Author Archives: teff28

Why Simon Bugs Me

Overall, my reading of David Simon is that he started out as a journalist with a very specific vision of what journalism was supposed to be and then became disillusioned with the changes that came to the Sun. By then he had begun realizing that television and narrative could do something similar–it had its own kind of power to convey truth. When he made the transition, he really wasn’t able to give up journalism completely. He saw his work on television as a form of journalism and was obsessed with his own authority and authenticity. His work demonstrates that he really believes that he has an almost God-like power to perceive events objectively at the same time that he makes very specific judgments about that reality (even if, as in the case of Generation Kill, he wasn’t even there). Simon constantly confuses his truth with the truth, and while it may very well be that his truth and the truth are quite similar, the fact that he refuses to recognize his true place as a reporter or interpreter of true events really bothers me and is frankly dishonest. Simon may believe that he can separate himself from the situations and the problems, but he cannot. It bothers me that he refuses to realize that he is just as much a part of the system as anyone else. Simon is not outside it all looking down, he is a perspective from within it all. If he were claiming to write fiction, the former perspective would be fine. However, the fact that he labels himself as nonfiction, the fact that the world he is claiming full understanding of is not his own invention but “real” changes the stakes of his claims.

Wright vs Simon

I have to admit that I am much more impressed with Evan Wright’s work than I was with David Simon’s books. Unlike Simon, Wright does not attempt to write himself out of the story and is very explicit about his role in the events and about how he obtained his information. (Notably, he is also not written out of the HBO adaptation.) His work is much more legitimately journalistic because he is explicit about his sources. He specifically writes into the text things like “later so and so told me that he was thinking such and such when this event happened.” I am able to trust what he writes so much more because I can plainly see how Wright relates to the men and to the situations at hand. He takes care to show us the times when he is an outsider and at the same time proves that he really did get close to many of the men and was able to capture their perspectives. I think Wright does an excellent job of sticking true to the individualities of the men too; that is, reading Generation Kill does not leave me with a feeling that all the men feel one way or another about their sutation. While some, like Trombley, are all about “the kill,” others like “Doc” are more sensitive to the incidence of civilian casualties and the horrors of war. In short, I think Wright’s written work is great.

On a different note, I found it interesting how many references there were to films and television shows not only by Wright but by the men. Some examples: Wright writes “it suddenly feels like we’ve stumbled onto the set of Apocalypse Now” (105), Kocher claims his decision to join the Marines was influenced by “watching G.I. Joe on Cartoon Network” (135), Wright describes that “the whole engagement was like one of those cheesy action movies” (143), Person says (of Captain America) “He thinks he’s Rambo” (169), and Captain America quotes a line from Platoon (206). There are references to Black Hawk Down (195 and 211), Saving Private Ryan (225), and even The Matrix (243). I think this is interesting because it shows how much films and television serve as references for us. It’s not war stories they’ve heard from veterans or history books that the marines and Wright are using as references, but rather film and television inspiring them, influencing how they interpret events and sometimes what they say or how they behave.

Authenticity in The Wire

Generally, I’m really interested in the “line” between fiction and nonfiction, and I thought all of the articles we read for today really addressed this issue. The fact that season 5 is supposedly very rooted in Simon’s personal life makes me especially interested in continuing the series on my own.

I was particularly struck by the different perspectives of Margaret Talbot in “Stealing Life” and Mark Bowden in “The Angriest Man in Television.” Talbot very much paints Simon as an “authenticity freak” who is is there to write “authentic” fiction and cites the show’s fan base demographics as proof of Simon’s success in capturing “true” urban life. I liked Bowden’s piece better because I thought it was much more nuanced, refusing to take this idea of “authentic fiction” without skepticism and pointing out that in “The Wire” Simon “offers up his undisturbed vision, leaving out the things that don’t fit, adding things that emphasize its fundamentals, and then using the trappings of realism to dress it up and bring it to life onscreen.” What did everyone else make of these pieces? How “authentic” is “The Wire”? Why does it matter?

The Wire’s Representation of Prison

Lately we’ve read a great deal of (well deserved) praise for The Wire’s representation of Baltimore and for its ability to cut across all sorts of lines, particularly racial ones. I question, however, The Wire’s representation of the prison system in America. I’m not saying certain realities aren’t portrayed: the fact that drugs manage to get into our prisons is widely known and shown, as is the hierarchy of status and access to privileges that develops based on factors like money and connections. However, what about the brutality in prisons? What about the problems of the prison industrial complex? I really think that Simon’s honest portrayal of how problematic the criminal justice system is really stops short at sentencing, gaining parole, etc,  and I’m disappointed by the fact that he doesn’t seem to so much as acknowledge some of the deeper problems of the actual prison system. Did anyone else feel this way?

Kinder Piece

In her “Re-Wiring Baltimore” piece Marsha Kinder states: “All three schemes demonstrate that individuals can make a difference, even if they can’t single-handedly solve all of Baltimore’s systemic problems.” I thought this was interesting in light of our discussion on Wednesday about how The Wire’s systematic focus and cynical outlook may make people feel helpless to change societal problems.

I have to admit I don’t really follow Kinder’s logic since in the sentence right before that statement she admits that once the authorities discover the schemes the outcomes are reversed, showing that “there’s something terribly wrong with public policy.” It seems that here she’s trying to claim that the problems of the city are primarily rooted in public policy, and that poor public policy impedes individuals from making permanent, positive changes. In other words, at the end of the day, it’s public policy that keeps individuals from triumphing over failed institutions. Is this really a take-home message of The Wire? I’m not at all convinced, but what does everyone else think?

The Wire & The Publishing Model

Kompare’s article discusses how Miege distinguishes the publishing model of cultural production from the flow model. The television industry “built their business around time rather than physical texts,” but all of that is changing now particularly with DVD Box Sets being a possibility. Producers and consumers are not being linked more directly. It’s interesting to read the Lanahan article with that in mind: Simon clearly sees his producing television as akin to publishing op-eds on the American city. It seems that Simon felt that at The Sun he could not longer pursue his vision of what journalism should be, and so decided to “publish” in television instead. Through television, Simon has the time, space, and means to explore the full, systematic complexity of various persons and issues. I think he’s very successful at what he aims to do. For example, when Brandon is murdered we see not only how intricate the chain of events leading to his death were but also how the people (indirectly) responsible are affected. Wallace, for example, is actually traumatized by the consequences of his actions.

I was thinking about how all of this fits in with notions of “high” and “low” television. Is it fair to say that shows that use the publishing model will almost always be considered “higher” or better than those that use the flow model? Personally, I’m not even sure I really buy the dichotomy Kompare presents. What do you guys think?

Annotated Bibliography

I have decided to write about the question of authorship in The Corner both as both a book of literary nonfiction and as a miniseries that pretends to be a documentary and claims to be representing true stories. In particular, I want to focus on the ethics of authorship and representation of lives of others…

Andrew, Bennett,. Author. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: New York : Routledge, 2005. Print.

This book examines how the definitions of the author have changed overtime and how those changes have affected literary culture. It will provide me with a general grounding of varying theories about authorship as well as the ideas of authority, ownership, originality, and the “death” of the author.

Burke, Seán. Death and return of the author criticism and subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1992. Print.

This book argues that the effort to eliminate the author is deeply mistaken and indefensible philosophically. Its argument will help me think theoretically about the importance of authorship and provide a counter to the idea that the author is irrelevant to the work at hand. It will help me think about why it matters that David Simon is the person writing the “true” stories of the corner.

Haydar, Bashshar. “The Case Against Faction.” Philosophy and Literature 32.2 (2008): 347-58. Print.

This book argues that works that attempt the factual accuracy of journalism while using the literary form of the novel at the same time are “faction,” a sort of hybrid genre that suffers fundamentally from tensions and limitations. Since The Corner can, by this definition, be considered a work of “faction,” this text will help me think about the tensions and limitations of Simon’s book—ideas that I can then apply to the mini-series.

Kraus, Carolyn. “Journalism, Creative Nonfiction & the Power of Academic Labels.” Points of Entry: Cross-Currents in Storytelling 1.1 (2003): 25-34. Print.

This article explores the lines between journalism and creative nonfiction and discusses the power that genre labels often have over how works are read and considered. This text will help me think about the lines between journalism and creative nonfiction, what it means that a journalist wrote The Corner and that the book was called nonfiction.

Lazar, David. Truth in Nonfiction: Essays. University of Iowa, 2008. Print.

This book is a collection of essays with various reflections on truth in literary nonfiction and what that means. This book will be a source of many ways of looking at both The Corner as a work of literary nonfiction and at the mini-series as an adaptation that pretends to be a documentary.

Ruby, Jay. Picturing Culture Explorations of Film and Anthropology. New York: University Of Chicago, 2000. Print.

This book explores the relationship between film and anthropology and argues that cinematic artistry as well as the wish to entertain can undermine the proper anthropological representation of subjects. This book well help me think about visual anthropology and the ethics of representation as they apply to works like The Corner that aim to explain a certain culture and community.

Struggles for Representation African American Documentary Film and Video. New York: Indiana UP, 1999. Print.

This book includes eleven essays on documentaries that have examined the aesthetic, economic, historical, political, and social elements that affect the lives of black Americans, as understood from their views. All of the essays deal with the “struggle for representation” that counters the often uniformed and distorted representations of television and mass media. This work will give me a critical lens for viewing Simon’s work and assessing the value and nature of its representation of black Americans in Baltimore.

Questions About Adaptations (Clockers)

Watching the film, I was taken aback by how differently I had imagined the characters in the novel, and I could not decide how much of the difference was due to the fact that I could not get inside the characters’ heads in quite the same way. Strike in particular seemed much less mature. I was also bothered by the interpretation of the scene where Errol takes fifty dollars from Strike, even though it gave the audience necessary background and brought in the important element of the virus.
I understand that when novels are adapted to film, trade offs have to be made and that people must be cut out (Sean Touhey, Champ). At the same time, I find it challenging to not feel an odd sort of dissatisfaction when I see the story and characters changed so much. Is this just a problem with how I view adaptations? How should they be viewed?  As retellings and interpretations or as separate works? Is the first or original version always more “true” than the adaptation? How can one be more “true” than the other when they are both fiction? Would it make a difference if I had watched the film first instead and then read the novel? How would that have my reading?

Clockers vs The Corner

I think reading Clockers is very different from reading The Corner, particularly because it is so much less journalistic. Unlike The Corner, Clockers was not written to be an explanation for outsiders. In other words, when you read Clockers, you have to read about the characters on their own terms–you are being given a way into their worlds, but no one is going to hold your hand. There is no explanation of the slang, no factual interludes to give you some history, no references to “we” that mark the fact that the author has a very specific audience in mind.

I really enjoy Clockers so far, and even though it’s fiction I think the characters and story really come alive. The only thing that sort of ruins the realistic feel for me is my awareness of the fact that Dempsy is a fictional place. I am from northern New Jersey, and having a “Dempsy” thrown in with so many references to places I am familiar with is sort of funny and strange.

Term Paper Proposal

I was thinking about Veronica Mars and that Mittell article on genre that we read. I would like to look into how the show complicates the idea of genre by being a kind of “high school film noir mystery” all in one. I would explore how the show fits into the historical trajectory of detective shows in general, and also look at how the structure plays a role. The first two seasons have one big season-long mystery and then “mini-mysteries” for each individual episode. The last season does not have that same structure; there’s no season-long mystery and instead there are mysteries that will last for a few episodes. I’d like to see how this change from the first and second seasons to the third impacted changed the show and played with genre expectations / compared to previous detective shows.

Thanks in advance for any feedback! 🙂

I was thinking about this some more, and I started getting interested in thinking about The Corner as a work of non-fiction being turned into a narrative that purports to be a documentary.  To what extent are the people the book and show are based on authors of their own lives? What does it mean that two outsiders (Simon and Burns) are the ones telling their stories? What does it mean to have that story, in turn, get made into a mini-series? To what extent is authorship a myth? To what extent is the identity of the author important? I think it might be interesting to trace authorship across these adaptations: from real life, to book, to movie, and see what conclusions I draw.

Now I have two really different paper ideas. Help!!