Author Archives: heldma


While I admit that in all five seasons of The Wire, there are some homoerotic oddities, I am not quite sure what Williams is responding to in his essay.  I drew a sense that he saw the show to be a spectacle for viewers already because it deals with inaccessible characters engaging in activities that are sensationalized by the media (local news, gangsta rap, etc.) yet ignored as a social reality on the whole.  So I interpreted his addition of homosexuality to the list of privileges that The Wire grants to be based upon this idea.

Sure, it is a show that deals with mostly male characters, so we are bound to see all sorts of relationships between men.  I found his argument that the “homosocial spaces” of the show produce homoerotic “buddy” relationships and father figure competition to be too much of a stretch.  He is overemphasizing locker room, armed services, and prison cell fantasy tropes.  The Wire is certainly not Oz: the guys in The Wire are only really separated from females while in their working environments.

The “buddy relationships” provide some of the best moments in the show.  All of Bunk and McNulty’s drunk nights at the train tracks, their hangovers (Bunk is the best), and taking turns bailing each other out: their antics lighten the mood of the show that could so easily be too depressing to watch.  In seasons three-five, the relationship between Carcetti and Norman eases the tension between white and black: Carcetti’s whiteness does not make him a hero or an outcast.  The relationships between Michael and Dukie, Nick and Ziggy, Bubs and Sherrod, and others, draw upon parental instincts.  Michael protects Dukie not much differently from his little brother Bug, Nick tries to help Ziggy “grow up” though he only makes his problems worse, and Bubs channels his own disappointment in himself into motivation to help Sherrod stay in school.  When all three of the “child” figures in these relationships fall (Dukie w/ drugs, Ziggy w/ jail, Sherrod with overdose), this failure takes on a stronger meaning in the overall context of the show: the authorities fail those they are supposed to be leading.  Suppose this could be because their “father figures” failed them, as well.

Lester is right: All the pieces matter

Both the Kinder and Polan articles note the mode of narrative transition in The Wire as cycling through a large ensemble of characters.  For Kinder, the shift from season to season and the characters within the institutions of focus allow for the city of Baltimore to be the show’s main character.  Instead of one protagonist, suggested as McNulty, that follows the traditional narrative arc, the characters are smaller unit stand-ins that help build Simon’s portrait of Baltimore.  Polan contends that the use of character substitution is an “implication that the future will be more of the same.”  It is not the singular storylines that form the series in its entirety, but the fact that these storylines are the elements of a cycle.

I found Kinder’s article to be complimentary of the ensemble cast because of the promise offered by the complex characters with “potential” that came from either side of legality.  For her, the emotional complexity of the series comes from these characters that act somewhat separately from Simon’s “systemic analysis.”  That is, we get to know these characters in the show’s environment that defies traditional television/film conventions for evaluation.  The freedom given to identify primarily with a character based upon their personalities and behavior is drawn from film conventions, rather than TV conventions.  By giving each character somewhat of a neutral introduction, we are able to see how they were condemned to their fates.  Kinder mentions Simon’s acknowledgement that the “primary dramatic model” of the series is Greek tragedy, in which “characters with potential are doomed by larger forces (in this case failing institutions rather than fickle gods).” (Kinder 54)  We see how the institutions fail these characters for no gain.

Polan gives praise to the show’s atypical conclusion because it fits in with the show’s focus on the city, rather than specific characters.  I agree that this is an effective use of the space offered in the television serial, as the unit of the season offers the freedom to separate elements from one another in favor of the big picture.  We are allowed to see how “all the pieces matter” by seeing all the pieces.

Both articles try to avoid focusing on the negative tone of Simon’s “urban experience” because it is this focus that discounts the meaning of the entire series.  Kinder brings up The Wire’s “foil,” CSI, to contrast the aims of both series, stating that while CSI may have mass appeal, this stems from its “escapism” from a real social context.  I think this is a nice way of saying that CSI is fairy tale, and while it is nice to have dependable stories in which bad is conquered by good, these stories have no place outside of the television set.  They disappear as soon as the program is over.  This is not true for the city of Baltimore, and the groundings in fact that The Wire has.  The cycle continues whether or not we continue to think about the series, or if we forget it.  I believe this is a helpful and meaningful use of television: using a medium that has the ability to make even the most foreign and outrageous stories seem possible and relatable to translate stories that our imaginations may have never considered.

Guilty of Hoarding TV

I am one of those people that Kompare writes of that collects TV box sets.  In terms of the flow vs. publishing models, I see premium subscriptions having a similar effect upon the production and consumption of programs.  With premiums, we presumably pay “out of pocket” for the programs.  By paying additional money by channel, we become that much closer to the production of these shows as we bypass FCC regulations and opt out of being a unit of “audience commodity” by removing advertising.  Buying the TV box set is similar to this interruption of flow.  We pay the money for control of the content, allowing us to interact with the show.  The show is freed from the network’s timetable as we can watch episodes out of order, in part, or have season marathons in one sitting.  We can alter the show’s pacing with channel skips and frame-by-frame slow motion.  Advertising is embedded in the box set, as it promotes the show and the network through the branding of the show that is shaped by the box set’s design.

It is not every show that benefits from the box set in that some programming is “short term” and disposable.  Sure, I may watch an American Idol results show, but once I’ve seen it, its done.  Same with Bridezillas, or a football game.  DVD box sets allow for shows to be consumed by wider audiences.  Obscure shows and ones that are off the air can be given the same arena of consideration as any other, even more so.

I’ll take myself for example.  Since I’ve gotten to college, I’ve managed to collect a LOT of box sets.  I hadn’t watched much TV in high school, but at college, with no TV my first year, it was like, ok so now I’ll catch up on shows that I’ve missed.  Some things I borrowed, or would “test out” by buying episodes on itunes, but eventually, I just started buying the box sets.  I had been buying dvd movies for years, so it seemed natural.  I’ve gotten to see so much TV I never would have otherwise with DVDs.  But that’s not just it.  If it was just about seeing the shows, I’d just download them or watch online.  With buying them and displaying them in their boxes, I’m showing off my “great taste” in TV, like Gatsby and his impressive library.  Except I have watched everything I own.  I wonder if this is a phase that will pass, as it did with my CD collecting, which ended once I got an ipod.

Annotated Bibliography

Bibliography for Paper about Lost’s Authorship

Bennett, James and Tom Brown, Film and Television After DVD. New York: Routledge, 2008.

This book will help me form an argument about how authorship was formed, in part, by the DVD sets of Lost, through special features and bonus extras that show behind the scenes work.  It is a series of essays about digital convergence and interactive media.  One article in particular, “Auteur Machines?  Auteurism and the DVD” by Catherine Grant, focuses on the aspects of the DVD that personalize the show to an auteur.

Kaye, Sharon M., ed. Lost and Philosophy. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

In the Lost official podcasts, hosted by Carleton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the two answer questions and clarify ideas about the show, many of them having to do with the show’s exploration of many thought systems.  This book contains several essays that explore the mythology of the show, which the podcasts have contributed to heavily.

Mittell, Jason. Television and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Mittell discusses digital convergence, along with several analyses of the show’s unique storytelling formulas.  He discusses how complex shows like Lost were made possible with the help of external technologies, such as the internet and DVD players.  Without them, the plots might be too confusing and demanding on viewers.

Pearson, Roberta, ed. Reading Lost. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009.

I have read several other books in this series and have found them very helpful.  I just ordered this book, so I do not know how it will contribute to my research yet, but I am sure that it will.

Priggé, Steven. Created By…Inside the Minds of TV’s Top Show Creators. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2005.

J.J. Abrams, one of the auteurs I will be discussing, contributed interviews to this book that asks several TV show creators questions about their creative processes and style.  This will further give me a sense of what Lost is as a “J.J. Abrams” show.

Vaz, Mark Cotta. The Lost Chronicles. New York: Hyperion, 2005.

This book details the creation of the show, from development of the idea to the pilot and beyond.  This book only deals with the first season, however, placing the author role firmly upon J.J. Abrams.  This perspective will show how J.J.’s authorship was established.

Johnston, Amy and Lachonis, John.  Lost Ate My Life: The Inside Story of a Fandom Like No Other.  Toronto: ECW Press, 2008.

This book talks about the fan’s owner/authorship of the show, as seen in blogs devoted to the show.  The book chronicles how the show changed from a high-stakes commercial gamble to the unique show that lends itself highly to fan interaction.

Corner Dreams

I am really impressed with the Corner book.  I had a feeling, after reading Homicide, that this book would be very good, as well.  I don’t know if I only say this because I am from Maryland, as well, but I think one of the reasons his writing is so nuanced and vivid is because he feels a part of the community, if even in a small way, because it is one he belongs to.  Certainly, he is not a “corner boy,” but something you can draw from his writing is that everyone is affected, and potentially involved in some way.  I think some parts of the tenth chapter really capture this feeling.  After his passage about what “we” would do if we were the children of the addicts, he states that this is “our” myth that we, as Americans, accept as truth because we can’t seem to blame ourselves for the poor choices of others.  The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” myth is, as he states, what excuses our “judgments” (478) that we can’t help but pass on those who we assume are making the choice to live as they do.  They’re just “lazy,” or they are so resentful of “success” that they’ll be god damned if they go after it, right?  Its not our fault, right?  In the final episodes of The Corner, we see all of the characters struggle with their instinctual desires to “get out,” through work, sobriety, relocation, even somewhat passive suicide.  There are two scenes that show this the best, both taking place in Inner Harbor, a “revitalized” district of Baltimore with hotels, a convention center, somewhat upscale shopping, lots of restaurants, and extremely guarded and expensive parking.  Gary goes shopping in a health food store and sees “Schindler’s List,” which reminds him of his old success.  This gets him thinking about the situation in West Baltimore, as he clearly feels like a stranger in places he didn’t used to.  He tries to see a bigger pictures outside of his own choices, attempting to find a greater explanation for why he can’t escape his own addiction.  The other scene is when DeAndre applies for a job at a nice Italian restaurant in Inner Harbor, only to walk out as he observes an older black man bussing tables.  He is shamed as he sees someone who is trying to escape his “fate,” and gives in again to the corner.  Later, he helps Miss Ella out with her garden while he is supposed to be working on the corner, showing his ambivalence.  He tries to be “good,” but when someone or something discourages him, he immediately agrees with them and goes back to being what the “outside” world thinks of him: bad.

Proposal for Term Paper

For my term paper, I would like to explore authorship in Lost.  My overall, basic, starting-off point question is:

How has authorship of Lost shifted from established executive producer J.J. Abrams to the relatively unknown writers/producers Carleton Cuse and Damon Lindelof?

I begin with this question because I have watched all of the bonus features on the DVDs, which include behind the scenes features, and there is a definite shift from first season to second as to “who” is in charge of the show.  I believe this may have happened through these DVD features, the Alternate Reality Games, and their official podcasts.  These are all external to the show, however.  I will also focus on the changes within the show, especially dealing with the placement and importance of the episodes written by Carleton and Damon, most notably the finales.

Another question I will keep in my research is if a post-modern, genre-blending show like Lost needs to have an auteur figure.  The show is extremely intertextual, drawing upon world religions, philosophy, literature, and pop culture.  Yet, the show is not merely a collage of other works: through creative redaction, the show stands on its own.  Would this be true if there were not authority figures to assign authorship to?

Its not HBO, its just regular-ass TV

…I always think of that amazing Dave Chappelle quote when talking about HBO.

I have seen the entirety of both The Sopranos and Six Feet Under several times, and I must say that both are top favorite series of mine.  I should also note that I never watched either of these shows while they were airing.  I suppose I had heard of both…how could you not…but was not compelled to pick up the shows just because lots of newspapers and magazines that my parents got talked about them so much.  This was around my freshman year of high school when I remember this “buzz.”  I had loved Sex and the City, but generally didn’t care about the other shows, and it didn’t matter to me these other shows were on the same network…that somehow it was like, “If you like Carrie Bradshaw, you’ll love Tony Soprano!” 

A good 8 years later, I find myself an avid HBO snob.  I was thinking the entire time during the Anderson reading, “Wow, have I really been fooled by HBO’s careful branding of itself to assume anything they put out is awesome?  Are the shows actually that good, or am I an elitist conformist…the type it seems that they go after?”  I thought about this for a while…especially while watching this week’s new Curb and Bored to Death and found myself feeling like a traitor for even questioning their amazingness.  They are that good. 

Here’s why:

The pilots of shows are always a little bit weird.  They hold this odd place in a series, like they are the episodes that you have probably seen the most times because you always try to get your friends hooked on your favorite shows…and you start with the pilot.  Its not just that, though.  For some of these incredibly dense shows with five and six seasons, after absorbing all that is in the series, the pilots just seem…foreign.  Is it because they are trying really hard to distinguish themselves as a new series worthy of the HBO endorsement?  I think so. 

The shows of HBO have given themselves this pat on their own backs for existing above the constraints of network television.  They make it clear in their content choices and quirky premises that they are not subject to the binds of pleasing advertisers, and therefore, they are much more honest.  Anderson talks about how this idea was expressed in their “niche” of “topical” programs that dealt with social and political issues that were absent from commercial movies and television.  At the same time, he mentions, the service is subject to its people.  They may not have traditional “Sweeps” periods, but in many ways, every show is a “sweep” show, since they depend on the month-to-month loyalty of subscribers.  This seems to put more pressure on their shows to justify themselves. 

The pilots of Six Feet Under and The Sopranos are different from any other episode in their series, which is often true, but I think these examples show how HBO brands their shows.  Their series shatter the norms of other shows in their establishment of a “hidden” culture as the norm in which to explore taboos.  For Six Feet Under, the death care industry is a space for the exploration of death.  The mock commercials for various death care products stress the fact that death is (supposedly) the norm for the Fishers; yet once they become their own clients, they realize just how unfamiliar and uncomfortable with death they really are.  This is achieved through Nate’s criticism and fear of the industry, David’s bitterness about doing they family’s “dirty work,” Claire’s disconnection from the business, Ruth’s distractibility, and of course, Nathaniel Senior’s post-mortem taunting. 

In The Sopranos, it is the many layers of morality that are negotiated through the portrait of a crime family.  Tony’s first session with Dr. Melfi is shown as his attempt to properly normalize his job to an outsider through his careful narration of “a day in the life.”  It is clear that his deception of others is not very effective for himself, as his discomfort with his morality is manifested through the panic attacks.  He is essentially emasculated by Dr. Melfi’s diagnosis of depression, as he is unable to fully express the extent of his masculinity to the doctor, and everyone else, for his expressions are highly taboo.  His suppression of his identity as a mob boss becomes a suppression of his identity as a man, a result of societal discomfort with morality.

Would I be able to say these things if pop culture hadn’t already told me that I should?  That is, if others did not consider these shows “art,” would I even find a deeper level of analysis in their texts?  The answer is, probably not, if I had not been also led to envision the shows as a product of their creators.  I didn’t know anything about David Chase before seeing The Sopranos, but I knew that people credited the series to him much as they would to the author of a novel.  I had seen Alan Ball’s American Beauty and am sure I looked for similarities between it and Six Feet Under to signal how deep/layered the series was, based upon his “language.”  Anderson was right: HBO shows are considered art because they consider their show’s creators to be “artists.”

Fall Genre Trends

Mittell talks about one of the functions of genre in Television and American Culture, which is to draw upon the popularity, similarity, and familiarity of another show within the same genre to get viewers interested in a new show of that genre, which explains “genre trends.”  For the first time in years, I feel as though the genre trend of reality TV has lost its dominance.  I get that for awhile, the networks loved reality TV because it was cheap and reliable.  There is still a lot of it on the air, but the broadcast networks have seemed to take a few more chances with their programming this year.  NBC used to be full of it, but they have made an effort to recapture some comedy audiences.  I suppose I say this now, as the new shows haven’t been cancelled yet and replaced by Fear Factor. 

This past month has been a busy TV watching month with all the new premieres and new seasons.  I’ve watched a lot of new shows that I have really liked and been impressed by the returns of some of my fall favorites.  I have to say, I have been surprised by a show that doesn’t normally fall into my “genre tastes.” Glee.  I usually shy away from shows set in high school, as I assume they are just aimed at pre-teens and teens and that I’d rather watch things more relevant to my age group.  I also do not like musicals.  The blending of these two genres has been a trend for awhile now with High School Musical, and I am sure many people are put off by Glee’s premise.  Also, the fact that one of the guys who created it also made the classic WB hit, Popular.  I admit I liked that show at the time…10 years ago.  In keeping with Mittell’s ideas of how our genre expectations are formed by external influences, I guess I associate teen musicals with the glorification of cheerleaders and football players and the alienation of drama kids and band geeks, and prom dates and teen pregnancy and other predictable storylines that never send uplifting messages.  Add musical numbers?  That’s just embarrassing, like the musical episode of Buffy.  Glee defies these conventions by satirizing the genre expectations in a way that draws upon pop culture without being too tongue in cheek or over the top, like all those Wayans brothers parodies.  It is definitely an homage to our fame-hungry culture formed by Youtube, My Space, American Idol, etc.


I will be doing my essay on a portion of the interrogation scene in “Three Men and Adena” and the text which it was based on in the book.  The scene I will focus on begins when Bayliss returns to the room with the results of the polygraph test.  This scene is different from the corresponding section of the book.  What I will focus on is how this is the first time in the interrogation that Bayliss and Pembleton work together instinctively.  The result is a climactic piece of dialogue in that involves both detectives shouting at the Arabber “If you cry, you die.”  In the book, it is only Pembleton’s counterpart, Foster, that yells this.  I would like to analyze how the scene is more effective with both men participating.


I have read Raymond Williams’ essay on flow in other classes before, but it has never really led to any discussions about commercials, and how they fit in to the narrative structure.  While watching Homicide, and taking note of the commercial “breaks,” I was thinking about what commercials might have gone in during the actual showing of the series on NBC in 1993.  As we watch all of the old shows sans commercials, I can’t help curiosity about what they might have been.  To me, commercials seem annoying at the time, but once they have been off the air for a few years, they become almost like time capsules that capture the priorities and style of the time in which they were used.  I understand Williams’ consideration of the entire “supertext” of television because it is the form created and intended by the networks.  Of course, I say this now, when I am rarely bothered by a commercial given my habit of watching TV on DVD and premium channel offerings.  But I do think that commercials can say a lot about the network’s intent of the program as a vehicle for advertisements.  What type/s of people do they wish to attract with a program?  I have had a media studies professor before that has reminded us, as we get lost in our studies of a particular series, that the only reason this series was allowed to be was because of advertising.  Also, many of the series that we study in television classes are ones that were aimed at the educated elites: the cream of the crop as far as networks are concerned.  So what are they going to sell to the viewers of Homicide?  A “Visit Baltimore” campaign?  Band-aids?  Anti-depressants?  Thompson’s chapter on analyzing flow reminded me of this alternate experience of a series that we are allowed to ignore via convergence technologies.