Simon changing Evan’s work

I hadn’t questioned the authenticity of the miniseries until I read the readings assigned for today. Now that I look back on the miniseries Simon does put his ideas about the corruption of institutions in the series instead of trying to portray a realistic version of Evan’s book.

In the DVD extra feature interview one of the marines said they wished the series didn’t speak so negatively about the superiors in the unit since it’s wasn’t the same portrayal in the book. Is it because its Simon’s beliefs embedded into the series? Is this fair to Evan?

In the reading Beyond the Choir: An Interview with David Simon, Simon admits that he had to change Evan’s work for the purpose of effective storytelling. In this section of the interview he does praise himself a bit too much. When discussing why he changed Ray Pearson’s speech to “if Sadaam had invested more in the pussy infrastructure of Iraq there wouldn’t be a need to go to war” instead of his NAMBLA speech was because of his obligation to step in as a filmmaker. Personally, I would rather watch the Pearson’s genuine monologue instead of Simon’s version even if it appear to be less funny. Simon appears to think of himself as a filmmaker now instead of a journalist which is a characteristic of himself that he might have lost as he continue to produced miniseries for HBO. Even if Pearson agreed that Simon’s version of his speech would be something he might have said, I feel that this is an example of Simon manipulating the story to produce a series that would be a hit so that Simon can be credited. Or am I just looking too much into this?

Simon’s Power

It’s interesting to see how Simon’s instincts as a writer and producer and his amount of power over his projects have changed since he first began his career as a television writer during Homicide. In the Richard Beck piece, Simon states, “One of the things I’m very conscious of is not making the camerawork the story. These are writer-driven projects” (Beck 46). I found this to be interesting in the context of Homicide, where the series had such a distinctive, at times even disruptive camera style. Since Simon was only the source material and eventually the writer for the series, it makes sense that he would not have had the power to control the visual style of the series.  Perhaps Simon didn’t even yet have an opinion about the visual style of a television series.  By Generation Kill, he is confident in his style and it extends throughout the entire project.  He has built a team of people that he trusts, stretching back through past projects, that helps him to control his vision in a way that he simply was not capable of before.  Simon’s lack of “stylization,” (Beck 46) has become a style and is recognizable.  We also get a sense in this article that one of the reasons Simon shifted away from print journalism was because of its smaller audience, which provides an interesting lens for Simon’s works.  He is trying to share his work with the largest possible audience in order to present his vision of failing America institutions.  But was this the case when Homicide was developed for the screen?

Simon’s Insitution

Despite the fact that  Simon wants to expose the problems that institutions cause and show the mistreatment of middle management and labor, Simon has created an institution all his own. In the interview “Beyond the Choir” Simon says he wants to create a film that draws people in and keeps them there. Simon keeps the narrative simple and says that “at no point do you want to remind people that  it’s a movie” (3). This statement struck me because Simon is creating an infalible institution all his own. Media is a large and manipulative institution and Simon seems to play right into that. He sets the Wright character up from the beginning as a the good type of journalist and that is the final word of the matter.  Simon claims that his portrayal of the war is authentic, even when the writers had to cheat a little bit in order to ease the viewers into things. The lofty way that Simon says the series conveys the “truth” to the small lucky portion of readers and viewers sets up Simon’s retelling of the war as a kind of institution,

“That’s twenty million people who now have a sense of modern warfare, who go into their daily lives and their roles as citizens more fully aware of what it means to engage in modern state-sponsored warfare. If they’re in favor of it, they know what the truth is, and they know it’s not going to be clean. If they’re opposed to it, they know what the truth is” (3).

Simon claims that he does not cater to the viewers who want to be “very quickly told what to think,” and that he encourages viewers to question what they see on screen (5). However he doesn’t seem to want viewers to question the accuracy of his portrayal.  A person has to stand by there work to some extent, but I feel that someone who want to reveal the problems with institutions should at least acknowledge his place within one.

The way that Fran responded at the end of The Corner miniseries and Sgt. Antonio Huertas comments in the DVD interviews shows how the real people can be affected by a retelling of their story. Fran said she had a greater insight into her own life because of the series and Huertas said he found the series difficult to watch because it confused his sense of what really happened. Simon is creating one view that even the people who are the basis for that view have a hard time negotiating. I think that is evidence of the power Simon’s institution has.

The mass of men

It is interesting to see the observation that both David Simon and Nancy Franklin make of the unification of the soldiers into one ‘nameless, faceless’ pact. Evan Wright also makes note of this a couple of times in the book, like on page 24, where he states that

What unites them is the almost reckless desire to test themselves in the most extreme circumstances,in many respects the life they have chosen is a complete rejection of the hyped, consumerist American dream as it is dished out…Instead of celebrating their individualism, they’ve subjugated theirs to the collective will of an institution. Their highest aspiration is self-sacrifice over self—preservation.

And again on page 26, where he makes note of Reyes words when he says that “You are lucky to be here brother. We are the baddest most tight-knit niggas in the battalion”. Simon notes it in his interview with Richard Beck that

“It’s the same reason that soldiers fought in the trenches at Petersburg or Gettysburg or Roman centurions fought on the Rhine. You fought for the guy next to you. You fight for the camaraderie. You are the warrior elite, and it comes down to not embarrassing yourself and asserting for your unit and asserting for the guys who have your back”

It’s as if these men used this notion of a ‘tight-knit’ pact to create as sense of security. I would think that going to a war, a war that you are not even sure what is over, would get you a bit scared, and forming that pact I’m sure is a good sense of security. It could also be viewed as the governmental institutionalization of the soldiers, into one ‘nameless faceless’ mass of a killing machine. The articles by both Beck and Franklin make a lot of reference to The Wire, which we know mostly tackled issues of failed governmental institutions, and maybe that’s what the implication that these writers above, as well Simon are trying to say about the war and the soldiers

Readings For Monday and Generation Kill

The readings for today was partially focused on the authenticity of Generation Kill. More specifically, they talk about whether or not Generation Kill is a good representation of modern warfare and the Iraq war. The show is seemingly very authentic because it offers a wide variety of details, both positive and negative. It shows the intra-squad drama as well is drama specific to battle. In the interview, David Simon spoke about how he wanted to accurately portray the military hierarchy. The conflict and tension through the ranks of Marines definitely seems to be a very realistic. The boredom of the soldiers is also in line with what I would expect.

That being said, it is difficult to say that David Simon’s portrayal of modern warfare is entirely accurate. Unlike his other shows, like The Wire and Homicide, David Simon was not the original researcher of the material for the show. Rather, it was based off of a book by Evan Wright. Due to his removal from the situation, it would be reasonable to assume that some or many of the details have changed. When writing a book, an author writes from their perspective. The details that they convey have invariable been warped by their own perspective. This is only human nature as new details are appropriated in order to be viewed on the plane of what an individual knows. As a result, Generation Kill, the book, is Wright’s representation of the war and not necessarily the bare facts. David Simon is yet another step removed, as he is making a show based off of Wright’s representation of the war. In other words, Generation Kill the miniseries is David Simon’s representation of Wright’s representation of the war. This being the case, I have to question the accuracy of the miniseries.

Simon stated in the interview that he tried as hard as he could to adhere to the book. From my reading and viewing, I can attest to this, although there are a few differences. It would be interesting to ask Wright if Simon’s portrayal is in line with his vision. For another step of accuracy, it would be interesting to ask a Marine what he thinks of Generation Kill‘s portrayal of the war. Having never been a Marine it is difficult for me to speculate, but I have my doubts.

Revelations in Generation Kill DVD Bonus Feature

The featurette in which Evan Wright and First Reconnaissance Battalion marines reflect on their experiences in Iraq and the HBO mini-series Generation Kill inspired me to reevaluate my assessment of the value of DVD extras. Most bonus features strike me as bogus, but I perceived this one as authentic. (Could this be related to the sense of realism that pervades Generation Kill? These are the flesh and blood bases of characters rooted in non-fiction—even their real names are preserved—rather than actors temporarily stepping outside of fictional roles.)

Furthermore, it discredits the image of soldiers as mindless drones, revealing the articulate thoughtfulness of the real-life models for Generation Kill’s characters. Their remarks compelled me to consider whether or not Generation Kill depicts marines’ deindividuation and blind following of orders, and if so, if this is fair. Does David Simon’s anti-institutional, anti-authoritarian bend rear its head in the mini-series?

It is also interesting to analyze the marines’ behavior in the panel discussion from a psychological perspective. Obviously, they are bound to appear drastically different when safely tucked away in a Hollywood studio than when abroad in the heat of combat. Yet, while a staggering incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental disorders exists among individuals released from active duty in, or on leave from, the military (and many of those who don’t suffer from a full-blown mental disorder still present with disordered symptoms), the men who inspired Generation Kill seem remarkably well-adjusted, level-headed, in touch with reality. This raises a thought-provoking point: Generation Kill doesn’t hone in on war’s devastating blow to soldiers’ mental health but rather illuminates the killing mentality ingrained in the armed forces, the divorce from sentimentality and other unnatural shifts that marines are trained to undergo. In this sense, Generation Kill explores war’s precursors and operations rather than its aftermath, focusing on the past and present rather than the future. How does this course of action separate Generation Kill from other literary or cinematic representations of war?

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?

Generation Kills Motive

Short but sweet: Is GK doing what its creators wanted or is it something more? Think along the lines of romanticizing war? supporting war? against war?

lets get a good discussion going!

Adult Animated Comedies

I was very surprised, after seeing several clips from Duckman, how similar it is to Family Guy. The lead characters, Duckman and Peter Griffin, are extremely similar. They both work jobs which are rarely featured in the shows plot. They both say and do things that are the exact opposite of how anyone should act. Even the official name of the show, “Duckman: Private dick, family man” uses the same juxtaposition as Family Guy; a man who is completely incapable of actually being the head of the house, being the head of the house.

The shows also share several common elements, which the most striking me is the use of that one joke that goes on too long. Family Guy has one of these jokes in every single episode. The joke’s goal is to make the viewer giggle initially, then become frustrated that it’s still going on, then laugh out loud from the obscurity, then finally wrap up after it’s gone on long enough to annoy viewers again.

It also surprised me how Misch thought it was a bad idea to have animators inserting their own jokes (as his argument goes, this takes away from the jokes which the writers have written). But I feel like this has changed a little since then with the rise of DVD’s and digital viewership/rewatchablity. Now we can pause and appreciate these jokes, though they may have initially gone over our heads on first viewing. Arrested Development is famous for doing this in show, and I’ve only come to appreciate this after re-watching the series several times.

I hesitate to say Duckman was before its time, because I think that can be said about a lot of shows and doesn’t really mean anything, but I will say that Duckman used many aspects of adult animated comedies that are highly valued today.

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.