Locker Room Television as Spectacle

I’m glad to know that Stringer Bell’s wife-beater t-shirt, among other things, elicited critical analysis that focused on the spectacle of the black male body as well as the homoerotic aspects of that spectacle as portrayed in The Wire. The boys locker room is a story older than the Greek lyceum and much more titillating when color is added (ala Caliban, Othello, and Crusoe’s Friday to name a few). Simon’s focus since Homicide has been on more than drugs, the ravaged inner-city and its prey and predators. The all too obvious side show is one of white patriarchal spectacle that culminates in the critically acclaimed conflation of The Wire as ground-breaking television and searing comment on urban communities. James S. Williams’ detailed article delineates and reduces The Wire to an ethnographic and anthropological “visual novel” with “elegantly choreographed and discrete scenes [that] stand out dramatically from the rest of the action” (59). Williams confirms that “Only young black male characters receive this degree of visual investment [in The Wire] which at times achieves a Cocteau-like intensity [perhaps a reference to Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast] and sensory rhythm” (59). Williams casts the obvious gay blade thug in the persona of Omar, murderous thief that he may be, as such a “half-mythical figure living in the shadows that he attracts a cinematic glow whenever he appears” (61). Maybe Omar does exude an aura that I can’t see, but he appears more on the screen, especially at night, as a Batman like figure. In the daylight, he looks like a broken down thug. I do, however, agree with Williams’ conclusion that The Wire provides “one of the most far-reaching formal explorations yet of the relations between race and spectatorial desire and opens up the possibility for new forms of gay realism in both television and film” (63). The question remains as to Simon’s intent, or was this homoerotic portrayal a side effect of aiming the camera on this slice of life? Do we have Simon to thank for gay organized crime members like Vito in The Sopranos and the cowboy lovers in Brokeback Mountain? Is this how the literary and filmic patriarchal pyramid will collapse in on itself?

2 responses to “Locker Room Television as Spectacle

  1. I think it’s extremely hard to tell what Simon’s purpose was in creating a character like Omar. While it is one of the bolder and more creative incorporations of gay characters in crime shows, I also feel that it was a smart but intentionally controversial move on the part of a very good writer. It would obviously be a topic that could generate popularity and interest in the show as well as the subject. Still, The Wire does shine a light on how issues of homosexuality are dealt with in organized crime.

  2. sparkling_bears47

    I’m not sure if Simon’s intent matters. Whatever it was he desired to get out of creating Omar, what’s important right now is that he was created. I don’t know if this is the exact reason that the literary and filmic patriarchal pyramid will collapse in on itself (good phrase!), but it’s certainly a step in that direction. I think Williams answers your question in the last quote of his that you brought up. Omar and The Wire “opens up the possibility for new forms of gay realism in bother television and film” (63). Now that it’s been done once (especially in an influential place like HBO), it can be done again. It’s not the end of the heterocentric stories we’re used, but the foot’s definitely in door. Now it’s a matter of those stories being told. Unfortunately, getting those stories on the air is never that simple.