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The Wire

Now that I've actually seen the episode, a few thoughts. Nation-building in Hamsterdam continues to have some problems. The narrowly allegorical point to make would be that when a project is undertaken under false pretenses, you wind up with no margin for error, and mishaps that wouldn't necessarily derail an endeavor that had been undertaken straightforwardly can throw yours into disarray.

More broadly, however, one sees a series of conflicts between moderates and hardliners -- between cops in the Western District, between Avon and Marlowe on the one hand and Stringer and Prop Joe on the other inside the game, and in a sense even between McNulty and Freamon inside the unit. It's possible that the City Council subplot will somehow converge with this thematic content. Note, however, that some unexpected sources of convergence are also emerging. When the State's Attorney asked the FBI for help with tapping the burners, the Bureau said no, but was sure to mention that their two top priorities are counterterrorism and political corruption. And, of course, we know about the kind of constituent services that Stringer's been getting.

My boy Omar, meanwhile, continues to survive. Can one man stand against the entire Barksdale crew? Seemingly not, but considering the amount of trouble Marlowe's already given Barksdale and the way Avon and Stringer lost the battle for hearts and minds by breaking the Sunday truce, who knows....

November 24, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

And Brother Mozone is the intervening outside player that might decisively turn the course of events. Iran?

I think the only thing that's crystal clear with just three episodes left is that, unlike the first two seasons, much will be left hanging for next year, which hopefully means they've already gotten the OK from HBO for a re-up.

Posted by: rd | Nov 24, 2004 2:26:31 AM

I must be honest with you, as opposed to all the lies that I usually tell you: I think your Iraq metaphor sucks bigtime. If it was like Iraq, the cops would occasionally shoot and kill the residents of Hamsterdam all the while claiming to "liberate" them and show them how a "democracy" works. If it was like Iraq, there would be one all powerful Saddam-like leader not a decentralized crew of entrepreneurs. If it was like Iraq (or possibly Afghanistan), then the cops would take over the crack trade, keep the deals within the family and tell the world with indignation that this has nothing to do with our desire to make money off of the lucrative crack trade. If it was Iraq, the very cool cop who's trying legalization would be filmed shooting Omar's grandmother at the church. So, how can I say this, this is NOTHING like Iraq, in my humble opinion.

It is about the drug war. It's not a fancy pants metaphor (that you probably got from one of those fancy pants rhetoric profs of your'n at that fancy pants school with their fancy pants book learnin' and I've worn out my fancy pants putdown methinks..), but it accurately portrays what the show is about. Now the Sopranos: that's about the Bush administration. It's clear as day...

Philip Shropshire
www.threerivertechreview.com
www.majic12.com

Posted by: Philip Shropshire | Nov 24, 2004 6:00:19 AM

I actually do think the Sopranos is like the Bush administration and tangentially (Like that fancy pants word East Coast elitist? Maybe I could go to one a' them fancy pants...oh I must stop.)the underrated Woody Allen film "Crimes and Misdemeanors" in that it answers the question: How do people live with the evil that they do?

Answer: Pretty damn well.

Posted by: Philip Shropshire | Nov 24, 2004 6:04:52 AM

"When the State's Attorney asked the FBI for help with tapping the burners, the Bureau said no, but was sure to mention that their two top priorities are counterterrorism and political corruption. And, of course, we know about the kind of constituent services that Stringer's been getting."

Bullseye.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 24, 2004 8:04:46 AM

Philip,

What kind of allegory would you have re the drug war? It's already a show about the drug war. That's like saying Animal Farm would still be an allegory if it were called The Rise of Stalin. Maybe, maybe it's just a cop show, but I think the evidence is pretty strong.

No reasonable allegory has 1:1 correspondence—that's not entertaining or illuminating (we already have one war in Iraq, after all). But insofar as the Iraq war allegory applies:

1) If it was like Iraq, the cops would occasionally shoot and kill the residents of Hamsterdam all the while claiming to "liberate" them

My thought is that the show is still in the winning hearts and minds phase. It could still work out, it's just extremely unlikely. And when the place explodes, between Officers Carver and Herc you're not going to be lacking in police brutality.

2) If it was like Iraq, there would be one all powerful Saddam-like leader not a decentralized crew of entrepreneurs.

Maybe. Though I think one point of critics of the Iraqi insurgency in its early stages was that it was not the hand of Saddam at play. Stringer Bell? He's orchestrating the criminal element, though his own criminal focus seems to be limited to trying to wax, and getting waxed by, the city. (Probably someone could work some UN Oil-for-Food program knocks in on this point.

3) If it was like Iraq (or possibly Afghanistan), then the cops would take over the crack trade, keep the deals within the family and tell the world with indignation that this has nothing to do with our desire to make money off of the lucrative crack trade.

This point about Iraq/Afghanistan, Petey highlights. Officer Carver was willing to hide a body/scandal to preserve Bunny's vision; it was comical that Bunny said that he'd take full responsibility even as he planned to make the criminal side find some rat to take the fall. The noblesse oblige and cutthroat qualities of the Bush administration are preserved.

It obviously can't be a slim, efficient allegory, since it's still a show with its own entertainment and plot consistency goals. Hamsterdam, though, corresponds to well with the flypaper theory/hearts and minds aspects of the Iraq war to be ignored. I hope that they do the insurgency, too, because that would be cool to watch.

Posted by: Kriston | Nov 24, 2004 8:55:49 AM

More importantly, I think the city system is going to defeat Cutty and thrust him back into a major role in the Bell/Barksdale circuit. I hope that he opens the gym and becomes some sort of neutral-aligned figure for the drug community, maybe an information clearing house or what have you. It seems like the city would have to be inconsistent efficient in order for Cutty to get his gym established, or his preacher friends would have to be inordinately powerful and benevolent, neither scenario being one I see coming about.

Posted by: Kriston | Nov 24, 2004 9:02:48 AM

"Officer Carver was willing to hide a body/scandal to preserve Bunny's vision; it was comical that Bunny said that he'd take full responsibility even as he planned to make the criminal side find some rat to take the fall. The noblesse oblige and cutthroat qualities of the Bush administration are preserved."

The Iraq war can't be won militarily. The drug war can't be won by police arrests.

That's the core of the allegory, but things start breaking down quickly after that.

Unlike any American leadership in Iraq, Bunny is an enlightened ruler, and that's a crucial break in the resemblence. Giving the dealers Hamsterdam is the equivelent of the Americans giving the provisional government to Sistani right after we went in.

---

I'm not saying there aren't echoes between Iraq and Hamsterdam. And I'm not saying these echoes aren't interesting and worth comment.

But most of the resemblences are reasonably superficial, and have less to do with allegorical design than they do with the similar counter-insurgency roles of the military in Iraq and the police in the drug war.

A show like the original Star Trek had much stronger explicit allegorical ties with Vietnam and the Cold War than The Wire has with Iraq.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 24, 2004 10:26:32 AM

Maybe so. Still, Hamsterdam is highly unrealistic and presents some huge logistical problems on its own as a plot point—the press never finds out about this? other police never find out about this?—and this thread would seem to be a divergence from the no-frills realism of seasons 1 and 2. The Wire qua allegory is more successful than Star Trek because the former has more mimetic possibilities beyond the allegorical. Until ST developed its own coherent narratives about Klingons and Romulans, all it was was this space version 50s America.

Posted by: Kriston | Nov 24, 2004 10:40:41 AM

"Hamsterdam is highly unrealistic and presents some huge logistical problems on its own as a plot point—the press never finds out about this?"

You may get your wish very soon. It almost came apart this week with Hauk dropping a dime to the papers.

Part of what makes Hamsterdam interesting is how tenuous the whole thing feels. Cutty's conversion feels rock solid in comparison.

"Until ST developed its own coherent narratives about Klingons and Romulans, all it was was this space version 50s America."

I'm at fault for bringing us this far afield, but ST had the allegorical advantage from the get-go of being about American liberal expansionism/imperialism encountering foreign cultures we had to struggle to understand and deal with...

Posted by: Petey | Nov 24, 2004 11:12:29 AM

If Hampsterdam is Iraq then the 'invaders' are the dealers who moved in and run the place entirely for their own benefit. I think it's a lousy analogy. And the more I try to perceive parallels between this show and current politics the sorer my head gets.

Hampsterdam is potentially more useful as a critique of the connivance between capitalists and the state. But as much as I love the Wire I don't feel the need to invest it with any kind of allegorical supermessage. The producers have said that the theme for this season is redemption, which we can see most clearly with Dennis, but maybe Prez is in line for a touch of that too. (Prez is a lousy street cop but seemed to have found his strengths on the tech side of surveillance.)

Has anyone else missed Bunk?

Posted by: Thayer | Nov 24, 2004 1:02:40 PM

As far as the Sopranos goes, I always thought that Little Carmine, the son of the Brooklyn mob boss Carmine Lupertazzi, was a rough pardoy of Dubya. He's the none-too-bright scion of a powerful family who is manipulated by some of his father's old cronies into a war where he's clearly in over his head.

Then there are the malapropisms: "We're in a fuckin stagmire here," and "Tony's a very shrewd man. Very allegorical."

Posted by: Ghlade | Nov 24, 2004 1:39:36 PM

Count me in in the Bunk missage...some of my favorite scenes are McNulty & Bunk.
Interesting role-reversal in re McNulty and D'Agostino. She treats him like he treats other women, and *he* doesn't understand *her* job, etc.
(I think McNulty's swagger fits him, y'all think it's over the top? Really?) Now that I know DW is Aussie, I can occasionally hear little Aussie vowels, but his accent is most amazing.
I think I'm going to have to think over the west Balmer/ Iraq thing before I comment on it.

Posted by: chicating | Nov 24, 2004 3:49:16 PM

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