Author Archives: mass_andy

A few things from Episode 6

In watching Episode 6 of Generation Kill, it seemed to me that the overall thematic point of the episode was viewer’s changing perceptions of many of the characters, but that in the end this changes nothing.  This theme is very prominent in a few scenes of this episode, and I’d like to discuss them further.  First, in the scene with the supply convoy (and the first American woman the soldiers have seen in a while), the sergeant with the odd accent demonstrates that he is not as “hickish” as he initially seems.  When the men start cat-calling at the female soldier he admonishes them for acting like a bunch of junior high aged boys.  This role reversal is reinforced again when Brad goes “flying.”  He’s always been the no-BS all business leader of his squad, but his running around with arms out (and possibly giant colorful lower back tattoo??) seem like the actions of a hippie not a marine.  Finally, although this isn’t even nearly all the examples, our view of the reservists fluctuates back and forth.  At first we hear how they are “cowboys” and then see them act as such when they accidentally start shooting at Americans.  However, after Captain America tortures a prisoner a leader of the reserve unit rightfully calls all of the marines “motherfuckers” for abusing the prisoner.  Now it seems that it is the Marines that are the cowboys and the reservists that are the measured fighting force.  Unfortunately all these changing perceptions don’t culminate in any meaningful change for the characters though.  The command structure is still out of touch, demanding everyone be “team players,” and commending Captain America for his bogus capture while chastising Nate and his men for killing a civilian in compliance with the ROE.  Finally, while most of the Marines are ready for the war to be over, the commanders are out politicking for one last mission.  These characters might go through personal changes, and personnel changes, but the system will never change.

Generation Kill vs. The Wire

After critically viewing The Wire, I see Generation Kill in a whole new light.  David Simon’s stamp of auteurship is clearly present in the thematic elements of Generation Kill.  For this post I’d like to focus on Simon’s take on bureaucracy in the military.  In The Wire Simon demonstrated the way systematic problems hinder those both in the police department and the drug gangs.  In the department one of the key issues Simon focuses on is the inept handling of everything at the management levels.   This is embodied best by Commissioner Burrell.  To me, the most analogous character to Burrell in Kill is the officer nicknamed Encino Man.  Over the course of the first two episodes he has demonstrated his idiocy time and again.  Multiple times he has failed to inform his lieutenants of orders from “Godfather” leaving his teams less time to prepare and plan.  In a real moment of genius, he also decides to tape over the windows to his Humvee (so the enemy can’t see the light of his laptop) but all he ends up accomplishing is getting the team lost just as they are entering Iraq because he misses a turn.  This motif of commanders’ ineptitude is also represented by “Captain America.”

Captain America is equally as dumb as Encino Man, but in a much more entertaining way.  Just as The Wire was a completely new take on the police procedural, Generation Kill is a unique look at the war genre, and Captain America serves to mock all the absurdities that have become commonplace in war films.  He makes overly dramatic and pointless statements about how “we’re all gonna die” or “we’re sitting ducks out here” (possibly the most tired war movie cliche).  In a commentary on the overemphasis of macho violence in war movies Captain America is referred to with disgust by others when he fires his  AK at a civilian car for no reason.  Overall, it seems Simon has been successful at transferring his style and commentary to a new genre.

David Simon

Obviously the common thread across this week’s readings is the man and the mind, David Simon.  Over the course of this class we have been mindful that we are quick to almost worship Simon after examining such a large, and for the most part quality, body of work.  “Oh his work is so smart and nuanced” etc. is only a natural reaction after weeks of careful dissection.  But the more we learn about Simon, the more and more unlikeable he becomes.  In his interview Nick Hornby, he even seems to acknowledge this himself.  I also found this interview revealing because Simon shows off his arrogance.  In listing off the history lesson that he gives, and acknowledges is pointless, Simon is simply just trying to say see how smart I am, I know X, Y and Z.  In this aspect Simon reminds me a lot of McNulty, and I’m wondering if anyone else had a similar thought?  Like Simon, McNulty also feels that he is constantly inhibited by his superiors, and as Bowden noted there is a character named Marimow in The Wire that is a cop, not a journalist.  Is McNulty at least partly based on Simon, and does viewing the character in this way offer anything to our understanding of Simon or the show?

Homoeroticism in The Wire

In his piece “The Lost Boys of Baltimore” James S. Williams argues that The Wire has a running motif of homoerotic interactions between its characters, making particular note of occurrences of this motif involving the African American characters.  I have to say that watching the show previously I did not pick up on this aspect, and I’m still not sure if Williams is just reading to much into The Wire.  While there are clearly overt references to homosexuality involving Omar, Greggs and as Williams mentions one funny scene with Rawls, I hesitate to agree with Williams that many other scenes were intended to invoke thoughts of homoeroticism in the viewer.  First I think it is a stretch to argue that The Wire evokes imagery of  “black homo-thug gay porn websites” as Williams does on 59.  While he is correct that many of the characters seem replaceable, I don’t think these characters were intended as eye candy.  I also think the inclusion of one of the pictures of Stringer on page 60 is instructive on the stretch Williams makes.  The first picture of the second column shows Stringer sucking on his thumb.  In the scene he is simply licking some food off of his finger, but taken slightly out of context it is easy for Williams to give the picture a homoerotic slant.  He also brings up the scene of Stringer and Avon wrestling.  I find the connection of the two, equating wrestling with homoeroticism, troubling because I’ve been a wrestler myself and tried to break this connection.  I think this scene is powerful because it is a climax in the character dynamic between Stringer and Avon, not because there is a homoerotic undertone.  In summation, I believe Williams’ argument has some weight, but that the scope of homoeroticism in The Wire isn’t nearly as large as he would like to believe.

DVD Boxsets, obsolete already?

While reading Derek Kompare’s piece on the DVD Box set I couldn’t help but feel that the Box sets are already somewhat obsolete.  I remember reading an article a couple months ago about  Arrested Development and the popular streaming site  Hulu, for those that don’t know, is partly owned by FOX and NBC and uses ads before and during shows to gain revenue.  The article discussed how the second season of Arrested had been taken down by Fox, ostensibly to help promote sales of the DVD Box set.  The logic of doing so seems pretty straight forward, namely that the executives at Fox were worried that having the show available for free on the web would make people less likely to buy the DVDs.  However, this article made the argument that Fox was actually losing money by doing this.  The author noted that DVD sales of the Box set did not spike dramatically once the show was removed from Hulu, so all Fox managed to do was deny itself the ad revenue it would have received from Hulu, as well as deny Hulu revenue, some of which would have trickled up to Fox.  To me this helps to demonstrate how DVD box sets are already on the way out.  The convenience of being able to watch shows off the internet is not defeated by consumer’s preference for possessing a tangible product.  The iTunes Store has demonstrated that consumers are willing to buy music without any tangible possession to go with it, and this will be true of television sales as high speed internet becomes more widespread, making it easier for all people to have quick and easy access to television downloads. Finally, I have two more small things I’d like to add.  First seems to demonstrate that the producers of South Park deem internet advertising profitable enough to allow the entire series to be streamed for free.  For this to be true it must mean that lots of people watch lots of episodes on the internet who wouldn’t buy seasons of the show on DVD.  Secondly, the costs associated with producing a box set i.e. shipping, designing and constructing a case for the DVDs, are much higher than the costs of distributing the show on the internet.  For this reason the profit of the future for television sales is over the internet.

Annotated Bibliography for Final Paper

Annotated Bibliography

Bellafante, Ginia. “A Pitcher’s Life After the Third Strike.” The New York Times. 12 Feb 2009. The New York Times, Web. 28 Oct 2009. <>.

Ginia Bellafante gives Eastbound what I take to be a shallow reading, calling the show a case of “beer-bong, red state mockery.”  As I will attempt to argue in my paper, I think Eastbound, while mocking the red states, is mocking the blue states as well, poking fun at the outrage the politically correct masses would take at many of the shows more potentially offensive jokes.  However, I think Bellafante also makes many good observations about the show.  First, she, like I, sees Kenny Powers as a fictional John Rocker.  Rocker, like Powers, was not ashamed to hide his unpopular (and often morally revolting) views.  Second, Bellafante makes a powerful argument for the auteurship of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.  She points out that Powers is an “entitled idiot” and that this idiocy leads to his many calamities, much like Ferrell characters Ricky Bobby (of Talladega Nights) and Ron Burgundy (of Anchorman).  I think this comparison will be helpful to me in my paper, because I can look to Talladega Nights and Anchorman in attempt to find an agenda similar to what I claim is at work in Eastbound.  Having not seen these films recently I can’t say if that endeavor will be successful, but I hope it will.

Edgerton, Gary R. and Jeffery P. Jones. “HBO’s Ongoing Legacy.” The HBO Reader. Ed. Gary R. Edgerton and Jeffery P. Jones. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Print.

In this piece about HBO’s legacy, Gary Edgerton and Jeffery Jones begin by discussing a changing of the guard at HBO in 1995.  He notes that when Jeffery Bewkes was installed as CEO he, “brought a more collaborative, bottom-up way of doing business to the company, unleashing a great deal of creative energy and a new era at HBO” (316).  They then go on to detail HBO’s almost meteoric rise, and clearly attribute part of this to the more artistic direction Bewkes pushed the network on.  Later they write that artistic and critically acclaimed programming had become an expectation of HBO shows (317-18).  There are 7 characteristics that the authors claim help define the legacy of HBO, but only a few are relevant for my paper.  Their second characteristic is that HBO’s dramas in particular have had the effect of raising the bar for all television networks (319).  This will be useful in my paper because I think Eastbound and Down has no pretensions of trying to raise the bar, and while Eastbound isn’t a drama I think this still applies.  The fifth characteristic the authors offer is also very relevant to my project.  The authors describe the many ways in which HBO specifically target male audiences, both with shows directed toward males and characteristics included in many shows that are aimed toward males (322-24).  The three characteristics that relate most closely to Eastbound and Down are that of coarse language, male narcissism and traditional male professions (324).  I think this relates to my paper because it is an example of how Eastbound fits into the traditional HBO trend.  I could use this source to help construct an argument that explains how Eastbound still works on HBO, while still serving as a reaction to some other HBO trends.

Edgerton, Gary R. “Angels in America.” The HBO Reader. Ed. Gary R. Edgerton and Jeffery P. Jones. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Print.

This piece explores why the HBO miniseries Angels in America was so successful.  Gary Edgerton begins by discussing the plays popularity and how the show ended up on HBO.  One of the determining factors in the show ending up on HBO rather than a movie was that the plot featured many gay characters, and film studios were afraid to touch what they felt could be a controversial subject (137).  The long discussion of the specifics of the plot is unimportant for my purpose, so I will not spend time on them here.  What is important is that the authors note the way Angels in America had the effect of “cultural mainstreaming,” making discussion of gay issues or themes less taboo (146).  This is a perfect example of the progressive agenda of HBO programs that I want to claim Eastbound is a reaction to.  I will use this piece in this way, setting up Angels in America, along with The Wire and True Blood, as what HBO had been doing; in contrast to what the network is currently doing with Eastbound and Down.

Goldberg, Michelle. “Vampire Conservatives.” The Daily Beast. 18 Jul 2009. The Daily Beast, Web. 28 Oct 2009. <>.

In this piece Michelle Goldberg takes a very unique (and by perusing the comments very derided) reading of the relatively new HBO series True Blood.  She notes, as I had missed, that the experience of the vampires in True Blood is an allegory for the experiences of gays in the South.  This is hinted at with many puns, such as vampires “coming out of the coffin” or a church billboard in the opening credits that reads “God hates Fangs” with “Fangs” replacing a similarly spelled slur for homosexuals.  But Goldberg doesn’t see True Blood’s intentions as purely progressive, claiming that, “the show’s universe is like the right’s worst nightmare about post-gay-liberation America come to life.”  She notes that the show’s creator is an openly gay man, so the show can’t be gay-bashing, but it leaves her puzzled as to what the author’s political intentions really are.  Basically, Goldberg is bothered by the way True Blood seems to endorse some conservative fears about homosexuality, because the vampires are scary, just as conservatives seem to view homosexuals with fear.  However, she does concede that the show mocks the right-wing as well, with its stereotypically evangelical Fellowship of the Sun.  Goldberg concludes her piece claiming True Blood, “goes after liberal pieties, at times making the viewer feel like a right-wing moralist wracked with terrible attractions…True Blood suggests that, when it comes to sex’s subversive, destructive power, the right isn’t all wrong to be very afraid.”  I am still unsure as to how I will specifically use this source, but it will be one of two ways.  I can use Goldberg’s discussion of True Blood as an allegory for homosexuality to position the show with Angels in America and The Wire.  However, I think it would be more interesting accept Goldberg’s conclusion, and argue that True Blood is also somewhat reactionary to the clear-cut progressive nature of other HBO shows.

Marx, Nick. “Nowhere to Go but Up: Redeeming HBO’s Eastbound and Down.” FlowTV. 06 Fed 2009. FlowTV, Web. 28 Oct 2009. <>.

Nick Marx takes a more critical (in the sense of television criticism, not negativity) at Eastbound and Down, and begins like many other discussions of the show by noting “there’s a lot to not like about Eastbound.”  From here he details many of Kenny’s despicable actions in the first episode (he notes he has only seen the pilot) and worries that the character is so horrid that viewers won’t like him.  Marx points out that the usual way unlikable comic characters grow on audiences is through a “maturation” process or by completing their goals, and the Eastbound didn’t seem to be going down this same path.  I find this interesting because I’m not sure if I can agree.  In the final episode of the first season (and the series thus far, which as a sidenote was conceived as a self-contained story), which obviously Marx wasn’t privy to, it seems that Kenny will actually make it back to the majors and reunite with his high school sweetheart, only for it all to come crashing down.  While Kenny clearly doesn’t actually achieve his goals, he seems to have gone down a similar path to audience redemption as Marx describes other despicable characters taking.  Clearly, I will have to decide whether I feel Powers fits this character mold, or if his character is even possibly a commentary on this character trope.  While I may disagree with Marx on some specifics of his analysis (he thinks a particular Powers’ soliloquy is designed to drive audiences away, while I find it uniquely endearing), he too sees Eastbound as a commentary of the “cultural milieu” it constructs.  He compares Powers to Cartman, writing that both characters are intended to mock the attitudes and views they both respectively trumpet.  Marx, like Bellafante, also notes the evidence of Will Ferrell’s auteurship in the series.  However, in contrast to Bellafante (and to my liking), he takes his analysis of Eastbound’s intentions one step further.  Marx writes that Eastbound and Down, “create[s] a comedic hero that embodies American cultural tensions of the recent past while warily embracing the changes to come.”  This sentiment aligns with the analysis of Eastbound that I intend to offer.  The wariness that Marx is referring to is what I take to be a reaction to the progressive nature of many other HBO shows.  The authors of Eastbound clearly don’t endorse the close-mindedness that Powers demonstrates, but they are wary of the politically correct notion that it isn’t ok to laugh at his ignorance.

Rose, Brian G. “The Wire.” The HBO Reader. Ed. Gary R. Edgerton and Jeffery P. Jones. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Print.

This article brings up the ways that The Wire was unique and envelope-pushing, even for HBO.  The author, Brian Rose, notes that it is a cop show, territory that had been ruled by the networks, but that in contrast to most cop shows it doesn’t inspire much faith in our justice system (82).  In all of David Simon’s works that we have looked at in class he clearly has a political agenda in mind, and Rose can see that The Wire is no different, writing that the show had “political intentions” (82).  Rose details the many ways that Simon attacks our drug policy, and this is what will be helpful for my paper.  Drug law reform is a very progressive agenda, and The Wire pushes it forcefully, and I believe successfully.  The commentary on our policies that Simon is able to offer in a narrative structure may be the most explicit example of a progressive agenda on an HBO show.  Like with Angels in America, I will use The Wire to help establish the progressive trend I will claim Eastbound and Down is responding to.

Shales, Tom. “Review of HBO’s Comedy ‘Eastbound and Down’.” The Washington Post. 14 Feb 2009. The Washington Post, Web. 28 Oct 2009. <>.

In reviewing Eastbound and Down Tom Shales comes to the conclusion that Kenny Powers is “never lovable, he’s barely tolerable, but many of the things he does and says are frighteningly recognizable.”  Shales is reviewing the series on the day before the pilot premieres (and presumably has only seen the first episode although we can not be sure), and offers a positive review.  He focuses on many of the different flaws Kenny demonstrates, from egoism to prejudice, and then discusses how Eastbound manages to place us in such a perverted world that some of these flaws come off as endearing.  Like many other reviewers of the show (at least those that like the show), Shales seems to be almost confused by the fact that he likes Powers character, and in the review is trying to explain for his audience (and convince himself) why that is.  I think this review will be very helpful in my discussion because Shales, like me, doesn’t take Powers flaws to be solely intended to make Powers despicable.  He notes that his self-absorbed attitude even comes of as oddly “heroic” at one point.  Shales discussion will help me set Eastbound and Down apart from other HBO shows that have a openly progressive agenda, such as The Wire, Angels in America, or True Blood.

Note to Prof. Fitzpatrick: I’m going to upload my bibliography to Sakai because I’m afraid something may not have copy and pasted right.  Thanks.

Price’s Strike vs. Lee’s

In my last post I discussed the way Price opened the novel, letting us inside Strike’s head.  I was interested in how Price set up Strike as a mature, even-headed, and experienced clocker.  I wondered how Spike Lee was going to try to do this scene, and whether he would employ some sort of internal monologue for Strike.  Basically, how was Lee going to let us know what Strike was thinking, as Price did?

After watching the film version of Clockers I feel that the introduction of Strike as a mature, even-headed, and experienced clocker wasn’t the main focus of the opening scene.  However, there are still some elements of the feel of Price’s opening chapter that are noticeable in the movie.  As the credits end we fade into an empty courtyard in Brooklyn as rap plays in the background.  We see Strike strut up, something I didn’t imagine the Strike of the opening chapter of the book to be doing.  However, when he sits down we catch a look in his eye that seems to suggest some introspection or deeper thoughts, and this attitude carries over to when Strike goes to sit down with his friends.  As his friends (and later we learn employees) argue over who the best rapper is, Strike mostly stays out of the argument, not contributing much besides nodding along to something others say.  We get the feeling that Strike is above the fray, that he is better than this simpleton pointless argument.  The argument ends with Strike chastising everyone else for engaging in the disagreement, especially one man that was supposed to be acting as a look out.  However, the way Strike talks to his subordinates doesn’t seem as even-headed as the Strike from the book.  He is more angry, and seems to be angry only because “we gots to get that money” (7:00).  The Strike in the book, while clearly business-minded, didn’t seem to start out with as brazen an attitude as Strike in the film.  I think this change was made because it starts the character development a little further along.  In both the book and film Strike starts to seem less and less like he is on top of everything, having it all thought out.  If he starts out as less even-headed and mature, it makes sense for the descent to happen in a shorter time frame.  Also, the fact that a book would be read over many days in all likelihood allows the author to draw out Strike’s descent and thus make it more believable.  Lee only has two hours to take his audience along the entire character arc, so starting a little further along means he has to spend a little less time explaining and justifying the changes Strike’s character experiences.

Clockers and POV

The opening twenty or so pages of Clockers are very interesting to me because they created a character in my mind that was very different from who the character is shown to be after the first twenty pages, and I’m interested to see how this scene is accomplished in the movie, if it is even attempted at all.  In the first twenty pages, we come to figure out that we are privy to Strike’s thoughts and point of view.  The scene, first and foremost, is meant to provide the setting, as Strike looks around at the drug market that surrounds him.  However we get to learn a lot about Strike as we read his thoughts as they are inspired by what he sees.  Strike helps us as readers make sense of what is going on around him, and this positions Strike as wise, and they way he talks about his underlings gives the reader the sense that Strike is older.  In my mind I imagined a middle-aged man surround by younger teens and twenty-somethings, but after the first scene it is revealed that Strike is only nineteen.  The point of this is clear, the street, being a clocker, ages you.  We weren’t wrong to see Strike as wise, it’s just that in the drug dealing game you can be the streetwise veteran at nineteen.  I’m interested to see if a similar scene is in the film production.

In my mind the scene would be best preserved by a long steady shot from Strike’s POV, with the sounds from the surrounding muted to only leave Strike’s thoughts in the auditory foreground.  This would help to situate the viewer inside of Strike’s head, like we are in his head peering out rather than getting a brief glimpse into his thoughts.  However, as we’ve read, long monologues of internal dialogue are often seen as somewhat of a cop-out in film and television, as it is supposed to be the showing medium and leave the telling up to literature (although we also read a good critique of this cliche of television studies).  Barring this strategy however, I don’t see how the scene could be faithfully portrayed conveying both the plot points and emotional environment within Strike.

Term Paper Proposal

I intend to do my term paper on the show Eastbound & Down.  The show centers on Kenny Powers, a homophobic, misogynistic, and racist washed-up major league pitcher, as he returns to his hometown.  I want to analyze these very elements in Kenny’s character in relation to the usually progressive tone of most HBO shows, especially the ones with have and will watch in class.  The Corner and The Wire both try to create a better understanding of our nation’s drug problems by offering a somber portrayal of characters affected by drugs.  On Eastbound drugs are almost always portrayed as fun, with one of the most memorable scenes involving a school dance and ecstasy.  I will discuss whether Eastbound is meant as a reaction to the overly progressively preachy feel of some other HBO shows, or whether it is intended to be  progressive in nature as well by showing how horrible Kenny Powers is as a result of his prejudices.

Documentary Style in The Corner

In the first three episodes of The Corner, the action and plot of the episode is framed by interviews conducted by a character named Charles Dutton.  I find it interesting because it has the immediate effect of making the entire program feel like it is a documentary, adding a sense of realism that could never be achieved just by filming in Baltimore and referring to local street corners.  For me one of the most powerful effects of this documentary style comes when characters inject heroin.  Since I was a kid I’ve been a little afraid of needles, and the idea of IV drug use makes me unsettled.  The way The Corner emphasizes and repeats scenes of characters shooting up is designed to make viewers feel uncomfortable.  This same uncomfortable feeling is supposed to carry over to the negative effects the sale and use of drugs clearly has on the community. The viewers are supposed to view the drug problem as an entrenched status quo.  Fran, a heroin addict, tries to get into rehab giving viewers hope for her redemption, but she gets told to wait another week, and is forced to move back in with the temptation of using again constantly staring her in the face.  A veteran patrolman remembers when the neighborhood was better, but becomes defensive when the interviewer points out that only a small fraction of drug arrests in Baltimore lead to successful convictions.  This patrolman is refusing to believe that the same “bustin’ heads” won’t and hasn’t worked.  The messages that The Corner conveys about drug use are greatly enhanced by the documentary feel lent to the entire program by the framing interviews.