The Wire

“The Wire” is not only ridiculously entertaining, amazingly acted, wonderfully produced, beautifully shot and worked through, tied up and completed without a wasted moment or a with a question left unanswered, it is also immensely important. The thing that sets this show over the top as quite possibly one of the top five American pop-culture artifacts of our time and makes it something that will present future generations with authentic information about people and problems is that it, as many critics have hailed, holds a “mirror up to a broken America.”

The final season of the show did it’s best to answer the question of “why is no one paying attention to what is going on?” For after all, the first 4 seasons laid out in gripping detail and without hyperbole the state of the inner city in regards to the drug trade, poverty, the economy, political structures, the police force, schools, harbors, unions, public housing and city hall. No stone was left unturned and the absurdity of what occurs and what is not done to rectify and address the problems is left out in the open. The last season turns it’s scope on the media, and by proxy the average American who ends up being responsible for what the media does in fact cover.

The fact that the writers, producers and sources for “The Wire” have worked extensively as professionals in the media, city government, the police force, the school system and in street gangs gives it that finalizing touch of “realness.” The show did it’s best to wake the country up through entertainment, something that is done at moments few and far between.

Which leads me to stop with the praises for this show, as much as I could continue. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, just know that if you commit to the first part of the first season and stay with it, it will hook you and after viewing the last episode you will feel as if you’ve been entertained, learned new things and been exposed to authentic voices that aren’t always heard.

What this delves into for me is the state of journalism today. Why should art be more apt at opening a window to a world right outside of our window? Why aren’t the weighty issues and real things in need of coverage not shown to us on the TV news and in our newspapers?

A featurette on the last disc of the last season of “The Wire” focuses on several journalists associated with the show and all of them point to the myriad of problems facing journalism today. The primary problem is that journalism has become a commodity in which focus groups are tested on the reactions they have to styles and presentations of journalism in the same way that movies are tested for market value. So really, journalism today is formed for the people’s taste, preference and expectations. We are given what we want to see, not what we need to see. This is contrary to the entire purpose of news reporting. Journalists should function as a public servants by exposing truth, reporting facts and leading us to reconsider what we think and alert us to things we were in the dark on. This is what it has historically done, despite problems and lapses. Yet over the past ten years this has become less and less true; now we see on TV what we want to see rather than what we need to see, because it’s marketed as a product and for the ratings to stay up we have to see things we agree with, whether they are true or not. Americans expect news to be free, instant and entertaining. We’ve stopped buying papers, so papers force the folks who’ve spent years building contacts, researching and investigating into retirement. Newspapers then are forced to do “less with more,” which leads to an inferior product, which leads to less sales, which leads to more staff trimming until the death of the print news medium occurs. We want news instant, so we have 24 hour news networks that report and compete for ratings, thus producing news that is biased and non-factual (Fox News), openly opinionated (MSNBC) and sensationalistic (CNN). We’ve flooded the internet and turned it into a breeding ground where everyone is a reporter and information is constantly being pushed onto the world without research or fact-checking and people are free to choose what to believe without attention to what is really true.

The days of a shared news source in which we can all gather around is gone. Where people used to watch Primetime news and read the paper gathering the same facts for which they could garnish their own opinions from, conservatives tune to Fox News to rile and support their anger and prejudices, liberals tune to MSNBC to join in the process of laughing at conservatives and opinions are handed out to both groups so that no opinion is left unformed. The one valid source of ethical, unbiased journalism in America today can be found on NPR yet huge portions of Americans find it’s unfiltered coverage dull or liberally biased. I guess we’ve grown so used to having pre-packaged opinions doled out to us that when real, unfiltered news is reported we still accuse it of “bias.”

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Geek Diatribe

November 6, 2009

As always, thanks for visiting “Raging Against the Dying Light,” all dozen of you. ( : I have a lot of loose threads in this one, my main articles for November and December are in formation and so now’s the time to spew out what I refer to as a “Geek Diatribe” to touch on all the incomplete facets of interest I write about on this site. This time it’s all light too, no politics or religion!

First off, the 2009 Baseball season is over. I find it a very depressing of an end at that…I’m not a vehement Yankee hater, I have extreme love for the history of the team and readily admit the talents and watchability of most of the current Yank roster, but I always have a bit of anger over the unrestrained budget the team has to work with and the idea that they can “buy’ the championship…and the fact that A-Rod alone earns a higher salary than several combined teams. So, there’s always the hope that they will be shutdown and it will be proven that money can’t suppress the drive to overcome that thrives in the underdog teams; the Phillies would have been a much more satisfying win. But the whole thing got me thinking about the structure of the current season; it’s November, and Baseball is just now wrapping up. It’s cold, grey over much of the country and well on the way to winter. Now, I never thought I’d specify that the season should be shorter since Baseball is really the only sport for me, but the season should be shorter! It’s a spring and summer game, and the now extended season length drags it into competing too heavily with football broadcasts and ticket sales, and the game just doesn’t seem appropriate this time of year for whatever reasons. I say, start it in early spring as is done now, start the post-season in September and have the World Series the first week of October. Anyway, as many people thrive for the play-off season when things heat up, as fun as that can be I prefer two other key baseball phases—the opening game through the first two weeks of the season and the events of and games leading up to July’s all-star game and home-run derby. A lot of this ties in with many of the teams still having a shot, but just as much at factor is the time of the year and the way it perfectly fits with the game. I imagine football fanatics feel the same way about fall and February.

Item two on the geek docket is the best music of the 2000s. I’ve pretty much got the 50 picked out for albums and almost for songs, I just have to properly rank them which requires listening to them and making the call on order. It’s a compulsive geek trait for any type of list like this, but you can’t just arbitrarily throw them together. There’s a distinctive reason why item A is at 17 and item B is at 16…or at least there should be. As I was working on my list I noticed that “Paste” magazine already has their “50 albums of the 2000s” on their site. I really like “Paste” and they’ve turned me on to a lot of good music over the years, but their list was off (in my mind) on several accounts—for one thing, it’s early November, there’s still 2 months of music yet to be released. Related to that, their “Best of ‘09” list isn’t up yet—it seems fairly backward to sum up a decade before the last year of the decade. As to the selections, there’s the obvious nerd-centric private idols that the publication adores and will rank highly and mention continuously even if no one else does as highly—everyone does this, my lists are guilty of it as well. “Paste” is very noticeable for adoring a core 5 bands that can never do wrong, as is Rolling Stone and AMG and it’s interesting because these core 5 never overlap in the same regard between these publications. That’s a very signifying factor that when it comes to art and pop criticism, there is no great science. There may be general critical consensus that something new and groundbreaking is “excellent” but it often differs from group to group and certain styles and personalities latch on to certain sounds. I won’t ruin the article for you, but the #1 album of the decade for “Paste” sums up their stance and personality as a publication, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m pretty sure my “1 choice does the same thing for me, as will RS and AMG’s. Another observation on “Pastes” selections is that they was heavily eschewed towards music made by bands established in the ‘00s, with a few ‘90s bands new work thrown in but very little attention paid to career artists releasing very notable work in the decade. No mention of critically acclaimed and massively entertaining work by Dylan, Young, Springsteen, U2, etc. Jazz, Hip Hop and Blues were almost completely overlooked as well, and although Indie is a major focus for “Paste,” they’re an eclectic publication so I expected more variety. The 2000s, looking at them as a whole, may very well have produced the bulk of music that will stay with me the longest. I was a junior in High school at the beginning of the decade and as it draws to a close I’m a first year grad student working on a Masters. In between there was college, work, marriage. I’ve moved several times and grown a lot, and the music I’ve heard that’s stuck with me from each phase of this decade is formative and memorable. Granted, most of my all time favorite albums were made long before this time, but there’s something to be said for what was new and vibrant amidst the average, waiting just to be found.

On to the next one; I always cap up the year’s best in graphic art and prose– comics and graphic novels—with a top ten list at the end of each year as well. This year has been phenomenal with trend breaking literate work in Graphic Novels- – “Asterios Polyp” by David Mazuchelli, The illustrated book of Genesis by R. Crumb, pretty much the entire Vertigo monthly catalogue, creator owned and controlled titles by Jeff Smith and Terry Moore (“RASL” and “Echo,” respectively) and notable work from indie publishing houses IDW (“Locke and Keye“), Boom Studios (“The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh“), etc. As far as mainstream work, generally meaning the “big two” (Marvel and DC), it’s become clear that despite cornering 65 percent of the market and being host to millions of loyal fans who refuse to read books published by anyone else, Marvel is far inferior to almost every other publishing company, especially DC. It just hasn’t been Marvel’s year. They sell out to Disney for a big paycheck. They opt for raising the majority of their titles to a higher price point– an entire dollar more, making most of their mainstream titles 3.99, a price DC reserves for special events and “important” stories. Unlike Marvel, when DC charges 3.99 they provide ten additional pages of story as well as better paper and ink quality. Marvel heads (here’s looking at you, Joe Quesada—by the way, stay retired from penciling, your art is atrocious) originally stated that this was the result of a tighter economy and to combat mounting paper costs but later Quesada admitted in an interview that it was really because “this is a business” and they wanted to see how much profit they could make if the cost of the titles continued to go up and sales didn’t dip accordingly. To make matters worse for Marvel, their output hasn’t been good enough to justify such tactics anyway. The only really smart move they’ve done recently is re-tool “Amazing Spider Man” last year, shedding the excess titles, hiring a great staff of rotating writers and artists for it, releasing it thrice monthly and generally making it the best popcorn, fun-for-everyone-over-13 book as possible. They have even (thus far) kept it price-pointed at 2.99 and the stories from it all year have been great escapist fun. Other than that, they’ve consistently dropped the ball. Big tie-in events and mini-series? DC’s “Blackest Night” is far better than Marvel’s “The List” or whatever they’re calling it now (since it’s an ever continuing fall-out tale from last summers “Secret Invasion” which was far inferior to DC’s “Final Crisis” at that). Thor? An Eisner-winning surprisingly smart book by Stracinzski is now moving on without Stracinzki and staying at 3.99 (without the extra ten pages). Then there’s the it-just-won’t-die slew of “Marvel Zombies” mini’s that get worse with each sequel. Or dumb ideas like “Marvel Apes” or “X-Babies.” There’s the never-reveal-the-ending-to-the-mystery compost-heap “Hulk,” which gets ever more ridiculous and stopped being fun half a year ago. They were building up steam with “Uncanny X Men” each issue after 500 then lost it having each issue be part of an asinine tie in to an asinine concept series. The only other worthwhile Marvel title right now is “Fantastic 4,” while DC has been on a run with their mainstream work as well. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are producing the best Superman mini in years, “Secret Origin,” and their entire run on “Action Comics” was terrific last year. Since Batman’s death, every tie-in Bat title has been excellent., notably, “Batman and Robin,” with Grant Morrison and initially Frank Quietely but “Detective Comics” as well if only for J.H. Williams III’ impressionistic and unconventional art. “Green Lantern” and every “Blackest Night” tie in has been great sci-fi and “Wednesday Comics” was a truly original and successful idea. Of course, “JSA” has fallen off and “JLA” seems to never work, but the point is that much of their mainstream work is great and most of it is approachable and more affordable than their competitions. Most importantly, where DC has it’s “Vertigo” imprint which puts out a lot of great, intelligent adult-geared work and DC utilizes that imprint heavily, Marvel’s “Icon” imprint which allows creator funded work to be released doesn’t get nearly enough emphasis. “Criminal” by Brubaker and Phillips is back again with another miniseries, and it’s great. “Kick Ass,” is always fun whenever Mark Millar bothers to get it out (he’s late on everything lately), but what else does Icon have? And why no funding from Marvel? Why not more emphasis?

Okay, last up (and briefly) is “The Wire.” Harvard recently announced a college course that will utilize “The Wire” in its curriculum. If any show has ever been worthy of this, it’s this one. The smartest, most important and best produced television show of all time. Five seasons, so check them all out. That’s all for now.