Humor in the face of death is common in on the front lines. In Generation Kill it takes the grim, flippant humor of how modern soldiers deal with the kinds of trauma and isolation that they face in the front lines. As one of the real soldiers says in the Generation Kill extra we watched in class, “our humor is the ace in the whole, we can do anything”(Generation Kill extra). I feel this is portrayed well in the mini-series, especially after hearing what the soldiers had to say in the extra.
While watching Generation Kill, I kept thinking about Band of Brothers, the original war book made into mini-series produced by HBO. In both adaptations I feel like while the details of the book were left out of the program, in a way changing the some of the messages of the book. But the humor element stayed very similar between both mediums. Except for the depth Generation Kill went into showing the humor than was done in Band of Brothers. Perhaps this is due to the nature of the books themselves, Band of Brothers is based on the fifty year old reflections of soldiers who are now in their nineties. The way they approach honesty is going to be different than the revelations coming from a reporter in the field. One should also consider how humor would be viewed differently for men raised in a different time.
But watching both mini-series and reading both books I feel that the humor used by both groups of men was more similar then we think. The tendency to use, for lack of a better word, bathroom humor is present in both groups. Even though some people would like to glorify men from WWII, they should do a comparison and see how many similarities there are.
Simon discuses in his interview the “average reader” in his interview, something that I feel related back to discussions we’ve had on the average HBO watcher. He takes the stance that the viewer has not effected TV incarnations of Simon’s work. That he instead is trying to push beyond the boundaries of what is known by the HBO audience, treat them like they know everything and teach them how to view new worlds through their television set. Simon says, “if you write something that is so credible that the insider will stay with you, then the outsider will follow as well.” In this sense it appears as if Simon has found a home among the average for The Wire on HBO.
Later in the article, and in other talks given by or about Simon that we have run across in the class and out it seems to me like this championing of the “average” viewer is preposterous in two ways. The first of these is how to consider a person who watched HBO as an average viewer, when the people who subscribe to HBO are generally middle class America. Is it safe to call these people average when compared to those who watch network television. That fact that HBO costs money means you’ll have a different subset watching than watched Homicide, so the point is diluted. Secondly, Simon in turn seems to hold contempt for the average viewer. He seems to think that they are un-intelligent, trying to lay out stereotypes for us to understand. That in order for the viewer to grasp a concept it must be explained over and over again, past the point of the understanding he was trying to lead them to. The portrayal of the Greeks in the wire is very stereotypical, and despite portraying them for an entire season rarely lets them become anything but stereotypical Mediterranean gangsters. The Sopranos did a much better job of conveying the idiosyncrasies of people belonging to a similar sub-group of American culture without keeping it constantly in the realm of what the viewers will understand. In the end I wish that Simon had been more clear about what he meant by Average and who his target audience is.
Comparing The Wire to the works of play write August Wilson was an interesting thought for me. I am a huge fan of August Wilson, his ten plays are perhaps my favorite, and until Nelson Gorge mentioned him in comparison to The Wire I hadn’t thought about it. For those of you who don’t know, Wilson is a playwright who wrote ten plays about the African American population of Pittsburgh, called the Pittsburg Cycle. Each play in the cycle represents one decade between years 1900 and 1990. These are his most prominent works. I’ve had the pleasure of watching two of his plays at the Seattle Reparatory Theater, which is the only theater to produce all plays because of the relationship it built with Wilson after the playwright moved to Seattle. These plays are great, and if you haven’t seen any you should. They all discuss different issues that affect the African American community.
Like I said comparing it The Wire did not occur to me. The discussion of the African American community is so different between the two. There is no corner in the Wilson plays; there aren’t any white cast members either. Wilson also spends more time discussing female characters and their position in the class structure of the African American community. Further more there is emphasis on a community outside of crime, which is all that I am aware of in the wire having only seen seasons one and two. I think it would be interesting to line up a more detailed comparison between the two works and find anything that is similar. In fact, the only comparison besides the African American community that I can think of off the top of my head is that both worlds are in large eastern cities that aren’t New York and deal with Metropolitan issues.
The article “RE-WIRING BALTIMORE: THE EMOTIVE POWER OF SYSTEMICS, SERIALITY, AND THE CITY” was a great analysis of what it means to discuss a singular entity, such as a character, and what it means to go further and discuss a city or a racial group. Kinder particularly praises The Wire for expertly navigating the difference between being a show within a place, the example being CSI in Las Vegas, and a show about a place, The Wire in Baltimore.
Despite it ruining season two for viewers like me who hadn’t already watched it, the discussion that the wire dose provide a unique example of what an artistic medium can say about a place. Not only dose The Wire travel what are normal avenues of drug crimes but also the failing of an industry such as the shipping business and loss of blue-collar jobs in season two. Comparing this show to Homicide, who is bogged down by a more conservative network and harsher structure of a typical police procedural, the discussion of what the city is and how it’s citizens, primarily less privileged African Americas, deal with a failed system is much harsher and closer to Simon’s true vision of the city.
However, the credit that Kinder places on Simon for discovering or chronicling the real Baltimore seems a little over excited to me. It reminded me of the conversation we had in class about how Simons vision might not be the best, or most impartial. In fact, his vision of Baltimore is nothing more than his vision. Granted he dose a lot to capture the down trodden parts of the city and the people who are affected by criminal activity. Still, I have to wonder how much of Simon’s Baltimore is the real Baltimore.
The Wire felt differently to me than any other TV cop show I’ve seen, including Homicide. Unlike the other shows that I have seen, these characters react differently; seem to have more unique responses to problems, a more realistic approach to reactions. The closest any other show came to this kind of response for me was Homicide, though they were limited somewhat in the emotional range that was needed and explored more firmly in The Wire.
While watching the deteriorating relationship between McNulty and his wife and then the custody battle that McNulty’s fights, I was reminded of the Law and Order character Detective Curtis played by Benjamin Bratt seasons six through nine. Detective Curtis also faces trouble in his private life because of his adulterous activities. This form of plot line is laid out and acted better in The Wire through Detective McNulty. Possibly this is because unlike Law and Order this HBO program spends time on one crime fighting pursuit, instead of being involved in a new plot conflict each episode. Even Homicide didn’t have as much time to devote to a single case, therefore having more time to spend on describing the conflicts and trials of each detective’s personal problems. Perhaps even the extra twenty minutes usually devoted to commercials on network programming benefits McNulty’s character development as well. In any case, I feel having come through one season of the wire that I know the characters of this program better than I know any of the detectives from Law and Order, despite the fact that I’ve been watching that program for at least ten years.
The fallowing is my annotated bibliography for my essay on The West Wing. I chose six books and two articles which I feel will help me understand Aaron Sorkin’s presence in the show as the auteur and how his status as such is affected by the shows relationship to the world outside of fiction.
1) Why Women Should Rule the World, Dee Dee Myers.
This book is the only one from my list of eight that dose not deal directly with The West Wing television show. However, I thought it was important to include because it deals with the reality of the Clinton white house, which was the main factual draw for Aaron Sorkin. This book is also important because it is the biography of Dee Dee Myers, the political consultant for the show. If you’ve seen the show, then you know that CJ Creg is a determined female press secretary who no one quite takes seriously (at least for the first few seasons). Once you read Why Women Should Rule the World you realize that Dee Dee Myers is the main inspiration for CJ Creg. This was an important book for me because of how much reality it captures that is reflected within the television show. Basically it’s one avenue to see how much art can imitate life and still have an auteur.
2) The West Wing: the American presidency as television drama By Peter C. Rollins, John E. O’Connor
This book goes into a lot of detail about the show. Its discussion of the basics of the cast, plot and structure made this book a very valuable resource for understanding the show’s dynamic as well as the important role Sorkin had to play in the shows construction and development. This book also delves into the connection between the real world and The West Wing. It discusses how the show is affected by the political issues of the day and how it in turn provides a realistic approach to understanding behind the scene politics. It could be helpful in a compa
Watching Clockers and comparing it to the Corner, I couldn’t help but compare the different styles used in both shows. For me Clockers was more refined, glossier. Glossier in that the camera moves smoother, but more importantly the lighting seems to make everything look smoother, like it had a small glow. This was particularly noticeable when the clockers are in the park in the and the sun is making the whites of their shirts gleam, or during the night scenes and the characters are usually well lit by street lamps. This could be due in part to the fact that I watched the film on my computer in a very small square, but I feel like Clockers motions flowed. In part this is due to the use of much steadier cameras. This makes since, as Clockers is not trying to be a fictional documentary like The Corner.
I can’t help but wonder the reason for such different styles, besides being the difference between fictional documentary and not, or film and television show. Is there a particular message each show is trying to reach about clockers on corners?
Watching the Corner was somewhat of a surprise after watching so many episodes of Homicide. It was such a surprise to see how much of a documentary persona it exuded. Unlike Homicide, who did carry with it a more familiar style layout, it has no formal story construction besides as a documentary. The confusion being that it is a fake documentary based on the non-fiction book of the same name. The locations are real locations, giving the show a less artificial feel than then the stage that you know the station is filmed on. The type of editing they use is also less stylized to make you fell like you’re in the action because it already has you in the mind frame of a documentary.
It also is odd when you know that the actors you are watching are real people. What the real Fran say’s in the last episode brings in a new perspective to the mini-series that you don’t from the show Homicide. You learn the reasons that the actual people had for participating in the project and their response to the finished piece. I wonder what type of response the man who is turned into Detective Howard in the show gave to his fictional character. Which is why the Corner is different, it stays closer to reality in the sense of its characters attitudes and overall stories. The mini-series still changes the timeline around from what is found in the book, like Homicide, but it captures the lives of its character better.
There are few examples of television authors that really are a driving force of their program. One of these great auteurs is Aaron Sorkin, the creator and writer of the first four seasons of the West Wing. These first four seasons have a clear message, with a cast of fast-talking and fast walking characters that help the viewer to understand the complicated world of behind the scenes politics. This message and the outstanding dialogue that clearly sets the theme and style of the show come from Sorkin to an enormous extent. I want to examine the inspiration of the show that came from Sorkin, who Sorkin used to help create his vision and how he functioned as a great auteur. I also think that a discussion of the unique dialogue and style of the shooting of the show, which much like Homicide aims to place you in the thick of things, affected the popularity and understanding of the show.
Having never seen the Sopranos before I thought it really dose encapsulate the ideals concerning art and television we’ve discussed in class and that were examined in the HBO reader. It was interesting to read about all those people who, like me, never subscribed to HBO. In reality it was my parents who decided it wasn’t worth it until I had conveniently left for college. I don’t think that their intention was to deny me the Sopranos but it happened that way. I was very impressed with the level of quality that was expressed in the show. I expected it to be great, why else would everyone have liked it. But it ended up being like the novels that everyone claimed TV could be. Despite what the studio executive said in the reader I would very much believe that people would subscribe to HBO just to watch the Sopranos.
At the same time, I can also see why relying on this model would be difficult. This form of television, while enjoyed by critiques and the intellectual masses, might run into problems if they had to appeal to a much broader audience. But how much does a person’s intellectual or class level truly effect what they watch? Is it classiest to say that HBO is too intellectual? I don’t believe so, but sometimes their marketing campaign disagrees with me. “It’s not TV, it’s HBO”. Dose that mean that people who watch regular TV can’t watch HBO; that it’s like comparing a romance novel to Shakespeare. I think considering the idea that HBO is in fact a form available to anyone is something to consider.