Friday, February 8, 2008

When You Walk Through the Garden, You Better Watch Your... D'oh!

Critics with hearts and diehard fans with brains have consistently and continuously crowned The Wire (broadcast by quite possibly the best channel ever, HBO) the greatest television series in the history of television. There is not a trace of my soul that disagrees. A word to the unwired wise: if you haven't watched The Wire, drop whatever you are doing now and go buy/rent/Netflix the first four seasons immediately. On the other end of the technicolor spectrum of television playfully prances The Simpsons (broadcast by quite possibly the worst channel ever, Fox), the longest-running syndicated sitcom in the history of television, and deservedly so. Upon a glance, one might be quick to dismiss any thematic or generic similarities between the two shows and the respective creative teams of brilliance behind them. After all, one damningly examines the postmodern decay of the great - and very real - American city of Baltimore with an unprecedented degree/kind of scrutiny, at least in the medium of television. The other hilariously lampoons American society at large via the most dysfunctional nuclear family of all time, barring the Bundys, the Bushes, and the Glasses; time will tell if the Bluths survive unjust neglect. And they are cartoons.


"So what?", you may ask. These are two amazing television programs that are great in their own respects, let's leave them be and mindlessly watch them and be entertained? No, this is not Guns N' Roses and Nirvana we are talking about here. But just as Axl N' Slash N' Co. shat on disposable pop metal with their gritty sleazy authentic rock n' fuckin' roll in the late 80s, thereby loosening the pickle jar for Cobain and Co. in the early 90s, social satire like The Simpsons and its countless imitators have most likely made an ingenious work of visual literature such as The Wire more palpable for its devoted viewers.

"How so?", you may ask. The Simpsons parodies almost every if not all facets of American life with a uniquely absurd brand of comedy that exaggerates all the flaws and qualities that make us human. Alternatively, The Wire strays away from parody and hyperbole, much like American television audiences on the whole from it. (Nielsen ratings signify nothing except what Bart is chasing in the above.) Moments of comic relief throughout each episode are rarer than true love - and just as precious - used sparingly as to help alleviate the audience's emotional reactions (or exposure of the lack thereof) to the overwhelmingly cold and sober sounds and furies of Dickensian life in Baltimore or any large American city today. Critics like The New Yorker's Margaret Talbot have praised David Simon and Ed Burns for being unabashed "authenticity [freaks]." In the valiant tradition of Thomas Nast, Jacob Riis, and Upton Sinclair, Simon and Burns opt for unpolished realism that, like the work of their predecessors, aims to effect genuine sentiment in lieu of cheap sentimentality. When executed perfectly, as the show has a most welcome habit of doing, The Simpsons has moments of unparalleled sentimentality that show that even the worst of times cannot break a loving family apart. Families are broken almost weekly on The Wire.


"So what the hell do these shows have to do with each other???", you may ask. The answer is simple, yet subtle. The writers behind both programs plead for their audiences to examine and re-examine their most obvious beliefs and values as we sit comfortably in front of our television sets by questioning, at times comically/bitterly cursing the socioeconomic institutions we take for granted in our beloved country. They achieve this by exposing the fundamental flaws inherent in any social institution, may it be schools, churches, the workplace, the drug culture of the street, or (cue danger music) our government. In particular, I suspect the creative minds behind both shows relish in exposing the most unfortunate shortcomings and failures of society's authority figures who (mis)lead their constituencies, (de)faults that often sprout from incompetence and undeserved or ill-gotten power. Take for example the institution of law enforcement. Police Chief Clancy Wiggum is, like nearly every Simpsons character, a grotesque American stereotype. He is addicted to donuts, dense when it comes to investigative work, fatter than Homer, and the proud father of the most adorably retarded child ever to grace the small screen. In the charmingly colorful world of The Simpsons, however, the disgraceful mistakes of police officers rarely have any lasting or tragic effect on the community of Springfield. In stunning contrast, Ervin Burrell (played by Frankie Faison of The Silence of the Lambs fame to nuanced perfection - like every performance in The Wire), the recently retired/ousted Police Commissioner of Baltimore on The Wire directly and indirectly complicates and ruins the lives of the downtrodden inner-city dwellers that once relied on the police for safety and security through his self-aggrandizing policies that trounce major criminal investigation and corruption among elected officials in favor of "juked" (i.e. falsified) statistics that maintain the farcical facade of public safety. Other parallel examples of failed, corrupt, or otherwise compromised character, and the results of such failed leadership include Mayor Quimby / former Mayor Clarence Royce, Fat Tony / The Greek, The Blue-Haired Lawyer / Maurice Levy, Bart and Lisa and their schoolmates / the poverty-stricken students of Edward J. Tilghman Middle School (for heart-wrenching performances from truly talented young black actors, look no further than Season 4 of The Wire. But not before you watch Seasons 1, 2, and 3). Yes, there are a few good men (and women, like Lisa Simpson and Rhonda Pearlman) on both programs, noble characters who champion the "good" (along with its antithesis, a somewhat antiquated term for The Wire) and reform over "evil" and retribution. But in keeping with the spirit of the series - which in my mind will go down in history as the one and only show that never even came close to jumping the shark, not even in an ironic or "meta" fashion - , their efforts are routinely thwarted by the self-interests and survival instincts of everyone around them. Indeed, the only noble character on The Wire who exacts any laudable punishment on the drug-slinging blood-spilling gangsters throughout the series' Tolstoyian narrative is himself a violent vigilante thief who lives (and might die, although I pray daily that he won't) by a moral code only he can fully comprehend. Also, he is probably the coolest bruthafuckin' gay badass since Achilles. (Yeah yeah, today's concept of homosexuality is largely a nineteenth century social construction that would be foreign to ancient societies. I read Foucault at an Ivy League school too. Blow me. Then go blow yourself.)

Supported by a dizzying but most welcome cast of characters, The Simpsons and The Wire intelligently preach (without being preachy) that in this not-so-brave new world where Dostoyevsky's problem of evil vexes us more relentlessly every day, we would be fools not to examine the world and society in which we live with more daring souls. Fortunately for Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, each episode of their eponymous show reinforces the axiom that "home is where the heart is," and that at the end of the day, at the end of the night, hope and all the good things which spring forth from it can be found in the love of our families. The Wire offers no such easy path to a happy ending, but hey. It's all in the game.

8 comments:

Omar sucks cocks said...

FYI, there is a long wait for season one of The Wire on Netflix.

I have ADD said...

who wants to go fly kites?

i lick my own balls sometimes said...

no thanks, i have some NYU law school work to do

Le Mongoose said...

sorry about the verbosity of this post. let us just say that i was emulating the wire's lack of compassion for the american attention span.

Anonymous said...

FYI WPE (Worst Post Ever)

Anonymous said...

why won't more people watch the wire?

.. the world sucks.

go lick some balls 5:29.

Anonymous said...

FYI 5:29 is CAI (clearly an idiot).
BEST POST EVER.

Anonymous said...

Everyone that has used an abbreviation in the comment section is tied for Worst Commenter Ever.