Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Wire, Green Card, and Unclogging the Channels of Thought

I. "lame, half-assed assumptions"

I reread my ms front to back yesterday, after a good break from it, and had to laugh:
it reads like my geography books:
facts dry enough to choke you, all wedged tightly together.

I laughed instead of cried because, while it badly needs lube, I do--first and foremost--want to get the facts right, and I trust I did. Doing the rewrite won't be so bad.

One reason I find writing nonfiction so nerve wracking is I'm terrified I'll say something wrong about some other culture's or person's reality.

I felt validated reading an interview with David Simon, creator/writer of The Wire, in which he talked about having this same fear:
"Like many writers, I live every day with the vague nightmare that at some point, someone more knowledgeable than myself is going to sit up and pen a massive screed indicating exactly where my work is shallow and fraudulent and rooted in lame, half-assed assumptions."
[Illustration from a different piece, by Austin Kleon]

And we're right to be afraid.
Assumptions are cholesterol that stiffen and clog the channels of thought.
Like cholesterol, they go down smooth.
We don't even know we've got them if we ingest the same ones our friends friends and media do.
But what are you going to do? The only way to be sure you're not speaking or writing out of those lame-ass assumptions is to stay silent. Of course we also seek out ways to mix it up, get aware, clear the channels.
I guess nothing does that like the annoyance of someone, up close and personal, with a storyline that runs counter to ours.

II. "All your ideas come from one place."

Green Card (dir. Peter Weir, 1990) is not a great movie, but it does tell a nice story of two people who annoy each other into seeing their own assumptions.

The movie's premise is that a Frenchman from the mean streets, played by Gerard Depardieu (right), marries privileged American Andie McDowell, to get a green card.
She holds the traditional liberal line about everything, while his scope is limited by personal bitterness.
She gardens with ghetto kids, he tells her it's a waste of time. Like that.

They don't like each other, naturally, and at one point, she accuses him of being right wing.
He counters,
"I'm not right wing! You are the one with the wing. All your ideas come from one place!"

All your ideas come from one place.
I love that line.

But, yeah, his ideas also come from one place, and he comes to see that too. Predictably (for a movie), they fall in love, and sadly the movie stiffens up into one of those that all come from one place.
And McDowell's stiff acting never looked worse, next to Depardieu's.
Still, it's worth watching, I think, once.

III. The Wire

Oh, yeah, so... The Wire.

The two scariest characters, LEFT, Felicia "Snoop" Pearson and Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector ), from an article about the actress/character Snoop in the Guardian, "When Pretend Is Real".

I watched all five seasons in the past few weeks and liked it a lot.
It's one, long, interconnected story, and its makers reward the careful viewer, so watching it was satisfying, like it's satisfying to read a well-crafted mammoth novel, such as Middlemarch, that follows a dozen storylines and resolves them all fittingly at the end.

I don't really have a lot to say about it. It pretty much matched my worldview:

•The race does not go to the swift, but to the lucky (Randy has lots of heart but bad luck, Namond has less heart and more luck)

•Goodness, too, is more a matter of chance than virtue (I'd say we love Omar partly because he's a good soul so we can enjoy without moral compunction the panache with which he does evil)

•Those who survive best are those who adapt best (Michael can adapt, Dukie can't)

•Humans are puny beings in the maw of our own history (as D'Angelo says about Gatsby)

•But the individual does matter, maybe, ultimately, is all that does (which Bubbles's story exemplifies... in the affirmative, for a nice change).

Probably I like it because, as David Simon said, The Wire is a Greek tragedy:
"The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no decent reason."
[D. S. interview (same as quoted up top)]

The character Bubbles reads a quote from Kafka (on youTube):
"You can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission to do so, and it is in accordance with your nature. But perhaps the holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided."
[found on a nice blog write-up, Kafka and the Wire.]

But I think a better quote to sum up the series comes from Aeschylus's Agamemnon, which does not give permission to hold back from suffering:

"He who learns must suffer
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despite, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."

["Omar Little," one of Blake Hicks's Wire illustrations]


ArtSparker said...

I can't remember who said that all intelligent women think they are frauds. Interesting, no?

Fresca said...

Ah, yes. I recognize that.

Interesting that David Simon thinks most, or many, writers feel it too...

I expect sometimes it's a sign of intelligence (an awareness of how little one can know), and sometimes it's discomfort with holding power (which women are more likely to feel).

momo said...

These are some great links about The Wire, thanks!
I did not remember that Peter Weir made The Green Card. I should watch it. He has a new film coming out; the trailer is running at The Lagoon. It looks terrific.

Ah, the writing, the writing! Getting the facts right is very important. I trust you to use your voice in your revisions.