City hall everywhere
I’m counting the minutes til next Tuesday, because I’ve been deprived of salacious, tacky, nonsensical network television: Cheaters, reruns, Secretos Houston, my beloved Marvin Zindler, driven away by utterly demoralizing state and congress election spots. Sure, Texas hasn’t had the most attention drawn to its fucked up ads, and our ways of talking about and representing race on political terms aren’t straightforward enough to truly shock the nation, but they’re pretty major nonetheless. (Houston’s dear mayor appears in a bond rally ad, snarling “Criminals, we’re coming to get you!” [read, “Go back to New Orleans”]) This season of The Wire, tugs at the guts of idealized citizenship in ways that sad kids and bad crime in your own, real city can’t, and goes so far as to reiterate the day- to- day dissociation that’s necessary for anyone to follow state politics in response to their own lives. The most active part of this better thinking is engagement with a campaign, or with a campaign’s representation.
Carcetti’s mayoral bid on The Wire is of course, not just about city government, but it does a good job making us understand how we buy into it. The average tv watching citizen of a major city can recount council and commissioner antics in a way that’s like any other treasured tv drama, give some schoolyard, exaggerated firsthand involvement. When I met the city archivist of my hometown last year, I annoyed him by asking for dirt and the definite answers on councilors like I was trying to catch up after missing a couple of seasons. I’m not just trying to point out that in cities, local news functions as entertainment, but that city politics, as The Wire shows so well, imbed themselves in our experiences, and give us a reason to actually care about how where we live works. They make us forget that politics are beyond our grasp.
The Wire showing us the mayoral race’s, and city hall’s, and the police’s actual political workings shows the bridge between the city politics we all think we know and the upper level stuff we think we don’t. State politics are where functional concerns get too complicated to follow as a narrative, and where party machinery convinces us that what matters isn’t shitty schools, shitty jobs, bad air, bad water, potholes, race, class and community, but morals, airport regulations, toll roads and industry ties, as indicators of leaders and governance. State elections stop being about race, even when race is THE emerging issue in your state, and when an intrepid candidate wants to address it, forget media coverage. If Jesse Jackson comes to Houston to campaign for the Dem running for governor, it’s an unremarkable blip. It’s purposefully un-coincidental that The Wire runs a mayoral race as centerpiece this season, because aside from the DC primaries, and Adrian Fenty’s current status as DC’s real life, beaming Carcetti, the only other US cities with 2006 mayor’s races are Louisville and San Jose (That’s Kentucky, and California, respectively.)
The Wire’s politicians are its least politically charged characters, and as was pointed out before, the school is an emotionalized bundle of national touchpoints, from the misappropriated textbooks to mini-Gitmo in the basement. I ‘ll take believable heavy handedness though, because any television supposedly “about politics” is either ineffectual escapism or just insulting. The West Wing, which was a paternalistic, watchable, better White House, wasn’t a political show at all- which makes it weird that its successor , Studio 60 is essentially “what’s overtly wrong with this country” with Amanda Peet and everyone’s 2nd favorite Friend. If the next season of The Wire is, as speculated, about the local media, do you think we’ll be served less scorn?