Thursday, 5 May 2011

Royal Weddings And Corner Politics

There are many reasons I love Mrs. Blue as much as I do. One that came up very recently involved our desire to avoid Royal Wedding hysteria as best we could. Few of our friends were quite as apathetic as us, and so I resolved to sleep in as long as I could - maybe I'd have missed the worst of it by the time I dragged my pasty arse out of bed.

Instead I awoke at about 10:30AM and shambled towards the living room to find Mrs. Blue with the DVD remote at her side, a couple of episodes into the first season of The Wire.

As I said - I love that girl something fierce.

You may find through the rambling of this piece that I inadvertantly throw a few "Wire-isms" in there. Logically I know that it's almost entirely scripted - and that what we're hearing is essentially overheard street talk reconstituted by the show's writers. But there's a poetry in the brutalist dialogue that makes up much of the series - whether that's down to the skill of the writers or whether it was already there in the language they overheard as journalists, policemen and teachers I don't know, and frankly don't care.

Cards on the table : I first saw Homicide : Life On The Street as a teenager, and after the first episode it became one of my late night "must-sees". Despite it's occasional requirement of suspension of disbelief in the name of making TV, it had a style and poise about it that was unparallelled at the time. It certainly wiped the floor with the much more popular NYPD Blue in terms of story and technical execution, and to this day it holds a very special place in my estimation. It therefore follows that any work that followed based on the storytelling nous of David Simon would have to be appallingly bad for me to dislike it.

Pages and pages of writing by far more exalted pensmiths than myself have dissected The Wire thoroughly, and so there's no real point in me going there - other than to say that if you have a taste for epic storytelling and a willingness to put effort into understanding and getting to grips with a mirror held up to society revealing unremitting bleakness, then you will not be disappointed.

Where I do want to go has less to do with the story of the show itself than it has to do the way it was a critical marvel, but met a lukewarm reception commercially. Many have said that it had to do with the predominantly black cast - although I've heard this mostly from people on my side of the political divide rather than those who have an axe to grind over ethnicity, and maybe that is part of the deal. Maybe TV audiences made up of predominantly white westerners can't relate to a show that expresses the trials and tribulations of a city in the United States made up of a predominantly black population. Personally I have more hope for human empathy than that, but that's just my opinion. Simon himself puts an intriguing assertion forward, however.

...American entertainment does nothing but sell redemption and easy victories 24-7.

I'm not saying that "The Wire's" unique in that respect -- there's a lot of other high-end television that is dark and continues to be dark -- but I agree with Chase in one respect. I read an interview with him where he said what American television gets wrong relentlessly is that life is really tragic. Not a lot of people want to tune their living room box to that channel. It's an escapist form.

And there it is. Depressing as it is to acknowledge, some people just don't want to hear bad news, no matter how beautifully it is presented. Now - a lot of people would scoff at that statement - "But Blue", they'd say, "Haven't you seen the soaps and dramas with astronomical viewing figures presenting bleak situations? In this country alone you've got Eastenders, Holby City and a lot of Skins. You had until recently The Bill, Waking The Dead, Prime Suspect and many more like them". But to them I'd say that the difference is that all those shows are stylised. The stories and character interaction are different. They are sops to our human inclination for grief athletics. They *feel* like fiction.

Present it plainly and in an uncompromisingly blunt style and people will turn away. They've got enough to worry about, working to keep a roof over their heads or eking out the last pennies from that ever dwindling benefit payment to put up with being told in their own living room that :

These really are the excess people in America. Our economy doesn’t need them—we don’t need 10 or 15 percent of our population. And certainly the ones who are undereducated, who have been ill-served by the inner-city school system, who have been unprepared for the technocracy of the modern economy, we pretend to need them. We pretend to educate the kids. We pretend that we’re actually including them in the American ideal, but we’re not. And they’re not foolish. They get it. They understand that the only viable economic base in their neighborhoods is this multibillion-dollar drug trade.

And this does not just apply to minority kids working street corners in the US - this applies to many more of us than we ever care to admit. That's an uncomfortable truth right there and it's staring us right in the face.

Here in the UK, our raw material production and mining industry - gone. Our volume manufacturing industry - gone, sacrificed by Thatcher in the '80s for the sake of petty political payback. The people that worked in these industries and their families are either scattered to the winds, or staying put and eking out an existence on benefits as the communities that generations of their forebears put sweat and blood into building collapsed around them. The lucky ones may have found a way out, and made themselves a place in our Brave New Service Economy - but the unlucky are still there, human beings who by and large came from families who taught them that honesty and hard work would see them right. Betrayed by a class of people who considered their lives and communities unworthy of consideration - a class of people for whom they did not exist.

And so we watch the procession of the gilded carriage. We glory in the pageantry and spectacle. And we hope against hope that gilded exterior of the throne can distract us from the creaking of the rotted wood that lies beneath.