Monthly Archives: November 2009

GenKill Dialogue

The dialogue in GenKill sizzles with pop culture and homophobic references, racial slurs, sexual innuendo and even a little history. GenKill is reflexive in that it critiques its own narrative about the military, including its leadership. Most of the narrative is politically incorrect and irreverent. It appears, however, that the irreverence and political incorrectness act as primary coping mechanisms. These mostly young and some older men who make up this spear head group of Recon Marines prepared to go up against the “haji” seem trapped in a distorted realm of masculinity. Wright points out that these Marines are different from portrayals of WWII vets who appear on film and TV as patriotic, adult men who have found and taken their places in society. Wright’s Marines are the misfits, what he calls the “throw away” generation of young men. While the visuals of this desert engagement convey the horrors of war, they somehow don’t seem so devastating and horrendous amid the sexual, racial and off the wall banter of men trying to stay sane in an insane environment. One Marine (I’m having trouble identifying who’s who) makes a reference, “country music, homosexual, special Olympics gay.” Another said that the Marine mission is “semper gumby, always flexible.” Episode 2 makes reference to the Vietnam War with an accompanying remark “gotta respect the pajamas.” Still another admits that the Marines are “so homoerotic.” Another communicates that a cheap, vibrating thrill can be had if you lay with your “cock on the ground” when the tanks go by. Then there’s the social commentary – “Fifty percent of Americans are obese” and the dialogue goes on to identify them as white trash, poor Mexicans and Blacks. With a reference to incest, one Marine talks about “sister fucking” and “cross-eyed hicks.” Thai pussy is a subject for discussion as well as one Marine’s quest to finally shoot his gun and kill someone. These examples of dialogue cover up the fact that supplies are hard to come by, maps are unreliable and blame is carried on the lowest rungs of the military ladder. Religion creeps into the narrative in the form of Buddhism and Islam. One Marine chants “nam myoho renge kyo’ as he prepares to shoot an Iraqi. Another shouts, “as salaam alaikum” to young Muslim girls along the road into the city. One message comes across loud and clear and that is that the “white man got to rule the world … white man won’t be denied.” The topsy turvy world of the Recon Marines chooses the Corps over community college and for one Marine “messed up is the way I roll.” That the Marines are indeed in the cradle of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers is not a factor as they survive in the tight area of the humvee with too much equipment and protective clothing for the hot desert sun. One Marine’s solution to stop the killing is to put a McDonald’s on every corner. The most telling remark in Episode 2 with regard to war and the quest for control of resources – “the white man’s oppression and the white man’s burden.”

Reporter POV

I’ve really enjoyed reading Generation Kill because of the character of the reporter. For some reason I am intrigued by the way the soldiers interact with the reporter. In the beginning some of the characters are skeptical towards him but then they warm up to him. But what I want to focus on is how the reporter is portrayed in the series. I think Simon does a good job portraying a man who is from the outside world being taken into a strange unknown world of the Marines. His facial expressions in the series almost mimic the way the viewers respond to what they learn from the series. I must admit that when the soldiers were singing pop songs I laughed at the same time the reporter did. But I wonder what it would be like if Simon had made the viewers the reporter. What if the series was all in Point of View shots? If the soldiers were talking to the camera and the reporters voice responded? I think it would be an interesting way to film the series in and might offer a different experience for the viewers than how the series is filmed. Thoughts?

Pushing the COmedic Envelopes

Seeing David Misch speak today was a really great treat, but the point he made about pushing the envelope with “Duckman” before shows like “South Park” and “Family Guy” got me wondering: in another class I’m taking we read an article where comedy is described as the art which frees spectators and creators alike from fear of persecution and subjection.

When shows like the ones previously mentioned push the boundaries of “political correctness”, is it a testament to that idea? That we (as spectators and creators) should not fear those who threaten to crush an artistic vision? Does dramatic programming like we’ve studied so far have any type of similar purpose? Or is it more like the creators have a personal agenda and are simply out to tear down a society’s desire to maintain a safe and placid status quo?

Personally I like to think that the creators of these shows have some sort of bigger purpose than to just lampoon for the sake of proving another purpose wrong. But I believe with some programming (to me, particularly “South Park”) the creators invest so much of their personal interests and beliefs that, even though the material remains funny, there is an air of cynicism that takes away any other message that could be derived from the show.

Generation Kill’s Reflection of HBO’s Modus Operandi, Social Commentary, and Reception

I’m intrigued by how Generation Kill serves as an exemplar of HBO’s established style of raciness. Its expletive-laden dialogue parodies our generation’s communication style, constantly featuring words such as “dick,” “cock,” “pussy,” “cunt,” “damn,” “shit,” “fuck,” “motherfucker,” and “asshole.” Perhaps this language is exaggerated among marines, or perhaps the series’ writers are seeking to make a statement about the present youth as a whole. After all, distinctions in the characters’ speech extend beyond profanity to referential slang characteristic of contemporary forms of addressing one another, such as “bro,” “bra,” “dude,” “dawg,” “homeboy,” “homie,” and “homes.” How do subtleties—which perhaps aren’t so subtle due to their repetitiveness—in characters’ language reflect the greater aims of Evan Wright, et al. to serve social commentary specifically targeted toward current adolescents and young adults?

I think that a solid study of Generation Kill involves us placing the mini-series within the context of existing media representations of the Iraq War. The 2003 invasion of Iraq drew unprecedented media coverage and raised weighty questions about media bias, censorship, and propaganda. However, there haven’t been a wealth of fictionalized portrayals of the war, and those that have been released, such as the 2007 feature film In the Valley of Elah and the 2008 television mini-series House of Saddam, have suffered commercially, failed to garner warm critical reception, or both. (The same can be said for cinematic portrayals of the September 11 attacks, indicating that, as far as small audiences are concerned, perhaps the public feels that it’s too soon to digest fictionalizations treating devastating, controversial events that are so recent in our nation’s history.) It’s worth considering that innumerable books have been written about the Iraq War, but very few have been adapted into productions, like Generation Kill. Of course, the majority of these books are nonfiction, journalistic accounts, not dramas rooted in fiction. Still, so is Generation Kill. And so, I wonder, what brought Generation Kill to the screen? Did David Simon’s moxie allow for the adaptation, or does Wright’s book contain outstanding value? And why do we suspect that Generation Kill attained such limited viewership when it aired, though it secured wide critical acclaim? How adeptly are its themes presented, and what are the circumstances that underscore how it was received?

Ziggy is back! The Wire vs. Generation Kill

I’ve only seen the first two seasons of The Wire, so maybe there are other cast members Simon and Burns brought on for Generation Kill, but I immediately noticed the familiar face of Ziggy as a smart mouth soldier. I just saw someone already made a similar observation in a blog post, but the two characters almost seem like the same exact character. Maybe it’s just the range of the actor. Some actors always seem to play more or less the same part thanks to their awkward facial features and vocal intonations. Matthew Lillard comes to mind. Maybe Simon and Burns wrote this part just for Ziggy. I don’t know what happens to Ziggy after season 2 (if anything) but it would be great if he somehow got out of jail to serve in the military. Or, if Burns and Simon had more of a flare for the melodramatic, this could be his long lost twin brother given up for adoption for mysterious reasons.

Besides just seeing characters from The Wire in Generation Kill, you can see the influence from The Wire. I gave up on Generation Kill when it aired because I didn’t really know what was going on or where it was headed after two episodes. I didn’t even give myself that option with The Wire because a) I had to watch it or class and b) everyone had told me it’s just the greatest thing ever. And it was, but you needed to build up some momentum before you could enjoy it and things really picked up the pace. I hope that’s the case with Generation Kill and, feeling so satisfied after each Wire season ends, am very much looking forward to wrapping up this series.  Will it be better than The Wire? Not bloody likely. But even if it’s in the same ballpark it should be quite the ride.

Generation dull?- where is the action?

Though this series is completely different in subject matter than our other series’, there are several similar elements. As army and police work are in similar discourses, this series could probably be most easily comparable to them. Firstly, the description of rank is similar. As within all power structures, there is a clear hierarchy of command. Yet unlike the blurred lines of the drug world, the army has distinct titles for each member to place them within the hierarchy. The other similarity I found was the use of dark and inappropriate humor. As with the condescending cops on the other series’, the army members use racial slurs and derogatory terms to exert their masculinity. Similar to the war on drugs, these soldiers face the same reality as those in the  lower ranks on ‘the streets’ in the drug trade, that life could end at any time. The only difference is, they are provided with a heightened sense of awareness and simple tools to defend themselves as fighting is the sole mission, there are no drug deals to distract them. Overall, the show seems to drag a bit with no clear climaxes, which is also like the rest of the series’ we have watched. As such, the emphasis seems to be on following the everyday activities versus the high-action drama that most war films feature. To further this, there is the classic reporter character in the show so we get the same perspective we did with Simon on Homicide and the ‘rookie’ characters in all the other shows. Through the reporter we are able to identify with being new to this world and learn as he does. Overall, this series seems very interesting and I find the subject matter more intriguing for some reason, perhaps because it centers around a war I personally feel connected to, versus a world of homicide or drug trade, which I am largely unfamiliar with. It will be interesting to see how the series progresses when the elements of drama finally show themselves.

Simon’s Voice

As some people have already pointed out, when watching Generation Kill, especially after reading and watching so much of Simon’s previous work, it is impossible not to notice Simon’s “voice” in the show. One thing that jumps out right away is Simon’s infamous cynicism. Early on in the first episode the scene where Corporal Person (Who will always be Ziggy Sobotka to me) responds to the letters written by students with a tone of disappointment. While most people think of this as an act of kindness by strangers, Simon shows us a different light: what good is a letter from someone you don’t know?

Another Simon-specific aspect of the show is the “reporter affect.” Evan Wright is an actual character in the show. Like in the opening scenes of The Corner, the other characters on the show respond directly to the presence of a reporter. Simon, who had spent years learning how people react when reporters are present, demonstrates how people change when the reporter comes in as well as how the reporter is treated. Over the course of the episodes (and presumably over the season as well) this change in behavior will become less and less obvious as the reporter’s presence becomes more obsolete. This is an interesting insight into the affect of a reporter’s presence, and also, in a sense, demonstrates Simon’s belief that the best type of reporting comes from long periods of time spent spent in an area, or with a group people, as, over time, the reporter becomes obsolete and thus the people being reported begin to act “real.”

What is interesting is, despite their different styles and views, it is clear that Wright and Simon agree in many ways about this “true reporting” style. Would Simon’s adaptation to the screen have worked as well had Wright’s book not been similar (in this regard) to Simon’s previous books?

Cpl. Person & Ziggy

In watching the first two episodes of Generation Kill, I was intrigued by the choice in casting of James Ransone. Corporal Josh Ray Person is played by Ransone, who in the second season of The Wire plays Ziggy Sobotka. Watching the first two episodes I couldn’t help but find uncanny similarities in their characters, with both being very talkative, controversial and really just dominating every scene they were in. Cpl. Person is very prevalent in the first two episodes largely due to Evan Wright’s character being in Cpl. Person’s humvee. Wright’s character is constantly jotting down quotes from Cpl. Person, who is either informing the reporter on the blunt truths of the Marines or offering several different theories to fellow Marines. Cpl. Person has several memorable scenes including his theory that the war was about “pussy” instead of oil or WMDs, or his response to a letter received from a fourth grade student. Ziggy, of course, is equally controversial, with his own theories and his ability to search out trouble while carrying around a duck. There are also tones of homoeroticism exhibited by both characters as Ziggy often flashes his genitals in the bar, and Cpl. Person is quick to comment on the good looks of Rudy. The casting of James Ransone was my initial clear perception of David Simon and Ed Burns’ influence on Generation Kill, amongst the ensemble cast and depictions of Encino Man & Captain America.

Generation Kill

When I saw Generation Kill before this class, I did not know that it was a Burns/Simon production. On the re-watch, I am beginning to understand how television authorship really does affect a particular show. Generation Kill looks and feels really similar to the Wire. The documentary style returns in Generation Kill, but it is the characters that are most similar to me. Like in the Wire, each character is extremely complex, and there are many of them, although Generation Kill is arguably much easier to follow initially than The Wire. The dialogue feels real, like in the Wire, and it ultimately feels grittier and more realistic than other war mini-series we’ve seen (i.e. Band of Brothers, which tends to glorify war). If The Wire was the answer to the glorification of police work, then Generation Kill is the answer to most war shows on television that glorify battle.

Ultimately Generation Kill fits in perfectly with Simon’s overall work–he’s trying to paint a picture of “the collapse of the American Empire.” In The Wire, he showed our domestic problems, in Generation Kill he’s talking about issues abroad. Both works seem to compliment each other in Simon’s negative worldview. It was interesting to see this continuity in Simon’s authorship from The Wire to Generation Kill.

Finally figured out what was so irksome…

Ever since we started taking a look at Davide Simon’s The Corner and then continuing into our study of The Wire there has been an irksome itch at the back of my mind, something I didn’t really have the vocabulary to express (as evidenced by my several failed attempts in class). Our discussion in class last Monday and its focus on “authenticity,” though, helped me to come to a more solidified realization of what I find problematic about Simon and his work. During last week’s discussion, I couldn’t help but be bothered by theidea that in order for The Wire to be successful, Simon had to establish authority through exaggerating the notion that the depictions of Black urban life in Baltimoe were “authentic” either to himself or those which he attempts to represent. It was pointed out in class that, fundamentally, Simon had the ingeniuity and will to successfully pitch a show to HBO that highlights systemic problemacies like no other show preceding it. While there’s no doubt in my mind that Simon deserves repect for this accomplishent, I take issue with the implied notion that Simon stepped up to the plate to humanize the Black urban experience when those who truthfully lived the experience would not. Let us not forget that the systemic oppressions depicted in The Wire and to a degree in The Corner are in fact real. Although Simon’s interviews and demeanor often belie blue collar roots he, in actuality, had a comfortable middle-class upbringing in the ‘burbs. Both his race and his class have given Simon the privledged opportunities which enabled him to eventually create The Wire.

While I agree with Simon’s politics and especially appreciate his more humanized depictions of poor urban communities, it does not excuse the fact that his appropriation of Black/working-class “authenticity” as a means of generating both cultural and real capital benefiting himself. Furthermore, his “authentic” cultural and linguistic representations of Blacks continue the trend of commodifying Blackness for capitalist gain.

I am not dismissing the positive step forward that The Wire‘s more humanizing and nuanced representations provide. However, I also don’t agree that Simon’s positive intentions/end-game justify the means.