The wire and the world: narrative and metanarrative
Sheehan, Helena and Sweeney, Sheamus (2009) The wire and the world: narrative and metanarrative. Jump Cut, 51 (Spring 2009). ISSN 0146-5546
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Rarely, if ever, has a television drama constructed a narrative with such a strong thrust to metanarrative. Its intricate and interwoven storylines dramatise the dialectical interaction of individual aspirations and institutional dynamics. These build into a story of a city, not only the story of Baltimore in its particularity, but with a metaphoric drive toward the story of Everycity. Every character and storyline pulses with symbolic resonance radiating out to a characterisation of the nature of contemporary capitalism. While the text itself does not name the system, the metatext does so with extraordinary clarity and force. David Simon, the primary voice of this collective creation, has engaged in a powerfully polemical discourse articulating the world view underlying the drama.
This paper will explore that world view. It will examine how specific plots open into an analysis of the social-political-economic system shaping it all. It will moreover argue that The Wire has demonstrated the potential of television narrative to dramatise the nature of the social order, a potential that has long been neglected or inadequately pursued in the history of television drama. In probing the parameters of the intricate interactions between individuals and institutions, The Wire excavates underlying structures of power and stimulates engagement with overarching ideas.It bristles, even boils over, with systemic critique. While it offers no expectation of an alternative, it provokes reflection on the need for one and an aspiration towards one.
Indeed some commentators have raised the question of whether The Wire is a marxist television drama. While David Simon has explicitly stated that he is not a marxist, the question remains. What would a marxist television drama look like? It would look very much like The Wire, this paper contends.
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