sociocultural pedagogy, therefore, demonstrates a perfectly ambiguous high-wire act: and I have a hunch I know to which side of the balance McCain, in his high appreciation of the show, and in the slight degree of freedom from PC MC deformity one suspects of him, stands. No mere hunch is needed, however, to know on which side Obama, a politician profoundly and proudly deformed by PC MC, falls.