Recent Comments

A drone's eye view
Brandon Niezgoda

We would like to think that it is something unbelievable; but as you come to your concluding point you recognize precisely, that this is something extremely believable. It is the same type of enframing (or stereotyping) that we all do everyday to manage productivity, but instead of say a Professor giving a student an F because they fit the profile of a bad student for not showing up to class, someone fits the profile of a terrorist. A brilliant use of Heidegger’s essay.

Remy Yi Siang Low

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Brandon. I like the way you tease out how the apparent “democratisation” of film making actually belies the structural inequalities built into the industry. It seems like the celebration of access to film making technologies reinforces the myth that those films that “make it” do so on the basis of merit alone, and those that don’t fail because of something intrinsic in the work itself.

Remy Yi Siang Low

Thanks for this post, Zainab, and for introducing the work of this film collective. I’m very interested in how innovative media forms can challenge the dominant representations of politics and events, and this clip along with your post has really got me thinking about the possibilities and implications of shrinking/collapsing the temporal dimension.

Brandon Niezgoda

Really, a genre that deconstructs traditional media… and of course, that mainstream media really hasn’t covered.

In my dissertation I am studying through social network analysis, the straining of ties in collective filmmaking. I wonder what the events are like, the network analysis of strong/weak ties, structural holes, etc. No doubt this takes a tremendous amount of strength from all participants.

Nathan Holmes

I’m not sure that separating issues of class from race, which is what I think you’re suggesting here, is a very useful approach. These are deeply entwined categories in American history. I think that you’re right that Simon’s work is very interested in class identity, but the forces that lock characters into their class location cannot be abstracted from white supremacy.

Yes, absolutely! The COMSTAT meetings during Season Three, along with the photos of drug corners and crime statistics, are an example of the abstractions of institutions and its bureaucracies that can pose systemic obstacles to solutions. Simon has repeatedly addressed these issues in his work (Post-Katrina bureaucracy in New Orleans as shown in Treme would be another example). By confronting these abstractions with community life and lived social space, he points to inherent tensions and conflicts and opens up (with the de-pragmatized medium of the television series) an imaginative space for working out alternative takes on urban problems. One thing about “Hamsterdam” is that its story is really told in images rather than institutional discourse: There is a dialectic between the scenes of the communities in West Baltimore (that recover once the drugs have been moved) and those set in Hamsterdam (a place that is in danger of turning into a living hell). There is also a great degree of self-referentiality involved in this: When “Hamsterdam” is stormed by police by the end of the season, we are confronted with the media frenzy that ensues. The camera lenses of journalists remind us of how this social space has been presented in the first place (and that many aspects got lost along the way). And when Rawls puts on “The Ride of the Valkyrie” as the troops are moving into the “free zone” we are, of course, confronted with a reference that gives the “War on Drugs” an entirely new meaning. This is a thought-provoking cultural intervention into a pressing social concern. But it also makes for really great entertainment.

Nathan Holmes

Imaginative indeed! I think what you’ve alluded to here is the capacity of narrative television (in Simon’s hands) to both produce certain types of social knowledge and propose experimental solutions.

One thing I found fascinating about the Hamsterdam season of The Wire was Colvin’s understanding that the physical site he created would be administratively invisible—officials and bureaucrats actually had to visit it to believe what he had done. So much of the show itself seems to be an oscillation between the abstractions of institutions/bureaucracies and what’s happening on the ground.

Nathan Holmes

Imaginative indeed! I think what you’ve alluded to here is the capacity of narrative television (in Simon’s hands) to both produce certain types of social knowledge and propose experimental solutions.

One thing I found fascinating about the Hamsterdam season of The Wire was Colvin’s understanding that the physical site he created would be administratively invisible—officials and bureaucrats actually had to visit it to believe what he had done. So much of the show itself seems to be an oscillation between the abstractions of institutions/bureaucracies and what’s happening on the ground.

Nathan Holmes

Its an interesting question, Christopher. For Newman, certainly, being able to look out of one’s window was central to the notion of defensible space, and I believe that he frames this in terms of a kind of natural territoriality.

The public housing tenants that move into these houses are monitored not only by their angry white neighbors, but also by state, in the form of various officials from the housing authority (some who become friends with the tenants) as well as the police. These scenes recall the demands and restrictions placed on those who receive public assistance, many of which are extremely normative besides being abstruse. For example, apparently smoking is prohibited in many public housing sites today! The forms of social welfare offered in America are frequently paired with the disposession of privacy. By relaying this, interior space takes on a different quality in the show - the dignity of the home is clearly conveyed but so too the porousness of the walls and doors.

Thank you for sharing this, Nathan. Your post reminds us that David Simon engages in a kind of virtual redevelopment of American urbanity in his work. The first and third seasons of “The Wire” as well as the second and third season of “Treme” dealt with similar issues and can be read as a critical portrayal of segregation and development programs that do not take into account the complex frameworks and histories of the local communities. Next to the McCulloh Homes mentioned in your post, another good example would be “Franklin Terrace High Rises” that featured prominently in the opening season of “The Wire.” Modeled upon housing projects that once ringed Baltimore’s inner-city, but that were torn down under the Clinton administration, “The Wire” shows how these areas turned into urban ghettos with capital investment and job opportunities moving out of the inner-city. Simon is thus keen to root his storylines in contemporary urban histories, while inviting his viewers to discover the lives behind urban fronts and affected by planners’ maps.

It would be interesting to compare Simon’s urban topographies both in terms of their defensibility as well as their “surveilability”. Particularly in Season One of “The Wire”, images and photos seen through CCTV cameras are employed to introduce the viewer to the inner-city area, especially to the drug trade in the so-called Low Rises. Initially used by the Major Crimes Unit to get an overview over the workings of the drug networks in this area, the degree of abstraction offered by the maps and photographs is confronted with the community interactions portrayed in the remainder of the series. In this particular scene from “Show Me a Hero” the aspect of surveillance also seems at stake, if only in a private framework of being able to watch the children play on the lawn, to see who passes by etc. Would you say that this dyad between looking in/looking out is also thematized in “Show Me a Hero”?