Author Archives: beckamag

The mass of men

It is interesting to see the observation that both David Simon and Nancy Franklin make of the unification of the soldiers into one ‘nameless, faceless’ pact. Evan Wright also makes note of this a couple of times in the book, like on page 24, where he states that

What unites them is the almost reckless desire to test themselves in the most extreme circumstances,in many respects the life they have chosen is a complete rejection of the hyped, consumerist American dream as it is dished out…Instead of celebrating their individualism, they’ve subjugated theirs to the collective will of an institution. Their highest aspiration is self-sacrifice over self—preservation.

And again on page 26, where he makes note of Reyes words when he says that “You are lucky to be here brother. We are the baddest most tight-knit niggas in the battalion”. Simon notes it in his interview with Richard Beck that

“It’s the same reason that soldiers fought in the trenches at Petersburg or Gettysburg or Roman centurions fought on the Rhine. You fought for the guy next to you. You fight for the camaraderie. You are the warrior elite, and it comes down to not embarrassing yourself and asserting for your unit and asserting for the guys who have your back”

It’s as if these men used this notion of a ‘tight-knit’ pact to create as sense of security. I would think that going to a war, a war that you are not even sure what is over, would get you a bit scared, and forming that pact I’m sure is a good sense of security. It could also be viewed as the governmental institutionalization of the soldiers, into one ‘nameless faceless’ mass of a killing machine. The articles by both Beck and Franklin make a lot of reference to The Wire, which we know mostly tackled issues of failed governmental institutions, and maybe that’s what the implication that these writers above, as well Simon are trying to say about the war and the soldiers

David Simon revealed

The four articles that we read for this week give us an insightful and interesting look into David Simons life, his work (both as a journalist or a television producer), and his relationship to the city of Baltimore.

I found that in the first interview he had with Nick Hornby, Simon really gives a personal account of Baltimore, because he lives and works there and has now been doing a series of series, mini series and a movie about the place. You can tell from his dialogue that he cares for the city and for the people in the city, and he actually says so in his interview with Hornby. He is a person who will not give an ethnocentric account of Baltimore to “…some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture…” He says “We don’t live in L.A. or go to their parties; we don’t do what we do to try to triumph in the world of television entertainment by having a bona fide hit, and meeting the pretty people and getting the best table at the Ivy”. He lets you see how ‘real’ his intentions for creating the show are, to depict the true life of the police, criminals and homeowners of Baltimore, as he says “…none of us think of ourselves as providing entertainment”, which brings us back to the question of the wire being just another means of entertainment, or a medium to create conversation and therefore create change.

It is funny hearing about his life now that he is an established television producer, when he had thought that he was going to spend the rest of his days behind a news desk working for The Sun newspaper all his life. But he is not too far off his comfort zone. He says he writes about things that will make “…the subjects…agree with every page. I want a homicide detective, or a drug slinger, or a longshoreman, or a politician anywhere in America to sit up and say, Whoa, that’s how my day is” or “…that longshoremen across America would watch The Wire and say, Cool, they know my world. I’ve never seen my world depicted on TV, and these guys got it”. And this is not such a far cry from journalism, and since Simon spent many months just in the vicinity of these people, learning their vernacular, mannerisms and way of life, this is exactly what he depicts on the screen.

The Baltimore male

I get a new and deeper sense of The Wire every time I watch an episode or read a related assay. James Williams, in his essay “The Lost Boys of Baltimore”, picks up the homoerotic nature that the men in The Wire are depicted in. He looks at the male body, and how it interacts with other male bodies in the series, as well as with the series within itself. Williams uses a whole lot of formal elements such as camera angles and editing technique to back up and validate his claim.

The main gist of his argument that I picked up was that he said “What I will attempt to do, therefore, is focus on the specifically visual and stylistic features that recur in the show, no matter the different directors, directors of photography, and editors involved” (58; 2008-9). And those stylistic features were the vocabulary that was ‘crude and often sordid’, and of ‘homoerotic innuendo and homophobic machismo’. Visual language ‘The Wire evokes at times the imagery of black homo-thug gay porn websites which revolve on the daily turnover of virtually indistinguishable fresh hot dudes’ (59; 2008-9).

It is interesting how Williams says that what he will attempt to do is to ‘…focus on the specifically visual and stylistic features that recur in the show, no matter the different directors, directors of photography, and editors involved’, because Nelson George in the second article says something similar. He said that ‘The Wire achieved this’ [poignant critique of black life in Baltimore] ‘with a writing staff dominated by white males is a miracle only if you believe, as many blacks and whites do, that it’s impossible for non-blacks to truly understand our experience here in America’, I think that ties in with William’s statement above, that The Wire achieved something great in strange odds.

The comparison of the two paradigms, chriminals and cops

In her article, Marsha Kinder speaks of the development of the characters and the plans that Simon had in creating The Wire and all that influenced him. I cannot speak of the whole 5 seasons because I haven’t seen them, but I will speak of the couple of episodes that I have seen.

At first I thought that The Wire was ‘just another cop drama’, but Kinder brings a new and interesting paradigm of looking at the city of Baltimore itself one of the protagonists by comparing it to The Wire as well as the other series by David Simon, that are set in Baltimore such as Homicide and the Corner. She also does a good job comparing and contrasting the cops between themselves, and between the criminals on the street/the wire.

The one comparison that has been apparent to me is the role of Dee with the ‘kids’ that he works with on the wire, and the role of Detective Lester Freamon, with the detectives working on the Avon Barksdale case. These two characters are like the all knowing and all helpful ‘wise-ones’ of the wire and the police department.

Although Dee ends up working in the ‘pit’ of the wire not by his own choice, he also ends taking the role of the ‘wiser, older mentor’ to the kids that he works with, teaching them that killing is bad (when he tells them the story of him having to kill the young woman through the window), as well as other things of importance. Detective Lester Freamon on the other hand, also id the ‘wiser, older mentor’ to the detectives working on the Avon Barksdale case, helping them set up the wire tabs on the telephones, helping them decode the language that is used by the dealers, and in one instance, when McNulty and Greggs were confused as to what to do with Omar, McNulty asks “are we still cops?”, almost as if wanting to get validation from Freamon (because he’s wiser)

The booming world of television

I remember growing up as a child, and our home was the only one in the neighborhood that had a VCR. Lots of children and adults would gather at my home every Saturday to watch movies all day long. Evolution has long since taken over those days. It was fascinating enough to have movies on VHS that you could hire out for private consumption, and the new craze of having DVD recorders seemed to be a technological ingeniousness, especially now the one can have television series on DVD, more especially DVD box sets.

What interested me the most about Derek Kompare’s article was the fact that he talks of commodity fetishism. That is giving human qualities to material objects, and not considering the human labor it took to create those particular products. This in essence means that the DVD box set is given a type of stature that makes it larger than what it really is. I suppose this is because it gives people control. It takes them from being a passive “set of eyes”, and allows them space to interact with the text at their own time. Kompare continues to say that television is not organized around content, but rather around time, so I suppose the DVD box set allows people to break out of that passive role of consuming television content around the broadcasters time, and get to consume it at their own time, therefore giving the audience a sense of power that they otherwise would not have had.

Annotated bibliography

This is a list of the work sited that I will use for my assignment:

1) Ginsburgh, V.A., ed. Contribution to Economic Analysis. San Francisco: Elsevier, 2004. Print

The fourth chapter of this book speaks of “measuring the cultural discount in the price of exported us television programs”, which is exactly what I want to look at in the main body of my assignment.

2) Hayden, Goran, Michael Leslie and Folu F. Ogundimu, ed. Media and Democracy in Africa. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2002. Print.

This book talks about the interplay between democracy and the media. It tackles issues such as broadcasting, the internet, media ownership, communicative spaces and twenty-first century Africa. I think all this information will come in handy when looking at the affects and effects of loving in a globalised Africa, and how this is shaping both the country and the African media world in a different direction.

3) Lev, Peter. History of the American Cinema. New York, NY: Charles Scribner and Sons, 2003. Print

This book looks at Hollywood in the 1950’s to the 1960’s. This was also an important time in South African cinematic and performance history. There is a place called Sophia town in Johannesburg. This town was famous for its swing and jazz era that was very much influenced by American films of the time. There were real gangsters that wore two toned shoes, top hats and long flowing coats, much like the gangster in the American movies. Sophia town was demolished because of forced removals, but there is now a play about the place, showing the vibrant lifestyle that existed in Sophia town. This book will help me explain with more detail this era, and how it affected the rest of the world (South Africa in particular).

4) McAnany, Emile G. and Kenton T. Wilkinson, 1st ed. Mass Media and Free Trade: NAFTA and the Cultural Industries. Texas: University of Texas Press. 1996. Print

I will use this book when speaking about international trade of television texts. I will be looking at chapter 3 in particular, titled: ‘Television and Film in a Freer International Trade Environment: US Dominance and Canadian responses. Just to see the fluidity that goes with the selling and buying of media texts and the choices thereof.

5) Woodward, Gary C. Perspectives on American Political Media. USA: Allyn and Beacon, 1997. Print

I will be looking at this book particularly because it talks about television (more specifically news television), democracy and the public sphere in America. This is an interesting and relevant point in my argument because this book also makes reference at the representation of Africa, and other third world countries in news media (the ethnocentric view among others)

6) Zegeye, Abebe and Richard L. Harris, ed. Media, Identity and the Public Sphere in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Boston: Brill, 2003. Print

One of the chapters in this book basically talks about the technology to formulate media texts in South Africa or the lack thereof, especially new technologies. It emphasizes how small and disadvantaged communities do not have access to these and therefore cannot participate in the mass media or getting their stories across with the use of multimedia recourses.

7) South Window to the Nation. African animated series for US, 19 June 2007. Web. 27 Oct 2009.

This article that I found online, speaks of the reverse of the cultural interchange that I will be looking at, which is an interesting paradigm. It speaks of a cartoon that was developed by a South African production company, in conjunction with a Canadian production company, to form an educational cartoon program, aimed at South African, Canadian as well as American child audiences.

The Graphic repesetation of the dead body.

For the whole semester we have been looking at the ‘cop’ genre in television, and the authorship thereof. In relation to death or dead bodies, we were first exposed to the ‘covered up’ body of Adena Watson in Homicide, and many other subtle sights of dead bodies in the series. Then our minds were jarred a little bit further when we graphically saw the ‘dope fiends’ in The Corner, actually put the needle in their skins to shoot up drugs. We also saw in this series, the free-flow killing that happens on the streets (I suppose what happens before the police of Homicide get there, what we never got to see in the series Homicide).

It is therefore interesting what Spike Lee did with the opening scene of Clockers. He spent some time in the New York police department’s homicide unit, looking at thousands of pictures of dead people, and then he got actors to reenact the photographs for the opening scene of the film. I say it is interesting because it takes our levels of comfort or lack thereof, to a whole new other level. It was as if there were stages. First it was subtle dead bodies, and then it was needles and now graphic dead bodies.

Another thing that Lee does is to show the blaze nature that the cops take death, how they speak over the dead body as if it can hear then, or as if it was their (the dead body’s) fault. We see this in the scene when they find the dead body of the manager of Ahab’s. They talk over him, make fun and laugh at the fact that one of the bullets got stuck in his teeth.

That is one of the major differences that you get between reading a book and seeing the representation of the director in a film.

Proposal for term paper

What I am interested in looking at is the role that American television plays in the international television market or viewership, especially in developing countries like South Africa, where there is a major shift towards a more globalised way of living . I will look at the similarities and differences that are present in making a television show for an international audience, and a television show that is made for an American audience that, gets taken into other parts of the world (especially in south Africa). I will also be looking at the difficulties that arise from the merging of cultures. I will particularly look at the shows we have looked at in class and in the readings

The HBO brand’s artwork

As we have read in previous readings that television was always seen as a useless passtime, as a base means of entertainment that never appealed to the upper class and educated in society.

HBO tried to change that, they tried to create a type of television that would appeal to a niche upper market, and so they started looking at television as a form of art. In order to do this, HBO had to create a brand, one that would promice its veiwers a certain lifestyle, and not just television. So instead of selling television, HBO sold an artistic lifestyle, they created a new culture of watching television.

In order to veiw some television programming as artwork, you need to veiw others as not, to create the comparison. HBO decided to start showing uninterupted feature films and weekly and daily series. And, although peoples subscription patterns were constantly changing, HBO still spent millions of dollars in creating their brand.

“…’charismatic ideology’ of authorship” – the belief in the artistic vision of a sole creator – “is the ultimatebasis of belief on the walue of a work of art” (Bourdeiu). Bewkes, the CEO of HBO at the time was the one that decided that they needed to do something different in order to ensure a relationship between HBO and its veiwers, and he did this by producing original series and adding episodic series weekly. This not only brought a larger ‘high class’ veiwership to HBO, but provided good television to all that needed it.

The Narrative

It’s interesting to see that game shows and reality programmes are narratives as well as series like Homicide and Desperate housewives. I knew the news was a form of narrative, because it happens in the sequence of cause and effect, but adding such effects to game and reality shows, only now gives me a different look on them.

I’ve always noticed how someone always has a fight with someone on Americas Next Top Model, or how someone always sleeps with someone on Big Brother, or how there are always arch rivals in Survivor, but I have always though it was pure coincidence. It was interesting to me to see that the makers of the shows deliberately put people who will potentially have scornful or romantic feelings for each other in the same narrative, so as to form that chain of ’cause and effect’ that Jason Mittell speaks about.

I also like Mittell’s look at genre, at how it’s not as static as it has been made to be, and how “Dragnet works against this formulation in exemplifying an articulation of the police genre with no representations of the system getting bucked.” (Mittell 123)