Mark Athitakis’ interesting but ultimately flawed examination of the failings of Season 5 of The Wire (“What Happened to Our Show?” 2/1) misses on several key points, the first more egregious than the second.
The first concerns the rhetorical construct of Wire-good and Wire-bad, which is ultimately a false distinction. The Wire has always been concerned with how people are affected by and react to the social forces and institutions that they face. There has never been any room for stark good vs. evil distinctions, instead only a range of effects and reactions. To take one example, we know that Marlo is a sociopath, without remorse or pity. However, Marlo is the terrible pinnacle of the range of forces documented on the show: economic decay, failing schools, the ravages of drugs, violent crime, and the rules of the street. He has reacted to and been shaped by these forces in a particular way. Similarly, Omar is neither inherently good nor bad; rather, he is an actor within a certain sphere, staking out a territory within the “game” as it presents itself to him. The same argument can be made for the majority of characters on the show.
There are no similar forces shading most of the newsroom characters. Templeton is not fabricating stories as a result of budget cuts; these simply hinder oversight and distort the paper’s incentives. Templeton is a fraud because he is an overly ambitious, conniving opportunist, characteristics inherent to him as an individual. Similarly, the old guard newsroom staff, such as Gus, the intellectually and morally superior editor, are not presented as products of some paradigm but are instead innately good and superior. There is no story in the newsroom that explains that these people are also reacting to the institutions they face, just like the dealers on the street. Instead it is an exercise in overly simplistic, heavy-handed didaction.
The second failing in Athitakis’ analysis is not confronting the obvious departure from verisimilitude that previously had been the show’s hallmark. While the economic realities of traditional journalism, or city hall, or the police department parallel reality, the serial killer plotline has led us on a diversion that cheapens the show. Simon has previously been able to advance the plot and present his story not at the expense of believability and reality; in fact, these characteristics have been some of the most rewarding and treasured aspects of the show for viewers. The creation of the rogue serial killer, serving as it does as a mechanism for Simon to examine the police budget crisis, the paucity of journalistic oversight, and McNulty as a character construct, does so at the expense of the show’s previous commitment to authenticity.
The 1/18 Show & Tell column (“Brick and Mordor”) fails to recognize the ascent of thriving, independent record shops in the D.C. area. I opened my store, Red Onion Records & Books, on the corner of 18th and T Streets NW, in December 2006. My store has been well-received by local community members as well as by other indie record store owners in the neighborhood. In fact, given our geographical proximity, my store along with Crooked Beat Records, Smash!, and Som Records have revitalized a corridor of excellent music shopping. New and repeat customers show their appreciation for the unique merchandise we carry by contributing to our livelihood and success. I’m proud to have opened my store in this vibrant and supportive independent business community.
While it’s true that the increase in digital music has impacted the landscape of music production and distribution, records will never go out of style. According to a recent feature on CBS Sunday Morning, records are making a comeback. Some bands are intentionally selling their releases as records instead of as mainstream, digitally produced files. It’s a way to have ownership and control of how people come to listen to your music. The sound quality is much better too. As a longtime record collector, that’s music to my ears.