Here is an odd, half-year-old post on the great The Wire from the New York Times’ youngest op-ed man. Although Douthat shares with David Simon his evident sad anger at the fall of America’s (or Baltimore’s) printed journalism, it seems he doesn’t approve of how season 5 addresses it. Douthat would rather Simon had retreated in both emotional and narrative terms from the experience on which we know he drew in making the episodes. He wants the whole equation or a wholer one.
(Now there is a perplexity in that I cannot really tell from the post whether Douthat would prefer that such a retreat be in the service of jeremiad or of elegy. Does he want Simon gaily to talk up the branching fracture as if it were a matter of accident and quick setting, or to make broader an already sincere analysis, hairline crack at a time? This I will overlook.)
My rejoinder is simple. I don’t think realism works like that. Providing The Wire is realist and -istic art, to wish it would give a dissertation-strength retelling of the papers’ fall is to assume a theoretician’s role, as against that of the practising maker of television. Is it not obvious that representation has to compress? These are ancient trade-offs: the programme will gain in pungency what it loses in comprehensiveness; the chosen detail will stand for many but necessarily not most; the narrative will falsify, and falsify more at the margins, as it works the diffusion of life into a coherence that compels; and ethics, vitally a matter of case after individual case, of nuance and texture, as brought to bear upon a scenario prepared already and to other ends will seem less a set of principles behind