I’d like to analyze specifically the scene from Ep. 5 (Three Men and Adena) in which Pemberton questions the Araber alone (about 22 min. in to 28 min.). I thought about analyzing the influence of the actor on that role (Andre Braugher) compared to the influence of the writing in that scene. In addition to looking at the dialogue, I’d reference text from the book that describes Det. Edgerton (basis for Pemberton) and his easiness among ghettos (462), the brief description of his and Pellegrini’s interrogation of the Fish Man (173-175) and Simon’s description of a detective in interrogation mode/performance (209). I thought about posing the question of how much of this kind of detective work is performance, and what does that mean about Braugher’s performance in episode 5. Though Braugher does phenomenal work, how much of his role belongs to him and how much to the writer? And which writer: Attanasio or Simon?
In my other media studies class we’ve been discussing the study of semiotics, which is the interpretation of language as all being signs. In this situation, words and objects don’t have inherent meaning within themselves but develop relevance when we have a particular association between objects and experiences. Additionally, we find meaning in objects once we understand what they are not; that is to say there is meaning in the fact that objects and words have definition once we understand what their opposites are.
Homicide is one such program I think where a lot is to be gathered from understanding the difference between what is and what isn’t. There is constant acknowledgment of the differences between detectives and criminals in both the book and show; how there are so many out there that lie, deceive, brutalize and destroy. The criminals that we see aren’t necessarily cold and ruthless (they can actually be passionate as we saw in Three Men and Adena), but are nonetheless somehow removed from what we perceive as normal society and reality. By stark contrast these detectives who are after them look like some kind of saints. They aren’t friendly or agreeable exactly but their cause and their willingness to search on behalf of the dead makes them look almost superhuman, even though they are extremely relatable in their portrayal. Frequently they are advocates of a victim, never totally brushing them off, and weigh every option before coming to complete conclusions. They are constantly self aware of the dark reality they exist in, so they are constantly on the hunt for truth.
Of course, this can be flipped. These detectives are trained to understand how a criminal thinks, and it obviously spills out in their work habits. They are occasionally prone to violence, intimidate witnesses, can coldly assess situations and their consequences, and harass individuals until they get what they can really only hope is the truth (or, perhaps even what they want to hear). I feel that as a viewer, the knowledge of these detectives having to be like this keeps me just a little bit removed from ever totally knowing them. Do you think that there is more meaning and connectivity to the detectives of Homicide in knowing that they are not their criminal counterparts? Or is there something even more important in the fact that they kind of are?
Films and television clearly have different guidelines for what is accepted as appropriate for producing in the interest of the audience. Television, which in its composition may be expected to have staying power, is made with wider demographics in mind and is constantly being refined to not only accommodate the audience but also producers, sponsors, communication groups and the network itself. Films, on the other hand, can be made specifically for one faction of people to enjoy (the only place you’d be able to see Tarantino’s work would have to be in a theater anyway) and are made with the expectation that this project comes in a singular package, story and all. I think this attitude gives the “auteur” of the project a little more freedom; sure their idea will be constantly altered and refined but words and actions the character might do have a better possibility of being executed than in a show where a word may be bleeped or a finger blurred.
With that in mind, would you consider David Simon to really be the auteur of Homicide? I feel that though a lot of his book successfully made the transition into a (smart) television program, it can’t all really be attributed to him. Dialogue at times feels stunted or foolish in the show where a simple, dirty phrase that would better suit a detective has to be replaced by a sillier put-down. Though the show is already graphic, and the discussion of death/dying/criminality is in almost every scene, there’s still something left to be desired that in other shows (like The Wire) give you the full scope of what you’re dealing with.
Personally, I think that this show was too great of an endeavor to have Simon fully invested as a lead writer. I think it would’ve been too gritty and hard for a network to air it, and so found someone who knew (or had a team that knew) how to soften things without being condescending or degrading to the initial material. Thoughts?
After watching “Homicide” and revisiting “The Wire”, as well as some of the programs McGrath lists off in his essay (including “ER” and “NYPD Blue”), I realized that race was not only a common but extremely relevant theme to all of these shows. Whether it is dealt with bluntly or more subtly, prime-time dramas all attempt to address this issue of prejudice,
Sure, there are some characters like Andy Sipowicz who struggles with the fact that he’s bigoted, there’s an ambitious but put-down black doctor named Peter Benton in “ER”, and there is racial tension in both “Homicide” and “The Wire” (the last two have more to do with setting though I think). I believe these shows have truthfully depicted situations in which racial prejudice/tension is prevalent, but I’ve always felt like there wasn’t a complete message to be derived from some shows. I understand that some programs like “Law & Order” deal with it in a very just, righteous manner, but there’s other programming that conveys it in a brutally honest or extremely direct way. They often pose difficult questions but give back answers that don’t fully satisfy or leave one uncomfortable. Do you think this has to do with forcing the viewer to make their own assessment about such issues, or at base level acknowledge that they exist? Or do you think it has a kind of desensitizing effect?