Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore: When Fiction is More Real than the News. The Wire Instructs

Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland 

Okay, you knew it was coming.  Baltimore is burning. How do we understand it? This is not what you had in New York or Missouri--the mayor in Baltimore is Black  and the police in Baltimore are predominantly Black. 
NPR interviewed local citizens and they all said the hatred of the police has nothing to do with race. They said, in their own way, the cops are seen not as people who protect and serve but as men who harass and abuse. and David Simon, who did the most thorough and insightful study ever done of an American city, "The Wire," says the troubles stem not from race but from the "Drug War," which has given full license to any Baltimore cop to do anything he wants, and a lot of those cops have, to put it mildly, a "mean streak," or, to put it more bluntly, they became cops because they are sadists and wanted a free hand to abuse people. 
           Police are now driven by "statistics" and what that means is the old cop who walked a beat on a street and stop to chat with people in his neighborhood, who could then go back to his friends in the neighborhood when someone got shot and expect to be told by his local friends what actually happened--that cop no longer exists. The cops out there now do not walk among the citizens--they drive by in their cars with the windows up, with the computer going and they have to write a certain number of summons a day and that means they have to dream up some crimes and pin those on locals. 
          They do not stop and chat; they stop and frisk.
          Police careers are now built on statistics not community relations. As Howard Colvin, the quintessential good cop, says, "These statistics, these numbers, they just ruined this job."
          They ruined more than that.

Street Cred
Anyone who watched all five seasons of "The Wire" knows exactly what is happening in Baltimore right now and why and understands all the forces and dynamics of psychology, personality, anthropology and sociology driving the otherwise incomprehensible scenes you see on the nightly news. 

You can also see what fools the news media types are, as they hardly bother to ask the people on the other end of the microphones actual questions, but simply state their own, ignorant assumptions about what the story ought to be rather than what it is.  The evening news: the clueless instructing the uncomprehending.

They are asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. 

One of the most satisfying things about great literature--which "The Wire clearly" is--it allows you to look at the world and  see through the tangled woof of fact to the truth, to see a scene in a way which you could not possibly have seen it before the experience of assimilating that literature.  So, you read Animal Farm and you can never hear a Communist say, "all Workers are equal" without hearing in the back of your mind, "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."   Watching the police, the mayor, the governor, the deacons, all the institutional representatives speaking into the microphones before the cameras now  and you've seen and heard all this before, courtesy of David Simon and company and you know what it all really means. 

In one great scene, from the 5th Season, you are watching a City Hall press conference on TV in the offices of the Baltimore Sun and as the Mayor says something like, "We are first and foremost concerned about public safety, about protecting neighborhoods and ensuring the safety of all our great city's wonderful citizens," and an editor in the group narrates the subrosa, true translation, "We are first and foremost concerned about how this riot affects my job security and we wish to Hell we could beat these scumbags into a bloody pulp and dump their bodies where they'll never be found."

So, we are seeing played out in Baltimore exactly what David Simon showed us must happen, given the dysfunctional  institutions and the misapprehensions of elected officials and the alienation of private citizens. 

When you have children growing up without parents, or worse, with parents who prey on their own children to support their own dissolute lives, you've got Baltimore dystopia. You are watching some completely clueless white reporter giving you his  understanding of why these people are acting they way they are acting and predictably, he is simply making the story up as he goes along. 

 Many people have tried to watch "The Wire" but could simply not keep watching. It is pretty depressing and although it is one of the funniest series ever to appear on TV, the humor is very dark.  Truman Capote tried to write a "non fiction novel," In Cold Blood . David Simon succeeded in accomplishing that goal--using the freedom fiction affords, he gave us a clearer picture of the real world of Baltimore than any non fiction work has ever done. 

 Some Jeremiads are prophecy:It was all there, if only more people had listened. 

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