backing into it

alright, i guess it’s time to start posting again. I had envisioned doing an elaborate “What Wire Character Are You?” Quiz, but judging from how much y’all hated the prequels (which I maintain are outside of the universe of the show and totally insignificant, merely the result of some actors, writers and directors having a little fun during their last week of being together as a cast & crew), I guess I’ll skip it for now. Maybe I’ll spring it on you once the season gets going. But seriously? Nobody out there likes fan fiction? Didn’t you guys read Stephen Colbert’s bit about being roommates with Stringer?

fan fiction

Moving on.

Shoals and I were g-chatting the other day about whether or not male fans of The Wire are disproportionately represented among its critics, fans &c. in the media. I’m thinking here particularly of last year’s Slate “Wireologists” featuring the usual suspects like Jacob Weisberg (I guess he has plenty of time to watch TV because he doesn’t edit his writers ), Alex Kotlowitz, Sam Anderson, blah blah. (Don’t even get me started on their little Sopranos club of Timothy Noah, Stephen Metcalf, Brian Williams and Jeffrey Goldberg. This could easily just turn into a “What’s Wrong with Slate” blog.) And of course Matthew Yglesias is a huge fan of the show, and the House Next Door guy is a, um, guy, and we happen to know another dude who’s writing about it for the Columbia Journalism Review, and one of our own male HHers is working on something for another magazine, and it all starts to look like the show gets a pretty heavy male representation in the critical community. There are exceptions: ladies at the New York Times like Virginia Heffernan, Lola Ogunnaike and Alessandra Stanley have all written about the show; Margaret Talbot did the New Yorker profile; Rebecca Traiser and Laura Miller debated the ever-fertile Wire vs. Sopranos question on Salon. So this all adds up to… what? Is this an issue? Why does it feel like there’s so much macho media whiteboy business that goes on around the show? Am I just crazy, or missing something? And by the way, are you all totally sick of people who just discovered The Wire wanting to talk to you about how hot McNulty is? I am! I mean, I’m not an elitist, and I’m happy for them because their lives just got so much better, but it’s like, the man is hot. I know. Do you have anything else to add?

I just realized how sexist that was of me, in my post about sexism, to mock women for only being able to talk about how hot McNulty is! That’s the thing about the patriarchy: it’s totally internalized. For the record, the dudes just getting into the show are just as frustrating. It’s all, I can’t believe this Stringer fellow! Or: shipping containers!


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19 Comments on “backing into it”

  1. morewire Says:

    As far as the critic question goes, the show does lack a large number of major female characters (Kima aside). Off the top of my head, the only other major women characters I can think of are Snoop (relatively asexual), Pearlman (exists mostly as a foil for McNulty), Marla Daniels, D’Augustino, and Avon’s sister (forget the name at the moment). Interesting characters on the whole part, but Not exactly ones with the strongest storylines in the show. They’re mostly there to facilitate other characters stories.

    You might point to the Sopranos as another male-heavy show, but particularly in the early seasons, there are strong storylines built around Carmela, Melfi, and Meadow, with strong supporting storyrlines with Janice, Adriana, and Tony’s mom.

    I’m not saying that it’s impossible for women to enjoy a show focused largely on men, but people tend to connect the strongest emotionally with shows that they feel reflects them in some way. Not any mysoginistic flaw with the show, as it’s treatment of women is completely fair given the subject matter; it’s just kind of the way it is.

  2. morewire Says:

    That said, I thought Brianna Barksdale (looked it up) was one of the best realized characters from season two.

  3. christycash Says:

    Yeah, we’ve certanly talked a lot about the gender dynamics of the show itself. I guess that in some way cnnnects to who writes about it — or, I suspect, who is *asked* to write about it.

  4. Shoals Says:

    It’s a cop show that also goes to great pains to do justice to the street life. I know it’s television’s foremost accomplishment, but with that subject matter I can’t say I’m surprised that it’s sort of a guy thing.

  5. Schnanneken Says:

    I didn’t initially view your “McNulty is hot” gushers as being exclusively female–I assumed you were including the male component of wannabe McNulty emulators. After all, in Season One, McNulty boozes, womanizes and proves that he is above the law, all of which are things contemporary men are supposed to desire. Which, of course, bolsters your point about annoying male fans.

    I also think that your comments about internalizing patriarchy more or less explain the show’s largely male booster club. Women are instructed, from a young age, to prefer the uber-shininess of “Sex and the City” to “The Wire,” whereas it’s more acceptable for men to enjoy a gritty cop drama. That unspoken assumption affects everything about the show. The culture classifies the concept as “male,” which in turn feeds a more male-oriented approach in production, marketing and commentary.

    And yes, morewire, Brianna is definitely the strongest female character in the show’s history. Her short scene with Delonda in Season Four was one of my favorite moments in the series.

  6. Steve Lieber Says:

    I don’t endorse her viewpoints at all, but Urmee Khan insists the show is misogynistic:

  7. morewire Says:

    @ Steve: Yeah, hard to stand behind that view. I don’t mind if you don’t like the show, but leveling the charge of misogyny towards a product is akin to condemnation. Her main evidence for i’s misogyny is the show’s lack of interest in drawing female audiences. I wasn’t aware all fiction had to be universally appealing.

    Also, making sweeping generalizations about any show based on its first episode isn’t a great idea, particularly about The Wire. I don’t know how it panned out for others, but in my experience, I wasn’t initially drawn in by the show. Part of this was the show’s density, the pacing, etc. But when Kima was shot, I had a moment where I wasn’t just shocked by the turn of events, but by how invested I was in the characters and storyline of the show.

    Most people I know who now dig the Wire relate similar scenarios; vague interest for the first 3-6 episodes, but at some point during the seasonit just gets lodged in your brain.

  8. christycash Says:

    Whether or not its viewers are mostly male or it’s “a guy thing” isn’t really my point, though — don’t editors have a responsibility to seek out different critical voices to talk about something? if we’re going with the paradigm here that it IS a guy thing — which I am not totally comfortable with but am willing to entertain for the sake of argument — than you are assuming a world in which men and women bring different experiences and viewpoints to the same product. so wouldn’t you want the critical landscape to reflect that diversity of experience? don’t you want people of color to write about shakespeare? don’t you want men to write about chick lit? how else are we supposed to talk to each other?

    we had a lot of posts about whether or not the show excluded women last season and I don’t intend to rehearse them all now. but suffice to say that I DO think the show fetishizes male friendship and de-values its female characters to a disturbing degree. i wouldn’t charge it with misogyny but i would say it sees the world with blinders. simon & co. wanted to make a show about male experience and they did that. to hide that by talking about how “real” it is to fetishize that maleness. i accept the show for what it is, but i don’t think that it’s a documentary.

  9. Shoals Says:

    Trying to decide if “a show about male experience” is not “real” in an aggressive, offensive way, or just as a matter of fact. Like the way JSJ said to me yesterday that narrative television can only ever be so realistic, even if it’s The Wire. Does that mean it’s actively fantastic? Is that a criticism?

    I guess that’s more a theory question than a Wire one.

  10. christycash Says:

    well, i thought we had all agreed that it is a show about male experience. and the fact that it’s also shrouded in ideas of “reality” means that the “real” becomes equated with “maleness” in a way that is problematic. in other words, the idea that life in the urban city and on the corner is a male world; the idea that troubled students are male students — these ideas acquire weight in the culture because of the coincidence that the show traffics in “reality.”

  11. christycash Says:

    by which i mean to say, yes, the wire is actively fantastic. it HAS to be. because it’s fictional narrative. but the corner, which is also fictionalized by virtue of it being television, manages to feature seriously complicated and compelling women in a way the wire chooses not to. is that a criticism of the wire? i don’t know. it’s something that i think you need to be aware of or else you might forget about the other half of baltimore.

  12. morewire Says:

    If the Wire was just about the Game, would your qualms with the show’s “reality” be lessened? I can understand your feelings more strongly in that case; a view of a female student in the fourth season that wasn’t sexual (the bathroom incident) or intended as a shock (the classroom cutting) could have been fascinating. I understand that the writers wanted to integrate the boys’ stories into the overarching story about Marlo’s rise, but it seems like this still could have worked out in some way.

    With the drug and the police side of things, though, I just feel like the placement of women is appropriate to the tale. The roles and screen time and impact of Kima, Rhonda, and Beadie feel “real” to me, in my admittedly limited experience with police and the justice system.

    I still need to catch The Corner, but I’d be very interested in seeing what you think is a more equitable portrayal by the same team that did The Wire. I’ll have to fire up the Netflix queue (although I hear it’s nearly unbearably hard to watch at points).

  13. Ethan Says:

    I guess we need to be reminded that for all of the virtues of the Wire, it is a piece of narrative fiction that is borne out of the experiences of a group of white men. To me, that doesn’t minimize the achievement or importance of the show. They write what they know. But, like all art, it is imperfect. I’m sure there are many compelling stories of women on the corner and in the police ranks. However, let’s face it, they are still a minority in both places. The young black male community is being decimated in our country and while the situation is still grim for the women in the inner cities, their odds are still much better than the men (probably because they really aren’t as involved in the drug trade as the guys).

    The Wire is a brilliant depiction of institutions and (many of) the social realities facing the fringes of the modern American city. Though epic in scope, it’s scope is still limited. While it is unfortunate that women may be given short shrift, I’m still grateful that the show depicts what it chooses to focus on so damn well.

    -young white guy

  14. jdg Says:

    D’Agastino is hot.
    Snoop, while one-dimensional, is one of the most compelling characters.
    My (soon to be ex) wife likes the show.

  15. jdg Says:

    I think the answer is pretty simple–most of the critics and commentators in the media outlets you mentioned are white dudes. Let us not forget Bill Simmons. Is that oversimplifying? I don’t know. On a street level, I think male and female fans are fairly well-represented. Case in point–one of my 8th grade students last year, with whom I was able to conduct intelligent conversations about the show beyond the hottness of McNulty, Stringer, etc.

    ps. D’Agostino is still hott

  16. greenheron Says:

    I’m a white woman of a certain age and love The Wire beyond all reason.
    In the worlds of the police force, politics, and the street, men predominate in positions of power and the show would be dishonest if it pretended otherwise. (The Wire is too honest to fall prey to “African American Female Judge Syndrome, ” the television affliction that causes every bit part of a black robed courtroom personage to be played by an African American woman for no particular reason.)
    The female characters on the show are very real in their individuality, strengths, and limitations. And for hotness, isn’t Sonja Sohn right up there with McNulty?

  17. christycash Says:

    yeah, Sonja Sohn rules. I do want to say, though, that women often go to jail in great numbers for the role they play in the game. the idea that it’s a man’s game is false. check out this book:

    It tells the story of kids whose parents — including a LOT of moms — are in jail.

  18. Robin Says:

    My guess is there are plenty of compelling stories that could be written about women in the game, and women on the street. Maybe women aren’t being decimated in the sense that they aren’t being murdered but my peripheral experience as a white female living in an urban area and working as a legal assistant for appointed defense attorneys gives me a perspective that tells me that women aren’t just the wives, mothers, and girlfriends of the subjects of most of the stories in the Wire, they are the gangsters, planners, dealers, and business consultants for much of the game.

  19. christycash Says:

    i wish someone would make a show about that…

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