Friday, March 14, 2008

Farwell to "The Wire"

For the last few years a TV show on HBO called 'The Wire' has run its course and came to a completion last Sunday night. While the show never had a popular following like others on that cable network (like The Soprano's and Sex in the City), it did receive a loyal cult following over the years.

I won't get into the all the specifics of the program but over the years the show documented an ongoing criminal investigation into the illegal narcotic trade on the streets of Baltimore Maryland. Once I became a fan of the show in the first season I read many articles saying the depiction of the investigation and the life on the streets was basically spot on with the reality of real life.

The Wire was a drama but it never seemed to be overly dramatic, it always seemed real to me. The writing and the vast array characters made the show. Sometimes the story line was so involved, so intricate, I had to thank the god of invention for creating the DVR just so I could skip back to watch a scene or two over and over again until it all made sense.

There were five seasons of the show in all. Each season brought something new to the story, a new element if you will. The first season was about cops and street thugs. Season two the story shifted a bit to labor union dock workers and some ties to the drug trade there. Season three welcomed in big city politics in the mix. Season four was the most heartbreaking of all, in my opinion, because a good portion of the story brought us into the classrooms of the public school system in the inner city. It tugged at the heart strings because if there is even a shred of accuracy depicted from that storyline, then something drastic needs to be done otherwise it is a shame and a sham to call the school system 'public'.

The kids the writers introduced to us were still in the school system, but the street life was beckoning and tragedy awaited a good portion of the characters.

They put the lid on season five last Sunday night but the new element introduced in that last season was newspaper reporting. I suppose that was fitting since the creator of the show used to be a reporter for the Baltimore Sun newspaper. The Sun went so far as to let the show use the actual name of the paper and, as I understand it, the property where the reporters work to do the filming.

Now I'm not going to bore you with my take on everything but I did find an interesting blog post the other day that covers the relationship of the paper media with what was depicted on the show. I think it summarizes things in a way that might say a few things about our own local paper media.

Here is the blog post from Extreme Mortman.

How fitting that in last night’s “Bonfire of the Vanities”-esque finale of David Simon’s “The Wire” on HBO, grizzled Baltimore Sun city editor Gus Haynes makes a reference to Tom Wolfe.

In Wolfe’s sprawling big city drama, the people on top — no matter how crooked or how lying, and no matter whether their stated purpose is to do the public good or harm — always finish on top. In “The Wire” conclusion, the ending appears upbeat — lots of smiling faces, lots of individual accomplishment, peppy music. But the folks who succeeded are, for the most part, crooks and liars.

The point was driven home — actually, bludgeoned home — by the Sun paper winning a coveted Pulitzer Prize, for essentially knowingly lying. David Simon has the paper winning an award for public service that they most certainly did not deserve. That comes after Haynes, in a newsroom rant, cites journalistic luminaries Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass.

The irony is that today, in real life, newspapers are being done in by the Internet, by bloggers. In Simon’s “Wire,” the Internet is acknowledged — but it’s not the reason for the newspaper’s black eye. It’s their own fault. It’s trampling on the truth, and disinterest in fact checking if it means missing a prize.

There’s an old media anecdote that reporters are told: Your mother says she loves you? Check it out. And there’s the oft-told line that a New Yorker fact checker once made a call to verify that the Empire State Building was, indeed, still there.

In last night’s “Wire,” all of that good public will that newspaper have fought long to build up came crashing down. Not through disgrace or firing, but through an award. Actually, a silly award.

Yes, Tom Wolfe deserves his shout-out. And old media deserves its Simoniz.

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