Author Archives: tekken152

Do you see it now? Goooood… [HOMOEROTICISM IN GENERATION KILL]

I hope that after watching episodes 1 & 2 of Generation Kill that there isn’t a single person that could deny the nearly palatable homoeroticism in both the book and show. When reading the text and arriving at Wright’s description of the putrid and cramped quarters of the Marines Recon forces, I began to remember just how perfectly Gen Kill serves as an example of homoerotic tension boiling just below the surface in many male interactions:

“The tent reeks of farts sweat and the sickeningly sweet funk o ffungal feet. Everyone walks around in skivvies, scrathing their balls…The gesture is defiantly male…” (21)

“They strong-arm their buddies into headlocks and punch bruises into each other’s rib’s. They lie in wait for one another in the shadows and leap out swinging Ka-Bar knives…dragging the blades lightly across a victims throat, playfully simulating a clean kill. They do it to keep in shape; they do it for fun; they do it to establish dominance.” (22)

Gen Kill does nothing more than take the homoerotic tendencies of men interacting (because, remember, this is journalism dramatized, not fiction) and place them in an environment where it is inescapably visible. –Dozens of men, thousands of miles away from home and any heterosexual comforts they may wish to engage in. Sweaty, muscled men housed in close, hot quarters with nothing to do to pass the time than wrestle in their underwear. Anxious men, jacked-up on stimulants and hard rock music, raring to go serve a healthy platter of ass whooping. …I can feel the intensity just writing this… Yet the visual production makes the prescense of homoeroticism even more painfully apparent.

*Flash to Rudy standing stark naked in the tent, muscles rippling and dick swinging in the faces of his nearby comrades, then picking up a hundred pounds worth of gear and heading out to go demonstrate some physical dominance.*

Even the men themselves seem hyperaware of the situation, as they spew a never-ending stream of homophobic, machistic remarks to again and again assert their heterosexuality. Most notably, in episode 2,

“Man we Marines are so homoerotic. That’s all we talk about. Do you ever realize how homoerotic this whole thing is?”

This quote, (more than being an all-too-convienent evidentiary support) demonstrates supremely well how it’s not homosexuality or homosexual acts that makes things homoerotic. “…Do you ever realize how homoerotic this whole thing is.“–the Marine doesn’t just mean the constant jokes about anal penetration or the familiarity of the men, he means the whole thing.–War can even be homoerotic.

Finally figured out what was so irksome…

Ever since we started taking a look at Davide Simon’s The Corner and then continuing into our study of The Wire there has been an irksome itch at the back of my mind, something I didn’t really have the vocabulary to express (as evidenced by my several failed attempts in class). Our discussion in class last Monday and its focus on “authenticity,” though, helped me to come to a more solidified realization of what I find problematic about Simon and his work. During last week’s discussion, I couldn’t help but be bothered by theidea that in order for The Wire to be successful, Simon had to establish authority through exaggerating the notion that the depictions of Black urban life in Baltimoe were “authentic” either to himself or those which he attempts to represent. It was pointed out in class that, fundamentally, Simon had the ingeniuity and will to successfully pitch a show to HBO that highlights systemic problemacies like no other show preceding it. While there’s no doubt in my mind that Simon deserves repect for this accomplishent, I take issue with the implied notion that Simon stepped up to the plate to humanize the Black urban experience when those who truthfully lived the experience would not. Let us not forget that the systemic oppressions depicted in The Wire and to a degree in The Corner are in fact real. Although Simon’s interviews and demeanor often belie blue collar roots he, in actuality, had a comfortable middle-class upbringing in the ‘burbs. Both his race and his class have given Simon the privledged opportunities which enabled him to eventually create The Wire.

While I agree with Simon’s politics and especially appreciate his more humanized depictions of poor urban communities, it does not excuse the fact that his appropriation of Black/working-class “authenticity” as a means of generating both cultural and real capital benefiting himself. Furthermore, his “authentic” cultural and linguistic representations of Blacks continue the trend of commodifying Blackness for capitalist gain.

I am not dismissing the positive step forward that The Wire‘s more humanizing and nuanced representations provide. However, I also don’t agree that Simon’s positive intentions/end-game justify the means.

The Institution Always Wins

In Jason Mittell’s article, “All in the Game,” he inserts a quote from David Simon:

The Wire has…resisted the idea that, in the post-modern America, individuals triumph over institutions. The institution is always bigger. It doesn’t tolerate that degree of individuality on any level for any length of time. These moments of epic characterization are inherently false.

The idea seems to be that if a television show chooses to posit characters as the catalytic forces rather than institutions, it is making no attempt at realism. This to me was extremely provocative, and I found myself readily in agreement. When one sees a program like Homicide or a film like Clockers, it’s difficult to mitigate the territory of who is responsible for the deterioration of individuals’ lives and entire communities. One is almost too entangled in the interpersonal relationships and minds of the characters. Yet, I find that The Wire doesn’t necessarily ask its viewers to place blame. Through shying away from an interior character focus, and instead making an attempt at  presenting the nuances of the larger system, The Wire refuses to propagate the myth that any one person’s individual agency can save them.

Shakima Greggs vs. Kay Howard: Simon’s Evolution

After watching a few episodes of The Wire by David Simon I couldn’t help but easily draw parallels between the more recent series and Simon’s earlier work with Homicide: Life on the Street. One of the most notable similarities is the insertion of hard-nosed and masculine female detectives in both series. Both Det. Shakima Greggs of The Wire and Det. Kay Howard in Homicide bear a striking resemblance–both are lone women in their departments, embody masculine gender roles and treated as “one of the guys” by their comrades.

However, it seems that in the time between Homicide and The Wire Simon’s characterization has progressed, or at least evolved. As opposed to Howard, Greggs’s character is openly lesbian and we are allowed to see into her domestic sphere. Greggs is also a Black American, adding another interesting element to her character; giving her particular stake in the work she does with regards to violence and drug-related crime. Given the historical tradition of encoding homosexual characters and rarely blatantly marking them as such, when watching Homicide I often wondered if Det. Howard was meant to be a lesbian character. While I can only still speculate, her character was reportedly popular among LGBT audience members. Regardless of whether or not the character of Shakima Greggs was a purposeful leap forward, I am very pleased to see not just a Black lesbian woman represented on the show, but I also like that the show goes a step further in into her personal interactions with her partner and shows their lives as ordinary rather than exotic or sensationalized.

Boondocks–Annotated Bib

Annotated Bibliography

1) Hurd, Jud. Cartoon Success Secrets: A Tribute To 30 Years Of Cartoonist Profiles. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2004.

In this book Jud Hurd presents both cartoon creator interviews as well as his own expertise of the genre for the purpose of demonstrating the nuances of making a “successful” cartoon (which can mean either commercially successful or successful in accomplishing the author’s goal). The book contains a 1996 interview with Aaron McGruder which I believe will be useful in revealing some of the challenges in the early creation of the printed cartoon, as well as serving as a basis for comparison with interviews concerning the later TV series.

2) Mcgruder, Aaron. All the Rage: The Boondocks Past and Present (Boondocks). new york: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

All the Rage was written by McGruder himself and contains his commentary and analysis on his own strips, especially highlighting those episodes which gleaned critical acclaim or scorn, as well as banned strips. This book marks the segway from print to TV broadcast.

3) Moore, D.. The Boondocks cartoon: A social critique of race in America. Diss. University of Southern California, 2009. Dissertations & Theses: Full Text, ProQuest. Web. 28 Oct. 2009.

This dissertation by Diane Moore of Universtiy of Southern California performs an itemized analyisis of American racial & cultural stereotypes as they are presented and critiqued within The Boondocks televison series. The text also provides background information on Aaron McGruder and the evolution from prited strip to television broadcast. This text will be useful primarily in any discussion of the content of the televisual text  and will also be useful in the historical background it provides.

4) Pappademas, Alex. “Can ‘The Boondocks’ Say That on TV?.” Gentlemen’s Quarterly 75.10 (2005): 138. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Web. 28 Oct. 2009.

This interview with creator Aaron McGruder reveals how the mature content of The Boondocks is able to be seen on Televison. McGruder also discusses the Fox network’s reasoning behind passing on the show. This text will be useful especially with regards to how censorship/network television effects authorial choices.

5) Siegel, Lee. Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Author Lee Siegel discusses how the politically and racially charged satire of The Boondocks cartoon functions as a supremely effective critique of our modern cultural and political institutions—moreso, he argues, than most contemporary fiction. This work should be useful in discussing how McGruder’s authorial choices and preference for the cartoon genre accomplish his goal of societal critique.

6) Wapshott, Nicholas. “Black humour.” New Statesman (London, England: 1996) 134 (2005): 43-4. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Web. 28 Oct. 2009.

This magazine editorial, which also contains an interview with Aaron McGruder, disucsses the McGruder’s goals with regards to how The Boondocks will effect the perception and understanding of Black Americans—especially the Black family unit. This piece will be useful in discerning how McGruder’s own personal background as well as his political ideologies have factored into his decisions with regards to the TV series (and comic).

7) Zahed, Ramin. “See Ya in the Suburbs, Suckas!.” Animation Magazine 19.12 (2005): 30-1. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Web. 28 Oct. 2009.

This article discusses the implications of The Boondocks series being syndicated by Cartoon Network in that this will allow the creators to, “fully explore the social and political dimensions of the characters without compromising their original visions.” This article is useful in its discussion of the role of network involvement in series creation. It will also be interesting to see if McGruder himself finds Cartoon Network to be as liberal and light-handed as Ramin Zahed predicts.

Dissatisfaction…In a Good Way


After reading the final chapter of Clockers, what was perhaps supposed to be an uplifting, relieving or hopeful conclusion to the novel left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. To be sure, I was happy that Strike didn’t end up serving time for a murder he didn’t commit; another casualty cycle of clockers caught up in the game. However, after all the punishment and ironic struggles he had to endure because Rocco–a homicide cop in a position of great power and authority–felt like he was the murderer, I was slightly miffed that in the last few pages of the novel Rocco realizes his mistake and is fairly unrepentant for it. He does not attempt to clear up the bad blood between Strike and Rodney, nor does he seem to have plans to reprimand Andre. He does not seem hung up on the fact that, even after evidence pointed away from Strike and Victor had repeatedly confessed to the murder himself, his self-serving, narrow, racialist assumptions may have led him astray. Strike’s exile to New York offers his character little to no vindication, only the opportunity to pick up the struggle again somewhere else.

My lack of satisfaction at this conclusion, though, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I feel that the lack of true “justice” (in the sense that we all wish would exist) is an accurate portrayal of the poor urban world where clockers thrive. To have written an ending which allowed Strike to win on all accounts would have done an injustice to the systemic reasons that life entangled in extralegal activities and poverty is cyclical and continues be the inheritance of disenfranchised peoples.

The Boondocks

Tentatively, I’d like to research the cartoon series “The Boondocks” by Aaron McGruder. It will be interesting to research the struggles surrounding the creation of such a racially and politically charged show. There are several entry points into the text– the first would be analysis of the original failed attempts at getting the show on network television. Originally, Aaron McGruder made several attempts at making the show palatable enough for FOX (why he even bothered… O.o) and ultimately failed. Secondly, it would be interesting to do a kind of comparative study on the difficulties of getting a politically charged cartoon on the air versus a “real” show. Are shows like “The Boondocks” and “Southpark” able to push the envelope at least in part because they’re animated series? Finally, it may be fruitful to look at any peculiarities relative to Black auterism and the interactions between Black authors and networks.

The Importance of Voice & Perspective

After watching the first three episodes of The Corner I was surprised at the uniqueness of the series, the focus of which is the lives of Black individuals as seen through the eyes of members of Black characters themselves. This deviation from depicting underprivileged Black communities only in how they relate to a local police department or more privledged individuals was refreshing. The documentary style, seemingly being enacted by a Black male narrator, also served to add to the feeling that the episodes were coming from a view more authentic to Black experience.

However, the series was not in fact developed by a Black creator nor was the book on which it is based (David Simon’s The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood). Although the topic and characters of the book were in fact researched by David Simon therefore making his work “non-fiction” I believe the novel-like style of the text serves to make it not just more palatable to the reader, but may also serve to convolute the subjective views or judgments of the author as truth rather than opinion. Similarly, the TV series masquerades in much the same way and even goes one step further in adding the Black documenter/narrator. Depending on the development of the narrative and the conclusions (if any) which the series hopes to present for the viewer, this more authoritative voice may serve to be problematic in later episodes.

An Aristocracy of TV Access

Last week in class I off-handedly asked my discussion group whether or not they had cable or satellite television access for most of their lives. My motivation for doing so was this: In my two years of taking Media Studies courses here at the Claremont Colleges, I’ve grown accustomed to being relatively lost when in-class discussions veer onto side tangents (as they inevitably do) and more “well-read” students begin referencing critically acclaimed television programs that aren’t apart of the syllabus. As an individual who grew up in a very rural part of Kentucky that is too far flung from the city to warrant cable access and (even though satellite was a viable option) had a father who felt there’s no cultural currency one could get from watching Nikelodeon that you couldn’t just as easily pull from cow tipping, I lack a basic knowledge of the television texts that are most often discussed in my Media Studies courses. Since coming to Claremont, my politics have made me hypersensitive to class and cultural centricities within the academic setting–or more bluntly–it bothers me when it’s assumed that all students have had access to an experience or piece of information which is, in actuality, only accessible by upper middle-class individuals.

Christopher Anderson’s “Producing an Aristocracy of Culture in American Television” once again irritated this barb in my side. Anderson’s work explicitly points out how the HBO dramas and other “high-brow” television programs of similar “aesthetic dispositions” dominate what is considered to be worthy of artistic consideration (and I would argue study here in the intercollegiate Media Studies department) while only being watched by a minute percentage of all television audiences.

“Premium cable networks offer a form of television for the age of the gated community, in which a homeowner’s association and restrictive convenants provide an exclusive experience but also enforce particular standards of taste.”

“Of one fact we can be certain: even at the height of its cultural impact and critical acclaim, HBO has ever surpassed 29 million subscribers in a country with nearly 110 million TV households.”

“The HBO publicity machine…has created the impression that HBO’s original programming–in spite of its relatively small audience–has played a disproportionately major role in American culture…”

While  its fairly obvious why programs such as the Sopranos have been given so much consideration in our curricula: there are stark aesthetic distinctions between it and network-funded programs, arguable making the HBO drama more worthy of artistic consideration. If a student is attempting to become a screen writer his/herself, study of sophisticated programs is likely the best course of study. However, for a student like myself who is much more interested in the sociological side of Media Studies, or how media shapes the world we live in, creates trends and affects populations, constantly explicating programs which haven’t been viewed by the overwhelming majority of Americans (myself included) is fairly tedious and, on the worst days, somewhat alienating.

Not so poetic…

After reading Michael Newman’s article “From Beats to Arcs:  Toward a Poetics of Television Narrative” I was left with the feeling that his text was little more than a thinly veiled attempt to justify the market-function narrative design of television through proving that corporate constraints actually push writers to create more gratifying shows for viewers and that audiences are more satisfied because of it. Or as Newman himself puts it, “…I contend that within this industrial context network television flourishes artistically, that it rewards its audience and its advertisers at the same time.” He goes on to state that TV doesn’t have the high-brow intentions of challenging its audiences, rather, “mass art strives for accessibility and ease of comprehension”–i.e. gratification.

I felt like Newman’s entire premise was a cop-out. Yes, audiences do get enjoyment out of their programming and advertisers certainly make profits, but that still doesn’t address the fundamental truth that the narrative structure of TV programs are built to sell people things. I believe television viewers accept that the medium has to make its bread somehow and therefore this will effect the very structure of the genre. However, I reject the idea that certain constraints actually make for a more satisfying experience–I don’t squirm with glee every time a plot element or character trait is recapped in one clever way or another.  Likewise, while I think writer’s creativity may flourish despite constraints and that ever-evolving corporate demands certainly push them to find creative ways to deliver quality story lines, I’m not sold on the idea that the industrial nature of TV produces better programming. I find it hard to believe that if television was restructured to feature commercials only between each program, that shows would retain many of the same nuances that come as a result of constantly having to pause for a word from the sponsors.