Video Virgil: Hooked

Most fans of the 3-year-old HBO series The Wire started out sniffing and skin-popping: one hour-long episode a week, with the habit building up slowly over time. Me, I went straight to mainlining the stuff: over the last several days I've watched the whole first season, and until the next batch of DVDs arrives, I'm stuck here with a severe jones, craving my next dose of sorry-ass Baltimore cops, drug dealers, mixed-up kids, and cynical city officials.

Thanks to rap, movies, and video games, the hardcore urban setting of this show feels familiar to millions of viewers who have never been anywhere near places like the projects of West Baltimore. But here's the amazing thing about The Wire: unlike most of the entertainments that trade in what hip-hop pioneer Bill Stephney calls "the ghetto orthodoxy," it doesn't sensationalize the place or the people. Rather it humanizes them.

To appreciate this, you have to get past the language, which (as was once said about the British Army) uses "fuckin'" to indicate the approach of a noun. Even the middle-class characters talk like this, and after a while, it has the same effect as the childhood game of repeating a word until it loses all meaning.

But that's my only complaint. The point of comparison here is The Sopranos, a show I would admire more, were it not for its juvenile compulsion to push out what's left of my envelope. The Wire couldn't care less about my envelope. In this first season, the drug kingpins meet in a "gentleman's club," but the camera doesn't ogle the bobbling silicone. People get killed, but there aren't any Tarantinoesque scenes of inept gangsters chopping up a body in a bathtub.

Instead, The Wire is about something truly shocking: power and politics, especially as played out within small organizations (the drug ring) and large bureaucracies (the police department). If you start tracing the parallels between these two worlds, and noting the similar ways they exploit and then stifle what's best in human nature, then you'll be getting the point of The Wire. But I warn you: it's addictive!

August 1, 2005 5:30 PM |



PRC Pop 

The Chinese pop music scene is like no other ...

Remembering Elvis 

The best part of him will never leave the building ...

Beyond Country 

Like all chart categories, "country" is an arbitrary heading under which one finds the ridiculous, the sublime, and everything in between. On the sublime end, a track that I have been listening to over and over for the last six months: Wynnona Judd's version of "She Is His Only Need." The way she sings it, irony is not a color or even a set of contrasting colors; it is iridescence.

Miles the Rock Star? 

Does Miles Davis belong in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame? Here's my take on his career ...

Essay Contest 

Attention, high school jazz listeners ...

more trax

Me Elsewhere

Edward Hopper 

Painter of light (and darkness) ...

Dissed in Translation 

Here's my best shot at taking Scorcese down a few pegs ...

Henri Rousseau Revisited 

"Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris" appeared at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall ...

Paul Klee's Art 

Paul Klee was not childish, despite frequent comparisons between his art and that of children...

Our Art Belongs to Dada 

Rent my "Dadioguide" tour of the Dada show (before it moves to MoMA) ...

more picks


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Serious Popcorn published on August 1, 2005 5:30 PM.

Computers Can't Draw was the previous entry in this blog.

Remember The Sopranos? is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.