Saturday, April 25, 2009

Race Reality vs. The Wire, or, Watching Liberal Porn on Sunday Nights

The Wire is now part of the weekly viewing lineup at our house after a friend whose taste we both respect praised it as one of the finest series ever. For those who think it frivolous for this blog to devote even as little space as it does to the analysis of television and film, let me just point out that these receptacles of low-brow, mass consumer, pop culture pap are pretty much the only game in town anymore with respect to the creation and diffusion of society-defining myths. In less than a generation "Jedi" will become the 2nd largest religious denomination in England (Islam, of course, will be by far and away the largest) so what we see on the moving picture screen today may very well become our descendent's reality tomorrow.

In any case let me say that while I think The Wire is definitely quality television, I am baffled by its status as greatest series ever (a designation which I feel would much more deservedly go to I, Claudius, The Singing Detective, or Ken Burn's Civil War). Yet the fact that those hyping it the most (better than Tolstoy!) are invariably trend-setting "whiter people" (the series was in fact the impetus behind Christian Lander's blog) reveals, I think, the secret of its appeal. For when it comes down to it, what Wire admirers are really swooning over is the show's subtle but incessant multiculturalism. While not a pointedly political series, through dint of sheer diversity- its large cast of characters hail from a wide variety of racial, social, sexual (and sexual orientational!) backgrounds and are, to one degree or another, portrayed as sympathetic whether police officer or perpetrator- the show pushes the venerable liberal line that whatever the superficial differences that divide us, deep down we're all made out of the same basic, fallible, indomitable, messy, sublime human stuff.

The central preoccupation of this blog is traditionalism and at its heart traditionalism is not a politics but a basic orientation of society toward the transcendent order of the universe (truth, goodness, beauty and all that). This truth is recognized as existing outside and above man, and will defeat any of his attempts at self-deification- a self-deification which necessarily entails the perpetuation of some lie. Such lies are often rooted in egotistical, selfish impulses (greed, amoral ethnic supremacism), but are no less destructive if rooted in altruistic impulses such as pity. The racial and cultural egalitarianism that have been imposed on Western societies over the last several generations represent the latter form of untruth, and can no more escape their own ruin than any other untruth for all their supposed grounding in the cult of "human kindness". Arch-neocon Nathan Glazer, for example, famously reconsidered his opposition to affirmative action on the grounds that blacks had no other viable path to integration if social success were predicated on merit alone. In order to secure social peace society would have to nurture the kind lie that blacks were equal in their cognitive abilities to whites, and so engineer proportionate representation in all strata of society (even the most elite). Through such dissimulation America would create a caste of confident, happy, America-loving buppies who would uplift their racial brethren to middle-class respectability. Glazer's benevolent con, however, did not quite work out as planned.

The Wire, then, is no more than a refrain on tired liberal themes, and in its first two seasons (the furthest extent of our viewing, dear reader) the chief instrument of advancing such themes is the character of D'Angelo Barksdale. We meet D'Angelo early on, when police interrogators try to wring a confession from him by prompting D'Angelo to write a letter to two orphans recently manufactured as a by-product of his uncle's drug trade. D'Angelo, who is soon reduced to tears, nearly colludes in his own incrimination, showing us his big heart; the two orphans are fictitious (the murdered man was a loner), showing us the police are hardly noble and confronting us with the sort of exquisite moral ambiguity liberals just love to rub everyone's faces in.

This introductory encounter struck me as basically believable, yet the more time we spent with D'Angelo, the more ridiculously contrived his character became. Here is a series of famous quotes, ordered by increasing absurdity (which just happens to correspond to the show's narratological progression):

On corporate capitalism:
Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down to the basement and say, "Hey Mr. Nugget - you the bomb. We sellin' chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I'm gonna write my clowney ass name on this fat-ass check for you." Shit. Man, the nigga who invented them things? Still working in the basement for regular wage, thinking of some shit to make the fries taste better or some shit like that. Believe.
On the pointlessness of inner-city violence:
Why can't we just sell the shit? Everything else gets sold in this fucking country without people getting shot. Why can't we just sell it?
    On the differences between checkers and chess:
    "Yo, why you playing checkers on a chess set?"
    "Yo, why you give a shit?"
    "Now look, check it, it's simple, it's simple. See this? This the kingpin, a'ight? And he the man. You get the other dude's king, you got the game. But he trying to get your king too, so you gotta protect it. Now, the king, he move one space any direction he damn choose, 'cause he's the king. Like this, this, this, a'ight? But he ain't got no hustle. But the rest of these motherfuckers on the team, they got his back. And they run so deep, he really ain't gotta do shit."
    "Like your uncle."
    "Yeah, like my uncle. You see this? This the queen. She smart, she fast. She move any way she want, as far as she want. And she is the go-get-shit-done piece."
    "Remind me of Stringer."
    "And this over here is the castle. Like the stash. It can move like this, and like this."
    "Dog, stash don't move, man."
    "C'mon, yo, think. How many time we move the stash house this week? Right? And every time we move the stash, we gotta move a little muscle with it, right? To protect it."
    "True, true, you right. All right, what about them little baldheaded bitches right there?"
    "These right here, these are the pawns. They like the soldiers. They move like this, one space forward only. Except when they fight, then it's like this. And they like the front lines, they be out in the field."
    "So how do you get to be the king?"
    "It ain't like that. See, the king stay the king, a'ight? Everything stay who he is. Except for the pawns. Now, if the pawn make it all the way down to the other dude's side, he get to be queen. And like I said, the queen ain't no bitch. She got all the moves."
    "A'ight, so if I make it to the other end, I win."
    "If you catch the other dude's king and trap it, then you win."
    "A'ight, but if I make it to the end, I'm top dog."
    "Nah, yo, it ain't like that. Look, the pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out the game early."
    "Unless they some smart-ass pawns."
    And, now, ladies and gentlemen, on the meaning of The Great Gatsby:
    He's saying that the past is always with us. Where we come from, what we go through, how we go thought it all this shit matters. Like at the end of the book, ya know, boats and tides and all. It's like you can change up, right, you can say your somebody new, you can give yourself a whole new story. But, what came first is who you really are and what happened before is what really happened. It don't matter that some fool say he different cuz the things that make you different is what you really do, what u really go through. Like, ya know, all those books in his library. He frontin with all them books, but if you pull one down off the shelf, none of the pages have ever been opened. He got all them books, and he hasn't read nearly one of them. Gatsby, he was who he was, and he did what he did. And cuz he wasn't willing to get real with the story, that shit caught up to him. That's what I think, anyway.
    As one would expect, liberal critics have just eaten this up. Britain's Guardian gushed: "What makes The Wire truly different is the way drug dealers are characterised. Most shows prefer to simply demonise." Yet in truth The Wire is simply repeating liberalism's oldest and most discredited tropes. Liberal support of black emancipation and the Civil Rights Movement was always premised on the idea of black assimilation and the superficiality of race. Though it might take time and involve significant public investment, liberals fully expected that one day "blackness" would simply disappear as a public phenomenon and with it all of the coarse traits associated with ghetto culture. Classic old-style liberals like theater director Robert Brustein could thus innocently await the day when black actors, liberated from playing servants and mammies, would happily jump aboard interracial Shakespeare productions (with a white actor in the role of Othello, natch).

    And it is exactly such faded, 40-year old product that the "innovative" and "cutting-edge" Wire is still peddling. Scratch beneath the surface of any ghetto kid, allow for the tough exterior and colorful street idiom, and underneath you'll find a potential chess champion, or insightful social critic, or Great Books lover. All of this is about as fresh as a Norman Lear sitcom, and to be frank somewhat embarrassing to non-geriatric "advanced whites" who've grown up on multiculturalism and are acutely aware of the "culturally imperialistic" premises inherent in race-blind liberalism. To show just how hoary The Wire's "innovative" ideas on race are, consider an episode from one of Lear's most popular creations, Diff'rent Strokes. When the show's two young Harlem adoptees are denied admittance to an elitist prep school because of poor test scores, their failure is ultimately attributed to the entrance exam's cultural bias!
    Arnold: My question was even trickier, Mr. Drummond.
    Mr. Drummond: Oh, like what?
    Arnold: Like they asked me how many people could sleep in a house with 3 bedrooms and double bed in each room.
    Mr. Drummond: Oh, and what was your answer?
    Arnold: 18.
    Mr. Drummond: 18!
    Arnold: Yeah! We know people who get 3 in a bed, 2 on the floor, 6 in the coach, and 1 in the bathroom!
    (Audience Applause)

    Of course the The Wire should not be singled out for its Pollyannaish ideas regarding race and cognitive ability. The media's breathless reaction to a study showing Obama has miraculously raised black test scores through his very elevation to the Presidency is just the most recent example.

    Yet the biggest lie peddled by the show is that the inner city's violence and social decay are simply a logical reaction to the incentives of our capitalist system. "Buy for $1, sell for $2." In scenes featuring drug-ring "CEO" Stringer Bell this theme is hammered home with deliciously ironic (to liberals at least) hammer strokes. Bell, for examples, takes a community college course in economics where the lessons he learns in "elasticity of demand" and product marketing prove immediately applicable to his criminal dealings.

    The show and its liberal admirers never once acknowledges the dominant role played by savagery and unreflective impulsiveness in black culture and thus black violent crime. Real-world instances of such savagery, expressed in the form of "wilding" incidents, have been extensively documented on Auster's View From the Right. And the motivation for such incidents? Poverty? Social isolation? Or simply the impulse to "Git 'em"?:
    • A gang of black teenagers jump a Columbia graduate student and chase him into oncoming traffic, where he is hit by a vehicle and killed: "A source said the arrested boy told cops he boasted to his 15-year-old pal before attacking Yu. 'Look what I do to this one,' the teen aggressor said, according to the source... Investigators initially suspected Yu was a victim of a mugging, but began to back off that theory yesterday. 'We don't believe it was robbery,' a police source said."
    • Former San Diego running back Paul Lowe on growing up in Watts: "One night, we raised hell at a dance and on the way home we jumped this guy. He was a Negro. We didn't know him and he didn't start up with us. There was no reason for us jumpin' him. You didn't have to have a reason. It was just something to do. We knocked him down and the leader of the gang began to kick him in the head. He had on big boots and he stomped him until he darned near killed him."
    So here is a handy-dandy scorecard of Reality vs. The Wire for readers who have borne with me to this point:
    • The Wire: blacks exhibit extraordinary initiative and entrepreneurial finesse in running the inner-city drug-trade (the show frequently makes unfavorable comparisons- again, delicious in liberal irony- to their hapless "wigger" imitators)
    • Reality: Success in the drug trade depends on willingness to engage in extremely risky and dangerous activities, perfect if you're a low IQ thug with poor impulse-control and risk-assessment skills. If drugs were legalized tomorrow, who would dominate the inner-city trade, blacks or the same inner-city ethnic retailers who control all the groceries and liquor stores right now through thrift, grueling work hours, and the ability to procure cheap labor from relatives dragooned into the family business?
    • The Wire: The black underclass is just as receptive to high culture as anyone
    • Reality: Concepts such as Descartian skepticism, readily appreciated by any white 12 year old who's seen The Matrix, are often impenetrable to middle-class, college-enrolled blacks; and the "with-it" arbitrators of high-culture would as soon die as presume to impose a dead, white, rich writer like Fitzgerald on them.
    • The Wire: Inner city violence and social decay are the unimpeachably logical reactions to capitalism's perverse economic incentives
    • Reality: Blacks fight because sometimes they're just understimulated
    The dearth of conservative themes and attitudes in popular culture have lead to a certain desperation among younger, hipper conservatives, who jump at any crumbs Hollywood throws their way or else guiltily rationalize their affection for some particular instance of liberal entertainment they simply cannot help but enjoy. The Wire may have many excellent qualities, but once I saw it was based on fundamental untruths it quickly ceased to be compelling even as entertainment.


    Steve Sailer said...


    Well said.

    maxnb said...

    Do you really not understand the context of the story? The show takes place in Baltimore, so of course there will be a lot of "multiculturalism"! I am somewhat confused as to why I hear so much liberal-bashing in this blog..

    In a way it is hard to see whether the creators of the show are liberal or not. In the story we see some reasons how and why public institutions (the Gov't) fail. Is public education needed if its as bad as people make it out to be? I dont. But i do see room for improvement.

    Your critique of D'Angelo is pretty opinionated at best. He references Gatsby because he realizes that, as "good" as he tries to be, his history and identity will forever be tied to Barksdale's drug organization. Do you understand what the lines "the past is always with us..." and that "the things you went through and did are who you really are." mean now? Besides, D'Angelo was in prison, what else to do besides read?

    I am amazed at how you scoff at Bell's going to school. LIke it or not, drug organizations are no less of a business than any other. Thus, learning basic economic principles can be an advantage, especially against other dealers with little to no knowledge of business management and economics.

    All in all, I think we all must step back and really look at the whole picture and understand what exactly the creators were going for. Sounds cheesey, and i shouldnt need to say this, but blacks can have different interests and personalities just like white folk. Or did you know that already? Reading from your post, I dont think you did.