Pissboy’s TV thoughts

Like everything, here I have done nothing. I have tried and failed or something. I began setting out to write something a la The Smoking Diaries and wound up with meandering paranoid notes convincing myself of conspiracies within the television whether they exist or not. What I do is simple. I watch them online or I rent them from the public library. Renting things from the public library now feels like a paranoid, possibly revolutionary act. Renting a season of The Wire, or Deadwood, for instance, feels like it might get you executed, I’m not sure why this is. Anyway, I watch things, I watch too many things. I watch television the way most people have a glass of wine each weekly evening and a bottle or two over the weekend. Not drinking or using drugs myself—I sobered up as a youngster in rehab and have managed to keep clean some seven and one half years—I instead opt for insane televisual life-sequences wherein I obsess with various programs as if they were my loved ones, more or less. There’s a line I’ll paraphrase here, from Robert Stone’s brilliant Children of Light, wherein the main character, Gordon Willis, a drunk screenwriter/actor/drunk throughout the bulk of the novel, has a moment of sobriety toward the end and someone who’d previously seen him at his worst, thus astonished, asks how this is possible… “Oh,” he replies (again I’m paraphrasing, the book is not in front of me but it’s there and worth several evenings if you’ve got them) “well, I watch television.” That’s more or less where I’m at. I feel OK about it most days and much better when I come across other writers willing to admit addictions to the small screen. Gordon Lish’s preface to Gary Lutz’s PARTIAL LIST OF PEOPLE TO BLEACH, for instance, features some lines about setting up a TV, and when you’re in my position hearing something to that effect is enough to keep you breathing for a number of weeks at least. Umberto Eco’s an asset in this regard, admitting a love for television and implying therein that most scholars (I do not consider myself a scholar because I’ve got to live in the world) probably have an unadmitted fondness for television. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t care. Sometimes I am addicted to whatever I’m reading. Sometimes I feel addicted to the prospect of going for long, long, long walks in anger. Sometimes, perhaps more often, I find myself addicted to the act of watching television, and it’s here that I’d like to pull that apart in an attempt to grow. My first draft here involved a bit of convincing myself of the endeavor of writing this at all, so my apologies for that, with any luck I’ll be making a weekly habit of this and thus solving all problems for all time. The following isn’t exactly an essay, nor precisely a journal, but some internet-generated gutmangle between the two.




Lately I’ve been rewatching the HBO series The Wire, created by David Simon, and largely based on his book HOMICIDE: A Year on the Killing Streets/his book The Corner, co-authored with Ed Simon, another creator/asset to The Wire/and many times inspired by the writing of Richard Price, with notable examples I’ve seen from Clockers. I wasn’t aware of influence the first time I watched the show. I’d only heard that it was the sort of thing high-minded fuckwads tend to enjoy, and thought it might be an ideal show to watch for an individual attempting to reconcile his fascination with art and literature with his fascination with hours upon hours of monotonous watching, watching, watching… afternoons spent with Drew Carey et al., afternoons the world wanted to call useless but then asserted the greatness and substances of shows like The Wire or The Sopranos. Already being a fan of The Sopranos, watching The Wire was probably inevitable, but my first few attempts were failures.

I purchased season one of the show which I’d argue is sort of a mistake in itself for someone my age attempting to ‘get into’ a TV series. First of all, friends that discuss this sort of thing are not typically going out and purchasing series at a time, they’re more likely downloading them or watching them via some streaming website and thus the immediacy and potential to fall asleep watching whatever show you’re currently inhaling is far simpler, thus from the get go my ownership of these disks containing only one measly season of such a talked-about series was fraught indeed. I watched it though, and I certainly enjoyed it. I’ve developed a theory that almost anyone on earth at this point is highly geared toward an appreciation for the run-of-the-mill cops and robber story, and while The Wire contains many of these trappings it also seemed concerned in a sociological sense with its cast members and environs, as a result I guess I’d consider myself hooked on portions of the first season, however when things shifted in season two after I purchased this and came home excited to dig in, I abandoned the show and even went so far as to throw away the first season after returning the second to the store in exchange for several films that seemed more substantial at the time. It’s a problem I’ve noticed discussed in various places when The Wire’s brought up. The set of characters suddenly shifts from being largely drug-dealers v. Baltimore Homicide Police to a mixture of the aforementioned and a slew of mostly-white stevedores who aren’t immediately shown as connected to the first-introduced characters and thus it becomes a question of whether we’re involving ourselves emotionally with a show whose characters will change each several episodes—as most Law and Order/CSI/NCIS-type programs will, always bringing in new criminals and even new police to, well, police—or whether we can rest assured that our involvement with these individuals will be rewarded more and more with the universal thirst most of us seem to have for a connectivity with characters and their narratives—something that will doubtless become important in these entries, considering it’s often the most griped-about result of TV that people can’t take their eyes away, when really it seems to me to be that they’re simply getting what people formerly received from sprawling novels and serialized tales in a much quicker, albeit typically subpar intellectually, form.

Mostly, in retrospect, I just don’t think I was initially ready to have my conception of TV subverted and shifted in a way that The Wire tends to do to its diehard fans. David Simon has managed to create a series that looks on the surface like the most banal and average American caper ever filmed, and yet with each episode an element not only of our society but our TV viewing experience is thrown just slightly off until by the end we have a program warranting the discerning-cocaine-addled eyes of one Slavoj Zizek, as well as continuing accolades for its creator and further efforts filmed and distributed where others—no matter how great—are often shut down after a single series and thrust into the annals of the internet.


Today I watched several episodes of The Wire as well as one episode of The X-Files, as I’m trying to watch the entirety of both shows this semester. I also took a walk and listened to David Simon on the Bill Moyers program and realized he’s probably one of the most advanced thinkers creating culture today. I haven’t delved back into Homicide just yet, but tomorrow I’ll have a long opportunity to read and will likely do so. Both shows—i.e. X-Files and The Wire—seem to overlap thematically quite a bit, as they both depict government forces steeped and mired in corruption and characters within said forces who are largely realistic, if not a bit dramatized and even bizarre with regard to The X-Files. I told a friend recently that I’m a much bigger fan of watching things that are quasi-popular that seem to be subversive, because there’s a great deal more written about them and you’re closer to the public consciousness when watching, say, The Shining, and drawing conclusions, than you are with something like Tarkovsky’s Stalker... I also watched a brief documentary about The Wire called ‘Tapping The Wire’ that essentially insisted it was the greatest television program ever made and anybody uninterested in it should get fucked. I think I agree with the sentiment though I’m not quite convinced it’s a greater work of art than David Chase’s The Sopranos or perhaps even some combination of Larry David’s endeavors—both of which, I should note, will be exhaustively explored in CAVEATS*, as they are extremely significant chapters in my TV watching experience.

What I think The Wire is, is the greatest politically-minded television program ever conceived, and without question the greatest Cop show ever produced in America. I won’t speak to other countries because who knows, but something tells me it’s in the running for this latter worldwide. Right now I’m in the last episodes (will finish season two tonight, in fact) of season two, where Frank Sobotka and the Greek whoremongers and drug-runners figure greatly, as well as dockworkers and the waterfront. I mentioned earlier that this was a moment where the show lost a great deal of its viewership, and I think the working-stiff element to this season is largely to blame for this; though in my mind it’s here that Simon’s understanding and appreciation for Marx come full force and the season, as a result, is one of the greatest in all the series. Sobotka is an American who’s been fucked in the face by America, a hero for everyone that drinks themselves to sleep after working shit janitorial/warehouse jobs for hours without societal appreciation or economic reimbursement adequate to the bullshit they endure. The fact that he’s being rightly convicted in a criminal prosecution throughout the whole season only further exemplifies the corruption of the American judicial system and this is perfectly illustrated when Sobotka finally retorts to the inquiries of arresting officers to the tune of they’ve completely fucked over dockworkers and that underclassed ilk for years and now that these individuals have decided (much like the previous and still significant drug-dealing project element in the series) to make their own way in this country via illegal means the government further neglects them and locks them away, unless they (another illustration of abject hypocrisy and corruption in the show/America) agree to cooperate and rat on individuals not unlike themselves to avoid jailtime and likely find themselves murdered (like Sobotka…).

I enjoy this show because it reads like a novel, and noting that, I don’t feel quite as guilty leaving it be to use the bathroom or grab something to drink between scenes because I know it doesn’t fall into typical TV trappings and instead tries to be a ‘visual novel’ as Simon himself has stated. He bemoans in lectures the distracted state of the world today, but his response to this is not to make programs long and arduous and impossible to understand without rapt attention, but to give us these bookmarks so long as we’ve got the moxie and memory to come back to the program in a timely fashion. This might explain the lack of popularity when the show was on the air. It reads like a novel and as a result the idea of being forced to sit in the same place each week with it is less appealing. Each scene drives you to want to research the thing and understand it as deeply as possible, much in the way you don’t feel guilty after finishing a chapter in a great book when you need to look something up to fully comprehend the weight of what you’ve just witnessed, let alone watching videos of authors speaking about their work and that sort of thing.


in arms kiss


* – I intend to include past reflections or attempt to reflect on past shows wherever possible, and when this occurs (I’m now 24 so ideally it will occur quite frequently, merely recording daily doses of TV sounds quite boring indeed) they will be sorted and included at the end of this “endeavor”/”thing” in a section entitled CAVEATS, because try as I might to assert an intellectual weight to my TV watching from now on, these caveats and exceptions and stints of reflective idiocy are inevitable, and thus I want some place to put them while I’ll largely be looking forward. Alright.

Grant Maierhofer is the author of various things. All of them should largely be accounted for here

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