Sunday, March 9, 2008

Farewell to The Wire

In honor of its series finale tonight, two Wire-related pieces for today. The first is Mark Bowden’s profile of The Wire creator David Simon for The Atlantic. Back in October, I wrote about Simon’s artistic vision and what I felt what his ability to challenge social conventions in his storytelling. Bowden praises the complex morality and nature of the show, but finds that its relentlessly bleak outlook avoids the nuances and contradictions of reality:

“Simon is the reporter who knows enough about Baltimore to have his story all figured out, but instead of risking the coherence of his vision by doing what reporters do, heading back out day after day to observe, to ask more questions, to take more notes, he has stopped reporting and started inventing. He says, I have figured this thing out. He offers up his undisturbed vision, leaving out the things that don’t fit, adding things that emphasize its fundamentals, and then using the trappings of realism to dress it up and bring it to life onscreen” (emphasis in original).

This has been particularly important to consider with regard to this season, which centers on the Baltimore Sun, Simon’s former newspaper. Simon is clear that the show’s portrayal of the paper is a fictionalized account, but some of the season’s themes suggest score-settling on his part. This has included thinly-veiled shots at his former Sun editors, William Marrimow and John Carroll, which Bowden describes as “arguably unfair.” Does Simon’s anger negatively affect this season, then? I’m not sure that I’ve definitively decided, though others have answered in the affirmative. Still, I think Bowden offers us a reminder to remain critical as viewers, even when we’re watching a show as thoughtful and critical as The Wire.

Secondly, NPR’s Terry Gross has a great interview from January with Michael K. Williams, who plays Omar on the show. A highlight occurs a few minutes in, as Williams responds to Gross’ question about playing a gay character:

“I would say the most fearless thing that I was able to pull off and portray as Omar on television was his openness with his sexuality, and not have that go over the top. It meant a lot to me that this character be taken seriously by my peers and by my community, and I didn’t want this topic of his sexual orientation to hinder his seriousness, and I didn’t want to disrespect anybody in the gay community either...I looked at it as an opportunity to stand out, to shine, to be that sore thumb, if you will…”

As Omar would say, “Indeed.” The way in which Willams and the show present Omar avoids any reliance on offensive gay stereotypes: “swishiness,” hypersexuality, and so forth. That is admirable enough, but the fact that Williams is using his character to spread a social message (another example) speaks volumes.

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