Late To “The Wire” Party

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I’ve always avoided watching television series, particularly those billed as “dramatic”, since the writing is generally shallow, the directing formulaic, the editing frenetic, and the acting rarely more than passable. But I recently started renting the DVDs of HBO’s “The Wire” series to distract me during my winter treadmill hours, and I have to admit I’m impressed. I just finished the first two seasons, and I’m looking forward to getting on to the third.

David Simon’s dystopian view of contemporary Baltimore starts from a microscopic study of drug pushers in the projects and gradually telescopes out to encompass all sorts of social and political corruption. The show sets out to convince naive middle-class viewers (such as myself) that the corrupt economy of the street is but a pale reflection of the corruption infecting more “respectable” social institutions. But for all its pessimism about the state of the nation, its characters are never one-dimensional; even the worst (and some are very, very bad) are never portrayed as merely bad. Business is business, and the game is the game, at all levels of society; the players did not make the rules. Not that this lets them off the hook, though: they still make their choices, however circumscribed their situations may be. And a few – mainly the better cops – manage to come across as moral exemplars, if only by finding ways to minimize their compromises.

Here’s a Bill Moyers interview with David Simon, but don’t let their explicitly political banter mislead you into thinking that the show has a dogmatically liberal point of view; like all truly insightful fiction, its characters transcend socioeconomic generalizations. And, most importantly, don’t think that the show is humorless; tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin, and the writers of this show know that quite well-

If you’d like to see the second half of this interview, click here.

Sheer inanity

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I’ve been struck by the sheer inanity of many cable news shows recently – I find that I can stomach few of them for more than a few minutes. So I couldn’t pass up this charming pastiche of Glenn Beck moments. Yes, they are out of context… but, trust me, the context only makes them seem crazier.

Glenn Beck Beats from wreckandsalvage on Vimeo.

Thanks Charles.

Kudos to Newsweek

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Kudos to editor Jon Meacham at Newsweek for realizing that people no longer buy weekly magazines for their news. The first volume of the new, improved version of Newsweek came out last week, featuring fewer articles written in greater depth and with more individual voices – more like what you’d expect from Harpers (with more varied political slants) than a mass-consumption zine. It’s been so long since I actually noticed an improvment in a media outlet, I figured this was noteworthy enough to deserve a post.

Stifling Dissent?

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USA Today caught my eye this afternoon with a sub-headline that reads: “Leaving GOP, Specter gives Dems a boost in stifling dissent”-

From USA Today, 4/29/09

From USA Today, 4/29/09

Excuse me, but since when did having a filibuster proof, duly elected majority imply the “stifling” of “dissent”? Since when was parliamentary obstruction of the democratically elected majority’s will a matter of “dissent” at all? Dissent is something every American has a right to do, and should continue as long as there is disagreement over policy (that is: forever). But the majority must rule in a democracy, as long as it rules constitutionally. Want checks and balances when a single party rules both Congress and the Presidency? I’ve got three words for you: the Supreme Court. Don’t trust the court? I’ve got three more words for you: the next election.

An interesting question here is: why on earth would an editor at USA Today want to add that sub-headline? Perhaps out of some misbegotten impulse for “fairness”? There is no further mention of dissent in the story, which you can read here.

How To Get The Media’s Attention

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What’s wrong with this picture (from AP), taken during a protest of the G-20 meeting in London today?

Media Madness

Answer: if you focus on the background, you can make out what video of this event (which I saw on CNN) clearly reveals. This apparently spontaneous outburst of political anger is actually being carefully staged for the benefit of dozens of photographers who surround the protester in a complete semi-circle. Almost makes you nostalgic for the relative authenticity of the 1968 Chicago police riot at the Democratic National Convention (for those of you old enough to remember).

But, hey, what would a G-20 (or any other high-level multi-national economic) meeting be without a broken window or two? The media would be crestfallen…

The pornography of anxiety

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I made the mistake of pausing briefly on Fox News as I was flipping through the channels today, and had the misfortune of seeing a few minutes of the Glenn Dreck Beck program… He had a couple of guests on who were helping him fantasize about the very worst-case scenarios they could dream up for the next five years… It’s not that I think that some anxiety about the future isn’t justified; of course it is. But these guys were positively drooling over the horrible possibilities. They were fixating on them with a sort lustful glee. I’d never imagined that there could be a pornography of anxiety, but there you have it. Anything for ratings.