Author Archives: tigistk

David Simon Can Do Anything

It was interesting to read Nancy Franklin’s article, primarily because of how critical she was of Simon’s portrayal of warfare in Generation Kill. For me it will always be difficult to imagine Simon’s work outside of the urban setting of drug trades, systematic racism, poverty, cops and corruption.  This makes Simon’s work with Generation Kill already stand out as odd for reasons I can’t identify, but one thing is clear, his voice is still present in this work.  Franklin is critical of, “David Simon’s Generation Kill” in a way that speaks not to Simon’s directorial styles, but rather his choice of story-line.  Franklin seems to be arguing that Simon had no real need to depict this story in the first place, because it ends up no more different than any of the other “war-is-hell dramas.”  Perhaps I’m a Simon loyalist and I’m looking for ways to rationalize anyone’s criticism of his work, but it seems to me that Franklin has more of a fundamental issue with warfare documentation than Simon’s work.
Hopefully I’m not painfully behind in coming to this realization, and if I’m not , then prepare yourselves: David Simon is the ultimate auteur.  I know we’ve debunked this notion of the author being the critical component of a films work and meaning, BUT there’s no denying that Simon’s work has a consistent and recognizable voice and style in his works.  Even within Generation Kill, which we (and Franklin) can debate as inaccurate and a story that’s already been told, Simon still makes the poignant social commentary on contemporary U.S. society that we have grown accustomed to.  Watching Simon tackle ideas of citizenry and hierarchy in this complex context of warfare is not much different than watching him grapple with issues of the streets and corruption, because both shows are about survival amidst the violence of humans, ideas, politics and ourselves.

So Mr. Simon I’m looking forward to your work on post-Katrina New Orleans and keep on keeping on.

Documenting War: Who is it for?

Generation Kill does an interesting job of addressing the issue of documenting the war process.  From the Rolling Stones writer being present and the marines consistently addressing the words that he is going to relay through the media.  In Episode 1 there is the conversation where Person says to be quoted on the fact that this entire war is about “pussy.”  There is also the time where they must turn away the surrendered Iraqis and Wright is told, “Write that as you see it. We’re not here to stop you.”  Lastly, there is the example of Espera saying, “You think CNN’s gonna want to buy your version of the war?” in reference to one of the marines using a handheld camera.

This concept of documenting what’s happening in the war seems to be concerned less with the actual events in Iraq, but rather how it will be perceived in the outside world.  There are references to the world out there in Generation Kill, but always with the notion that whatever the experience that will be relayed to the public it will inevitably be skewed.  This sad reality that the marines face is only countered by the knowledge that they have each other that shared this experience.  In the outside world there is the war that the public wants to hear about, and on the inside there is just the truth of war.   So in Generation Kill this constant act of documenting the war does nothing for the marines, and more for the media consuming public.  I wonder then, how does Generation Kill fit into the work that Generation Kill is doing?

The Wire: Relatable in Baltimore, USA

A major key to The Wire is its setting.  In numerous discussions and articles we have talked about Baltimore is a prime character in the show.  Simon says specifically in his interview with Nick Hornby, that there is this duality present with having Baltimore as the urban setting for his epic show.  It doesn’t carry with it the weight of its typical representations the way New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC does, allowing the viewer to be able to identify with the urban experience in their unique way.  While, at the same time it still maintains the specific Baltimore identity that hasn’t been manufactured by numerous representations in the media, allows the viewer to learn and discover new things about Baltimore.

This is why Baltimore functions as another character on the show begging the viewer to put themselves in that subject position, while simultaneously providing a unique representation of this experience.  This is especially interesting; because of all the work that The Wire does to show the realities of corruption and struggle within the underrepresented and ignored communities of people living in urban decay.  The show works to expose while simultaneously create a relatable representation of people.  I find this idea of walking the fine line, recurrent in conceptualizing The Wire.  Starting with the geographical setting of Baltimore to the actual content of the show, Simon explains “questions would be raised about the very labels of good and bad, and, indeed, whether such distinctly moral notions were really the point.”  It is on this tight rope that the viewer walks with Simon, hoping not to fall too far on either side of the line.

Ensemble on The Wire

The article Invisible City by Dana Polan addresses the interesting concept of cycles in theme on The Wire but also in its structure in respect to the characters on the show.  The concept that there are no main characters and the show just portrays a larger segment of the Baltimore population is crucial to understanding the success of The Wire but also its appealing nature to audiences.  By focusing on the whole life experiences of the figures we’re introduced to on the show we are able to see the institutionalized problems that run this city, Kinder’s article speaks to this idea as well with an analytical discussion of the work that The Wire does.

Back to this idea of a show with this many characters that are central to the story in so many ways but “can be killed off at any moment.” (Kinder 52)  We have seen with Homicide as well that the idea of an ensemble cast does a great job of adding layers to the story that the viewer is invited to watch and partake in.  There is something very intriguing about this concept because the show does have a very specific theme, but it still puts the show within a larger framework of societal, political and cultural implications.  I think that this is a major factor that allowed for the show to be a success but also effectively portray the complexities of urban life in Baltimore.  While, the show is specific to Baltimore the corruption and struggles are present in many urban cities around the country.  Being able to watch a show that provides a constant flow of characters and dialogue about important issues is more accessible when it feels like the show we’re watching actually reflects the real world in its form and content.  Which is what The Wire does by not having just one main protagonist, and it keeps us coming back for more – until it ended.

Time vs. Physical Context of TV

Derek Kompare’s article Publishing Flow: DVD Box Sets and the Reconception of Television explores the aesthetic and consumer value of the DVD box set.  Kompare does a number of comparisons to other forms of media in construction this history of the DVD box set and its significance in television history.  One interesting point that I think Kompare made when recognizing specific features of television in relation to film is “the television industry, having built their business around time rather than physical texts, has not been oriented toward such exchanges.” (Kompare 341)  This is an interesting statement because it considers the idea of television from the perspective of the producers and creators of television.  The writers and producers of the show have to pay attention to the details of when the narrative can be disrupted for commercials and what products should be advertised, as well as at what point in the show.  From the perspective of the viewer the show is about time because it causes the audience to structure their lives around this programming schedule meant to attract them in the first place, and they are automatically committing a 30 or 60 minute segment of their time for the activity of television.  Thinking about the ways in which DVDs as a technology disrupts this system of television is significant, because while it reconfigures the focus on time that has been created by the television industry it also encourages focus on the physical text.  This forces the viewer to truly appreciate the show for its content in order to be compelled to purchase the television series on a box set, because the constraints of time are no longer limiting the experience of viewing.  This new concept allows for television viewing to be enhanced in subtle but important ways because it contributes to the evolving experience of television prompted by the DVD box set.  So this leads me to a number of questions about what this shifting viewing experience will begin to affect the ways in which the physical texts are created themselves?  Additionally how significant is this component of time to the television industry if it can easily be manipulated and shifted from its tradition, or is it just so significant that it just evolves with technology and the consumers accordingly?

The L Word Annotated Bibliography

Abelman, Robert. Reaching a Critical Mass A Critical Analysis of Television Entertainment (Lea Communication Series). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Inc, 1997. Print.

Abelman explores the significance of studying television as an academic text and work, by deconstructing the production and consumption process of television.  The book explores the television industry in terms of its production components, but in a theoretical and interesting way because it conceives of the production process in terms of master narratives and aesthetic values reproduced by the television medium.  Within the book he also explores closely the work of meta-television as to how the TV genre engages with the television viewer in a way that speaks to their intelligence and knowledge of television conventions.  In the context of my paper the insights derived from the work can give more support to the arguments of what the relationship between the show and the genre signifies.  While also paying close attention to how the relationship is altered or influenced by meta television components in The L Word.

Bolonik, Kera. The L Word Welcome to Our Planet. New York: Fireside, 2006. Print.

The book contains interviews and insight from producer Ilene Chaiken into how the show is produced and written on an episodic basis, but also as to how it was originally conceived.  I think the book is an important component of the overall concept of the show because it is evidence of this intertextuality as the show spills over into other mediums for consumption – books.  In terms of my paper it gives me a little more backing and information as to some of the intentions and influences that Ilene Chaiken had in making of her show, as well as that it can provide some sort of common thread to look for throughout the seasons, while constructing my own meaning of the work that the show is doing in the season that I am exploring.

Fiske, John, and John Hartley. “Television Realism.” Reading television. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Hartley and Fiske breakdown this concept of “television realism” into its critical components that explains the way in which the audience perceives the signs being put out in television shows – in relation to the lives that the audience leads outside of the television reality.  While exploring aspects of television realism it also deconstructs the notions of realism that television, as a medium, has transformed.  In understanding this television realism Hartley and Fiske point out that television has the capability to conceal certain meanings and motivations of the text that the producers have put into the show.  This chapter is critical in understanding how the work put out by producers is perceived by its audience and within the context of The L Word; how do we consider the meaning as being concealed within this realism, when what is being represented is a representation of its own self within television.  What are the layers of this reality and how does this help us understand meta-television – or create a definition of meta-television realism?

Gehring, Wes D. Parody as film genre “never give a saga an even break” Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 1999. Print.

Gehring explores parodies as “critical approaches, offering insights through laughter;” so as the medium is masked in this veil of unimportance and humor it provides thoughtful critiques.  While the content of parody is quite important, so is the form in which it is delivered; Gehring identifies the artistic and aesthetic nature of parody as well.  In understanding parody as a film genre, television genres can be examined too; which it can illuminate in the motivations behind Chiaken’s decision to create the season in a way that parodies itself.  Reading The L Word in these different ways puts the show within the greater context of media studies as well as gives meanings to the specific decisions made in the production of the show. Also, it is interesting to examine the significance of putting a form of parody within a show that is not a comedy but defined as a drama.

Griggers, Cathy. “Lesbian Bodies in the Age of (Post)Mechanical Reproduction.” Literary and Cultural Theory Carnegie Mellon University (1992). Print.

The article identifies the lesbian body as being broadcasted through popular culture and becoming a part of the mainstream as result of these technologies.  While doing this, the article also considers the different significances the lesbian body carries throughout modern representations of women.  Positioning the lesbian body and identity in contrast to certain notions of feminine identity, opens up many more complexities of the lesbian body and image in the age of constant cultural production.  This is one of the more theoretical works that I think is important to understand when writing my paper on lesbian bodies and their portrayal and issues in The L Word.

“The (in)visible lesbian: Anxieties of representation in the L word.” Reading The L word outing contemporary television. London: I.B. Tauris, In the United States and in Canada distributed by Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Print.

The author deconstructs the representational and concerns that emerge from constructing this community of lesbian women on the television screen.  Closely examining examples from the show in the context of gender performativity being a crucial component of the shows perception by critics.  The authors look closely at the anxiety and concern that emerges from these representations of lesbian identity as being prevalent in multiple aspects of the shows creation as well as in its content to create this meta-narrative of anxiety within the show as well.  Exploring the feelings of the characters about their representation within the television reality and society in a way that reflects the outside critiques of this representation brings in another concern that I choose to look into for this paper.  Considering that if it seems that the characters in the show are aware of their presence within this television show, how do they feel about their own representation?

Lipstick Leviathans: Demonologies of the Lesbian Body. Reading The L word outing contemporary television. London: I.B. Tauris, In the United States and in Canada distributed by Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Print.

The article explores how The L Word represents its lesbian characters as demonic characters as a means of providing an alternative perspective to the representations of queer women on television.  The article argues that by consistently attempting to portray lesbians on merely the positive and affirming position on The L Word it falls into the trap that it is often accused of – misrepresenting the lesbian community.  By portraying the women in this counter-narrative The L Word reclaims the demonized representations of them that are too often put out the dominant narratives.  This article will work in my paper to provide insight as to how to understand the work of representations of these women that doesn’t align with the typical form of minority representations on television – it functions as a way of queering their narrative. Also, in another way it gives insight into the work that Ilene Chaiken the producer does as well as Jenny the character when directing these characters.

Cycles and Visual Representations in Clockers

In the film and the book Clockers the audience is asked to witness this cycle of violence and destruction that permeates throughout this New Jersey (Brooklyn) neighborhood. Using Spike Lee’s adaptation of the film as the main text to explore this idea of cycles, is helpful because we are afforded the visual cues for this idea.  Throughout the film we can actually see Strike’s train set constantly going around the tracks, as he begins to mentor Tyrone into the life that he was swept into.  There is the verbal recognition of the life that Errol had lead Rodney into who then inducted Strike, who is doing the same with Tyrone.  The ultimate ending of the film though that implies there is no end to this violence, because we see Tyrone on his bicycle shoot Errol.  The visual confusion of Strike and Tyrone, with them wearing matching outfits, is a clear indication of the transformation that is occurring.  Tyrone pulls that trigger on that bike and we see this violence be used as a means of stopping another act of violence, but it just plays into this larger cycle that doesn’t end.  Especially with the knowledge that it was Victor who actually committed murder, it is clear that the violence isn’t contained in a vacuum but it deeply affects the lives of those that try to position themselves outside of the hustle.  When we see Strike get driven to the train station to get out of the cycle, we are given an indication that the cycle is over for him, but when we see the imagery of the train once again with the same explanation that Tyrone was once given, being repeated by him to others we know that the cycle goes on.

Term Paper Proposal

For my term paper I propose to look at the series The L Word a show about a group of lesbian friends living in Los Angeles, which aired on the network Showtime.  I’m interested in addressing the way this show was groundbreaking because it was meant to represent a community generally absent from television.  There have been a number of reports and articles about the issues of representations that emerge from this show, considering how the characters do not truly represent lesbian women of the United States, but I want to examine this concept in terms of the perspective of the creators.  In Season 4 and 5 of The L Word the characters are involved in the writing and production of a film that is based on their lives.  So the viewer ends up watching other actresses be directed by L Word characters to reenact Season 1.  The level of meta in this series is remarkable and leaves a lot to explore. So for my paper I would like to look at what work it does to have these characters (re)presenting themselves within the show, and what those interactions between the creators and the actors in the show says about the series as a whole.  Also I want to understand how much Ilene Chaiken the executive producer and writer is aware of the images she is putting on the screen and what that does for the viewer but also for the greater discourse of gender and sexuality representations on screen.

The Need to Conform TV to Traditional Museum Art

Christopher Anderson’s article, Producing an Aristocracy of Culture in American Television,  raises a number of important issues, specifically the way in which television isn’t considered to adhere to the aesthetic guidelines established by traditional art museum institutions.  It is then interesting to explore how HBO reaches a quality of television that has an aesthetic model that is be read and coded as a creative work that doesn’t merely rely only on commercial success, but also counter’s the traditional view of TV as not art.  In the art world if there is art that is considered bad or does not live up to the aesthetic qualifications set up by the art institutions and museums, they are not exhibited and are not recognized any further than as bad art.  However, in television everything starts on the same playing field and is given the platform as a tool to prove itself rather than shown after it has proven itself.  This puts agency onto the television viewer and not the institution that feeds and creates the art aesthetic in the first place.  It is this powerful structure that has the power to control what the viewer is supposed to consider art in the first place, by filtering out what it doesn’t deem worthy of viewing.  Television forgoes a conventional filter that can be considered similar to some of the practice within the art world.

So the creation of HBO with its constraint of paid subscription allows for this new form of elitism and allows TV to create this idea of highbrow television that can allow the viewer and “intellectuals” to assess the aesthetic of these shows.  It creates this institution that allows the viewer to think that they have created this filter in order to better their viewing experience in more than merely a pleasurable way, but also in an aesthetic and artistic manner.  Anderson in his article states a key difference between broadcast TV and HBO, “broadcast television has regulations on itself from the government, but it also seeks to reach a larger demographic of viewers, as opposed to the specialized viewer.” (Anderson 31)  This is also a way in which HBO mimics the conventions of the art world, by only targeting a specific audience.

The questions that then arise are if channels like HBO can enter into “art” status through these practices, why don’t more networks pursue this for the sake of the medium?  Also, what is to gain by conforming one form of creative expression to another, why can’t TV just be considered art for what it has already been doing?

A Dog and Pony Show – An Episode About Life

I think there was an interesting theme linking a number of the storylines in the Homicide episode “A Dog and Pony Show.’ Throughout the show the focus of the detectives is always on the aftermath of a death, specifically a murder.  Here in this episode though we see the concept of life as being a key element discussed throughout the episode in relation to the detectives.  Firstly, with Officer Thromann who was brought so close to death but survives the attack as the main element of this theme in the show.  Thormann says that he should have just died rather than lead his life the way he is, blind and unable to control his bodily functions.  The act of making the cops on the show – who on a daily basis interact with death – explore their own mortality, does the job of allowing the audience to sympathize with the police on the show as humans. Even more deeply than that though we are able to see life through the perspective of the cops, as opposed to their vision of death we have seen on a weekly basis.

Secondly, of a more symbolic nature is the retirement of Lt. Scinta, who Giardello is seen reassuring at a couple of points throughout the episode.  It becomes clear that for Scinta although he is still alive and breathing, it is the end (death) of his career.  This allows the audience to see even more clearly what it is that a homicide detective views as life, because we can see the grief that Scinta expresses as he retires.  A key scene is at the end when Scinta and Giardello are drinking out of a paperbag and reminiscing about their lives as police officers.  The final warning that comes out of this episode is when Scinta tells Giardello that he too is at risk of losing the life has known to this new one prompted by retirement.  This episode brings an interesting topic to the forefront of a show called “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” the topic of life.  This gives the show more of a multifaceted edge because it subtly yet acutely interrogates the lives of these detectives in a way that furthers the story and keeps the viewer engaged.