The founder of Stuff White People Like mentions in this interview (HT: Steve Sailer) that the idea occurred to him as he and a friend were wondering why more white people don’t like The Wire and ‘wishing’ more white people did (‘wishing other white people liked X’ being a favorite ‘white people’ pastime, of course).
This threw me for a loop because my honest impression is that ‘white people’* love The Wire. Or at least they love talking about how much they love The Wire. They love to say things like “The Wire is the greatest television show in history” even if they are in their, like, 20s and cannot possibly be sufficiently familiar with a sufficient number of television shows to make that statement. If they have a blog, they love posting – repeatedly – sometimes more than once a day – with post subjects like “Wire-Blogging: ____” or some variation – about The Wire, how they love it, how it’s the greatest television show, what it proves about politics, what it proves about economics, what it proves about the universe, etc.
(cf. Matthew Yglesias)
You’d just think the author of Stuff White People Like would know that.
Because as we all know, and as the blog has so ably documented, ‘white people’ like proving that they aren’t racist, figuring out what’s best for poor people (and by implication black people), etc. The Wire embodies so many of these ‘white people’ aspirations in one tidy package: if you watch The Wire then you are automatically hip to the problems of the inner city, and have demonstrated that you are comfortable around black people (at least in TV-character form). I always assumed this was pretty much the only reason anyone would watch The Wire (which is a truly miserable, depressing, irredeemable show2) in the first place.
Speaking seriously for a moment though, the one thing I do wonder about The Wire is why it escapes being called racist. (Indeed, I even hear that actual black people like it – not that I would know.) This is a show in which the majority or at least plurality of characters are black criminals. Of those black criminals on the show who are not violent, the majority are addicted to drugs and essentially purposeless in life. A huge percentage of the black family life it portrays is dysfunctional. Conscience seems to be lacking even among characters we are meant to approve of, relatively speaking. Among the more successful black people we see, most of them are self-seeking if not corruptly swindling politicians.
Overall, in content The Wire resembles nothing so much as a horror show featuring ‘black people’ (as opposed to zombies or vampires) as the monsters. Transport a Klansman from the early 1900s and force him to view The Wire and he would surely see it as more than a vindication of all his worst nightmares and most racist thoughts. All defenses/apologia for the show seem to consist of solemnly declaring “But that’s reality, man. That’s the way things really are.” But doesn’t this only make it worse? Stepin Fetchit is considered a racist stereotype; what if, on top of that, everyone went around gaping at how “real” he was?
Yet ‘white people’ tune into this thing every week and pat themselves on the back for the racial awareness and progressivity it endows them with. How can this be? If this thing were produced & funded by David Duke it would be recognized as vicious propagandistic anti-black slander. So I suspect it escapes the racism charge because The Wire is made largely by ‘white people’, David Simon and HBO (rather than being made simply by white people). This would also explain why Simon insists on having black cameramen, etc.; he needs to demonstrate that it’s not made by white people.
But that’s just a working theory.
*‘white people’ here denotes the subgroup of people that is the implicit subject of the blog Stuff White People Like, not white people in general.
2I’ve seen every episode of The Wire through Season 4 and will probably dutifully watch Season 5 when it comes out on DVD, like all other ‘white people’.
UPDATE 3/12: I was right!
Matthew Yglesias complained that he was running out of “strategic patience” when it comes to the military contingent that the U.S. currently has stationed in Iraq. This sort of complaint always bothers me to the point of irritability (cf. my sarcastic comment in that thread), but it’s difficult to articulate why. I think Postmodern Conservative comes close to boiling it down to its essence: “Iraq Is Money”.
Matthew Yglesias, and people like him, including possibly you, are complaining almost exclusively about money, when they complain about Iraq.
But so why does this bother me so much?
Reason 1: Quite often, the people doing the complaining – about money – have no tangible reason to complain. I feel fairly secure in asserting that Matthew Yglesias, lefty blogger/commentator with a book coming out soon, is doing just fine, financially. The money that the U.S. government has spent on the occupation of Iraq has not affected him in any tangible way whatsoever. Yet he is “impatient” over it. There is a disconnect here. Indeed, for most of the people out there fond of complaining about the Iraq military contingent, their actual finances in their actual lives are not suffering in any measurable way whatsoever as a result of it. It’s basically an entirely hypothetical concern.
Reason 2: There is a mismatch between what the “anti-war” faction likes to say (and tell each other) they are complaining about (war = bad, the suffering of our soldiers, etc.) and what, it often seems, they are actually complaining about (money). Sure, it need not be an either/or proposition, but the problem is that no matter how bad or well the occupation/counterinsurgency is actually going, they will always fall back to the “but we’re spending lots of money” complaint. This gives the impression that even if the occupation were going near-perfectly, they’d still complain about the money. But in that case what’s the point of discussing how well Iraq is going at all? It’s still going to cost money and ‘money’ remains on the “anti-war” faction’s laundry-list of grievances. In a very real sense, it’s their baseline complaint. But the reason this grates is because they always posture as having nobler concerns – peace, love and understanding, and all that good stuff. But corner one of these people and try to pin down exactly why the Iraq occupation bothers them so much and chances are you’ll end up having to follow their logic down a twisty path that starts with how much money we’re paying, proceeds to how this puts us into debt, meanders vaguely to the idea that interest rates will have to go up, and culminates in an observation such as this will affect their mortgage because it’s an ARM, thus he might end up having higher mortgage payments in 2011 or something. (Yes, I have actually had this conversation with someone.) In other words: take a guy who’s posturing as having selfless peace-loving concerns, squeeze him a little bit, and what oozes out, frustratingly often, is a stinky dollop of self-centered spoiled-brat self-regard. Seriously, we are supposed to urgently abandon the Iraqi government (which requests our military presence) because some upper-middle-class lefty software programmer (or, prominent lefty blogger) is worried about….hypothetically having a higher mortgage payment later?
Yes, Iraq is money. But so many of the people who complain about the money we are spending on Iraq are among the most financially coddled, secure and comfortable people in the history of the world. I believe it is appropriate to discount their concerns accordingly. In any event, the idea that I am supposed to listen to their complaints with a straight face really tests my patience.
Going in to work on the weekend. Fun times.
The ironic/infuriating part is I had virtually nothing to do 90% of the time this past week at my BS long-hours job. So of course, I learn on Friday that they ‘need’ me to come in on the weekend because of their emergency (=other peoples’ incompetence, or worse). The open question is whether they will ‘need’ me to actually do anything, or just to show up to prove that my boss’s boss can throw his weight around. I put it at even money.
UPDATE (Sunday): It was the latter. Going in again today. Same reason.
Sergeant Dehaan was comfortable with his mission in Iraq and the flaws of the Iraqi Police he was tasked with training and molding.
“I prefer these small and morally ambiguous wars to the big morally black-and-white wars,” he said to me later. “It would be nice if we had more support back home like we did during World War II. But look at how many people were killed in World War II. If a bunch of unpopular small wars prevent another popular big war, I’ll take ’em.”
Sounds about right.
I’m always perplexed by the media’s apparent need to remind us that a war is “unpopular”. The implication being, I suppose, that popular wars are the ideal toward which we should all strive, thus a war being “unpopular” is relevant (and, a criticism).
But what the heck is a “popular” war and is that something to be desired? Is a “popular” war one in which we all go around telling each other “Dude, I’m SOOOOOO glad we’re fighting this war, this is totally awesome, I hope we keep doing this war like FOREVER.”
Would that be better?
Wars aren’t supposed to be “popular”, any more than cancer treatments are supposed to be “pleasant”. Also, I suspect it’s something of a Hollywood myth that, for example, WW2 was somehow “popular” as it was occurring. (Much of our warfare expectations have been unhealthily warped by Hollywood movies, from John Wayne to Star Wars.) No one would count it as newsworthy that one’s cancer treatment was “unpleasant”. It certainly wouldn’t be a good argument for ceasing the treatment. By pushing the “unpopular” line, the media (and, to be sure, the anti-war faction) create a false impression of warfare – that we’re supposed to enjoy it, and if we’re not, that’s bad.
This is, to say the least, an ironic stance to take when it comes from supposed peace-lovers.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: depalma, lithgow, movies, raising cain, sheila
Sheila brings up overacting. I agree with her on this:
i think meryl streep is best when she’s over-the-top in comedies
Because my favorite Meryl Streep performance ever (almost by default, since it’s really the only one I can say I’ve consciously liked, as opposed to endured) was a hammy ‘Jewish mother’ in something called Prime.
Sheila’s post links to a longish discussion of over-the-top performances. I’d like to nominate John Lithgow for a Lifetime Achievement Award. Some might say he deserves it for his extended 3rd Rock From The Sun performance alone, but many fans of that character may not realize that Lithgow established his over-the-top cred way before that.
Lithgow had a rather impressive run of Needlessly Super-evil Villains (with or without Needlessly Fake British Accents) in cheesy action pics like Ricochet and Renny Harlin’s (soon to be sequelized?) Cliffhanger. For a while in the ’90s, if you needed a cheap but convincingly over-the-top evil villain, Lithgow was the go-to guy in my book.
I’m so evil even the other bad guys think I’m evil.
But for his crowning achievement, there was Brian de Palma’s so-bad-it’s-brilliant Raising Cain:
I’m not crazy! I’m the one that’s crazy!
Other career highlights (as if we needed any more):
- reprising the William Shatner (!) role in the “monster on the airplane wing” segment of the Twilight Zone movie
- the Footloose preacher who won’t allow dancing
- many more I’m sure I’m leaving out.
Is John Lithgow over the top? No. He got over the top long, long ago and started back around. Pretty soon we’ll hear him coming up on us from behind. With a fake British accent, which we won’t care is fake. Because he’s that good.
Handy tip to keep in mind if you ever watch Death Wish (1974) for the first time: The criminals are the guys that can’t stop wiggling around.
In the Death Wishiverse, normal law-abiding people stay relatively still (sitting, or walking in a fixed trajectory), whereas criminals bounce/shimmy/hop/skip/galavante around in wild, unpredictable paths. Slaloming around subway-car poles, touching everything, touching each other, whispering in each others’ ears. Writhing. Like the zombies in 28 Days Later or the dancers in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, of which they are clearly precursors in all their skinny Jeff Goldblum speed-freak glory.
In fact, Death Wish is probably best understood as a dance piece.
I make this note because without this viewing tip, Death Wish would simply go over your head as you miss its depths and subtleties. You’re welcome. Let’s hope that the Stallone remake will adhere to this useful motif.
You can’t tell from this still photo, but I assure you the guy on the right is the criminal, because of how much he was wiggling leading up to this moment.
Meet STAROCK: “the only band in the world to use a projection TV set as an actual band member”!