Author Archives: burritoluca

Evan Wright’s Voice

I thought one really interesting aspect of Nancy Franklin’s article on “Generation Kill” was how she discussed the presence of Evan Wright’s authorial voice in the magazine articles, the book, and then the series. She writes:

The magazine pieces are punchy; in the book, the tone has been neutralized and the author’s voice is not nearly as present. Fatally, it is entirely missing from the miniseries.

I thought this was particularly interesting because having read the book and watched the miniseries, I would be interested to read the magazine articles, looking for the “punchiness” that Franklin refers to. Personally, I thought Wright’s voice in the book lingered in the narrative appropriately and just modestly enough to not overwhelm the reader with his opinion.

Compared to David Simon’s voice, Wright’s voice is much more tempered, much more objective and passive. Wright abstains from long-winded diatribes against the failures and inadequacies of systems because of past experience, and surprisingly, Simon doesn’t inhabit his typical voice in bringing Wright’s book to the screen. In fact, Wright’s voice erodes significantly from book to miniseries, to a positive effect I think. Much of Wright’s voice appears in the book subtly, often only the exposition of certain facts rather than the interjection of personal opinion. His opinion is precisely what he is choosing to represent about the soldiers in Iraq and that opinion does not particularly favor war, but it cannot bemoan the horrors and tragedies of war given the ways the soldiers completely dedicate their lives to the concept. We are abundantly aware of Wright’s presence in Generation Kill, to an effective degree, but never in a way that becomes overwhelming.

I am interested about Simon’s role in translating Wright’s narrative to the screen. Upon watching the miniseries for the first time when it came out, I was not aware that David Simon had written and produced the series. Watching it a second time around, I have trouble discerning his role. Simon seems markedly less auteur-ial in this series, and even after having read the Beck interview, I’m still puzzled as to whether or not his distancing his voice from the text is intentional or not. There was no point in my re-watching of the series that I became aware of the “systems will fuck you over” mantra that Simon loves inserting into his work–the “rule of the new millenium” as it was described in the Lanahan article. I

Was Simon’s tempered presence on the series a good thing or a bad thing?


“Homosexuality can never be simply a laughing matter in the ghetto, and the corner boys frighteningly in advance of their years are always watching their backs, literally.”

And with that quotation, my already wavering ability to take Williams’ article seriously was shattered. If I am reading the above statement correctly, James Williams is actually suggesting that the homoerotic narrative undertones of The Wire can actually lead one to believe that the slew of drug dealers on the show are in constant fear of sodomy as a result of their inherent homophobia.

“Homo-thug gay porn”? “What is one person’s urban nightmare is another man’s fantasy”? How can such assertions be taken seriously in the context of such a profound and captivating show? Does Williams actually believe that in the scope of the horrors and hardships of living in complete poverty, there is sexual pleasure to be found?

Williams’ description of the season 3 episode in which Stringer “moves and ‘flows'” breaches on implied racism and represents a flagrant and pointless reading of the text. I re-watched the scene in order to try and grasp Williams’ point but I could not discern any of his argument from the simple scene on screen. As much as I am sure Williams would like to believe David Simon instructed actor Idris Elba to homoeroticize his body through exaggerated “flow,” it is simply a preposterous argument.

My diatribe doesn’t end there however, as Williams doesn’t hesitate to read into Marlo’s fascination with birds as a signifier for “the phallic birds of Ancient Greece” or Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage! Part of what defeats Williams’ argument is his juxtaposition of actual homoerotic imagery contained in the show with other images marginally related to homoeroticism at best: Of course Omar’s relationship with Renaldo is homoerotic…IT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE ACTUAL HOMOSEXUALS IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER. That fact does not stop Williams from comparing Omar and Renaldo’s relationship to that of Avon and Stringer’s.

Williams exemplifies arguably the worst elements of media theory–overanalyzing to an offensive degree, and I would not be surprised if there were those who actually could take legitimate offense to his argument in this well-written, but poorly conceived article.

And I’m spent.

“The Wire” – A Perfect Name For An Almost Perfect Show

In watching the first season of The Wire, I remember falsely assuming that the show’s title would largely inform the thematic and narrative dynamics of the show. From the pilot episode onward through the middle of the season, I was under the impression that the series was focused on the viewer’s penetration of the drug underworld, whether it was from within, as represented by the story arcs concerning the Barksdale organization, Bubbles’ life as an addict, and Omar’s exploits, or from without, as represented by the tales of the police detail assigned to the homicides associated with the drug underworld. I took the show’s title quite literally as a reference for how each season would play out: In my mind, the title “The Wire” referred to the wiretap investigations carried out on the show.

Of course, as I continued to watch, especially through the second season, my assumptions would quickly be subverted. Dana Polan discusses how the show emphasizes “the cyclical nature of life in the city, where the new is continually replacing the old: a new police commissioner for the old one, a new Robin Hood gangsta for the old, a new addict for one who’s recovered,” etc… (Polan 1). I think this cyclical theme informs the show’s title to the furthest degree. Simon wants us to understand the complete interconnectedness of life in Baltimore, or any American city. Nothing is simple, nothing exists in a vacuum of good and evil, especially when we view the organizations of the American city as critically comprised of flawed human beings. Each season never truly begins from a standstill, and each season never ends with textbook resolution. The series is more of a reflection of real life than any other I have seen before.

Publishing Flow For The Internet

I found Derek Kompare’s discussion of the television DVD box set in his essay, “Publishing Flow: DVD Box Sets and the Reconception of Television” one of the more interesting explorations of television as an art-industrial medium that we have read this semester. Television’s evolution from broadcasting flow to published commodity has certainly shaped its commercial and cultural role in our society, but while I was reading the article, I kept expecting Kompare to expand further on the idea of television as a free medium vs. television as a priced commodity. I’m particularly interested in recent developments in the availability of television via the internet, namely websites such as Hulu, or On-Demand services on network websites.

Hulu occupies a peculiar role in the publishing of television for home viewership. On the one hand, it offers free, high quality, on demand television for anyone with an internet connection. Entire episodes of SNL or the Daily Show are made available the day after their premiere, and even particular segments of episodes are available as well should the viewer decide he/she only wants to watch a small fragment of the program. Hulu is not completely free, however. Small, 10-second advertisements are interspersed throughout the streaming video. In addition, one can elect to watch a 1-minute advertisement before the video as a payoff for watching the rest of the program commercial-free. I would be interested to see the impact of online on-demand television in the medium’s reconceptualization. Is the Internet going to eventually phase out the DVD as an avenue for published television? If on demand television replaces DVDs, what will the commercial implications be? Will television be m   ore free than it is now? Less free? More importantly, when will watching good ol’ fashioned commercial-laden television on your typical cathode ray tube become extinct?

Luca’s Super Awesome Annotated Bibliography

I was surprised by the sheer number of books and articles that dealt with Whedon television, specifically Firefly. Of the sources I chose, only one deals with television’s participatory culture, whereas some examine television genres, and the rest specifically target Joss Whedon and Firefly as subjects of analysis.

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Spike Lee, Best Director For “Clockers”?

Immediately upon watching the first few minutes of “Clockers,” I was already put off by director Spike Lee’s vision for how Richard Price’s novel should be adapted to film. Perhaps my insight is far too informed by Homicide, The Corner, and The Wire as representations and adaptations of socially-conscious, nonfiction accounts of life on the streets and life as a police officer, but I thought Lee’s directing was way too stylized for the subject material. It could also be that I find Clockers’ narrative far too grounded in reality to accept it as a work of fiction–as a result, my expectations for its visual adaptation could be put off by the non-diegetic music, the highly expressive camera work, the casting choices etc…

Take the character of Rodney for one second. In the novel, Rodney is described as “with his Jheri curls and his gold wraparound sunglasses,” driving a “beat-up, rust-colored Cadillac,” with “six Garfield cats [that] were suction-cupped and spread-eagled on all the rear and side windows,” (Price 11-16). Although Price does establish Rodney as a legitimately serious character in the novel, he is always bathed in a faint comedic glow, both in his actions and personality traits. In the film, this character is portrayed by Delroy Lindo, who shines off much more as a wise, serious father figure to Strike than as a colorful distorted version of fatherhood in the novel. Honestly, I just cannot see the film’s Rodney with Garfields plastered to his car windows, or with a beautician’s license. Delroy Lindo’s acting is far too reserved, too austere, too stoic for the caliber of Price’s Rodney.

In the same vein, Lee’s directing feels a little too expressive for the mood in Price’s Clockers. Reading the novel, it felt completely suited for the unassumingly gritty style employed perfectly in The Wire. On the show, a passive camera surveys the characters, who shine out simply through their lack of theatricality. We become connected to characters because they act like human beings, and appeal to us on a realistic level. The dialogue feels naturalized, and as a result, the perspective takes on much more of a documentary-style narrative than a traditional dramatic narrative. This is not the case with Spike Lee’s Clockers.

While watching Lee’s film, I am abundantly aware of the dialogue’s contrivance, of the fictional nature of the characters. For example, when Strike is pacing outside of Ahab’s, anxious about having to “take care of” Darryl Adams inside, I could not take Mekhi Pfeiffer’s pacing seriously. The film represented Strike’s agitation in an overly expressive manner. His pacing was quick and forced, as if to say: “Look, he is pacing because he is nervous, we want you to understand that.” The film strings along the spectator, guiding him/her through every connection, every nuance established in the narrative.

Lee’s directing in this film could have easily taken several steps back, especially for adapting source material that was a) not his own, and b) not that conducive to his style of directing.

Price As Journalist? “Clockers” As Exposé?

I find that comparing and contrasting Clockers with Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, and The Corner is especially interesting through the scope of fiction vs. nonfiction. As we know, Simon’s writings are for the most part informed as a result of actual, experiential journalism; Simon spent considerable amounts of time studying and following the corners and police procedures in Baltimore for his work. Therefore, in reading Homicide and The Corner, one cannot avoid the journalistic/nonfictional filter through which one understands the writing. That is, one cannot understand the characters in either book in the typical vacuum of fiction–Simon’s characters are not his own, they are the product of actual human beings and actual human experiences.

In this vein, how does one begin to view Clockers as a text of social consciousness? I’m interested in Richard Price’s procedures for developing his story, his characters, his facts. Does the fact that Clockers is set in a fictional city, revolving around fictional characters obscure its social relevance?

The television version of The Corner mixed documentary elements with those of generic drama, but ended by validating its characters with their real-life counterparts, as if to say: “bet you didn’t think this shit was real, huh?” I’m interested in whether or not a text requires such grounding in order to gain social importance–that is, does Clockers lose effectiveness as a dramatization of real life? I think the answer is inevitably yes, but where is the line drawn? How many nonfictional elements must a text utilize before being taken seriously?

Price was obviously significantly informed on the ins and outs of the drug trade and police work while writing Clockers. What kind of leg room does this give him in translating his research into novelistic form? Can one view Clockers as a socially relevant text, given its fictional setting, cast of characters, and story line?

Finally, My Chance To Write About “Firefly”

For my term paper I would like to tentatively write about the cancelled FOX series, Firefly. Cancelled due to “poor” ratings after only 11 of the 14 episodes in its season aired, the sci-fi show nonetheless developed a large cult following (myself included) and critical acclaim. Firefly offers me several levels of analysis, which might necessitate a more specific focus. For now though, I want to examine:

Firefly as a genre show; hardly a typical science fiction serial, the show can also be equally considered a western. In addition, per the Whedon stamp, comedy is also integral to the series’ narrative scheme. Very rarely do science fiction shows feature such a rich array of flawed characters amidst such sharp dialogue; obviously, Firefly was ahead of its time, which brings me to the next level of analysis I could possibly undertake…

Firefly‘s cancellation; often considered amongst the most notorious show cancellations of all time, the swift demise of Firefly at the hands of FOX network executives can offer numerous possibilities for analysis of network-fan relationships and the economic priorities of television; how television often subverts quality in favor of commercial success and what that says about it as an artistic medium.

Aside from the aforementioned levels of analysis, other directions are also possible. Analyzing the narrative structure of the show and its levels of authorship could also prove interesting, as could assessing how the series, 3 years after its cancellation, produced a feature film. A &*%$-ing awesome feature film.

I am very excited to write this paper.

Narrative In “The Corner”

The Corner makes more than ample use of David Simon’s source material for stories, motives, characters, and themes. What has interested me thus far are the specific incarnations of Simon’s writing in the visual text. Namely, it’s remarkable to take note of the distinction between what is told and what is shown on screen. Simon’s writing style seems fairly conducive to a survey-like, news exposé form of narration, so one interesting aspect of The Corner and even Homicide‘s methods of adaptation is how the two shows manifest Simon’s stories, characters and facts.

For example, The Corner frequently intersperses flashbacks into each episode that usually correspond with the memories of “________’s Blues” of the title. I found it interesting that in “Fran’s Blues,” we are given flashbacks to Fran’s days of partying in her apartment with Gary, first experimenting with cocaine, but we never see a flashback to the first time Fran tried cocaine. Instead, the details of Fran’s first experiences with cocaine, or heroin, are simply told to us in the interview format at the beginning of the episode. The choices between showing and telling can reveal much about The Corner‘s narrative dynamics, what is necessary for exposition, and what is simply better left out of view.

HBO Mode Of Television Viewing

“Safely quarantined from the distractions and interruptions of commercial television,” writes Christopher Anderson, “the viewers of HBO dramas are permitted to detach themselves from typical modes of television viewing, to approach the state of disinterested contemplation idealized in Kantian aesthetics,” (Anderson 25). Is Anderson attempting to make the claim here that HBO’s televisual aesthetic can be ascribed to the lack of commercial interruption? In just one sentence, he moves from the advantages of HBO’s lack of commercials, to the judgment of its programs on the basis of Kantian aesthetics, which concerns itself primarily with the purest judgments of artistic beauty… What I want to know is on what lines, aside from the lack of commercial interruption, does Anderson claim HBO’s aesthetic beauty stem from?

Anderson’s most valuable assertion in his entire essay, “Producing An Aristocracy Of Culture In American Television” is that artistic or aesthetic value in a work of art is mostly attributed to “the social field that creates and sustains a belief in the exalted value of the artwork,” (Anderson 26). This claim answers the crux of the questions I posed above; thinking about the aesthetic value of HBO’s dramas makes more sense in their cultural and historical context. Thus, in what is widely considered the “golden age of television,” HBO’s dramas are the highest forms of televisual art due to their very participation in the cultural trend that is this golden age. When regarding the events and programs leading up to HBO’s dominance of the television art aesthetic, it makes complete sense that cultural demands and patterns would produce the golden age of television. If “quality” basic cable shows such as “Law And Order,” “E.R.” “Homicide,” and “Seinfeld” all rose to prominence in the 90’s, then it seems entirely befitting for HBO to take the helm of artistic quality that had been steadily building in the years leading up to the premiere of The Sopranos

Another valuable point Anderson makes is with regard to HBO cultivating an “ongoing relationship with particular groups of consumers, so that the brand conveys meanings that circulate through the culture independently of the company’s products and serve as a key resource in the consumer’s repertoire for creating a social identity,” (Anderson 30). This point resonated particularly with me because I feel that I represent the exact other end of the “ongoing relationship” Anderson describes. In assessing the aesthetic value of a television series, I make require little to no deliberation when it comes to a series produced by HBO; if it’s a new series, and if it’s on HBO, I will watch it, regardless of whether or not I find the show’s concept interesting. While this process and aesthetic disposition has resulted in some duds that have wasted my time– John From Cincinatti, Tell Me You Love Me (which was, in essence, a serialized porn show), and The Comeback— it has also produced several shows that remain, in my mind, to be the greatest television series of all time: The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, and Rome to name the best.