I’m Not Crazy!- Somebody Else Thinks American Liberalism is Victorian

I thoroughly enjoyed the HBO series “The Wire”. Creator/producer David Simon portrayed it as a complicated metaphor for the state of America- in some of the DVD commentary he apparently explains that some scene involving police surveillance of drug dealers in a housing project is about the futility of military strategy in Baghdad, or something like that- but not hearing the liberal dogwhistles, I never got that. It can be enjoyed on different levels. It’s a cop show. It’s about middle-aged alcoholics. It’s about bureaucracy in the workplace. What it’s really about is people getting lost in systems that don’t care about them, that grind them up no matter what they do- cops, dock workers, drug dealers,  teachers, reporters, lawyers, and minor politicians. Only a few top-level crime figures seem to be making things work for them.

Even while the earnest liberalism of “The Wire” is easy to ignore, it’s hard to miss. Earnest liberalism permeates American society, left and “right”. A couple of writers have made the connection that a long, serialized, socially conscious drama bringing together people from all levels of society isn’t a bold new innovation, but something that has been done before, long ago– a Victorian novel of the sort published in serial form by Charles Dickens and others. They have advanced the premise that the television series was actually based on an old Victorian novel of the same title, by the brilliant but obscure novelist Horatio Bucklesby Ogden.

Personally I find the idea of Bunk and McNulty as topcoated Victorian detectives carrying on a monosyllabic conversation- one composed of the nuanced exchange of one obscene word- hilarious. But the connection is clear. Earnest liberalism is a Victorian invention, and so deeply ingrained in our world we don’t even know what it is. The Democrats have one version, and Republicans and mainstream “conservatives” have a slightly different one. Earnest liberals look at things and are shocked and appalled. There’s no shortage of things to be shocked and appalled about, or course, but earnest liberals want to fix them. Democrats want to fix education by spending more money; Republicans want to fix education by testing students and firing bad teachers. As much as these two factions loathe each other, they share the assumption that education can be fixed. That most people are stupid, whites not excepted, most people don’t want to learn any more academically than is absolutely to get by, and that most people, whites not excepted, actually despise educational achievement goes unsaid.

Empirical realism is the foundation of not just any kind of effective action, but of sanity itself. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fix things, as long as the thing can be fixed, you know what it is you’re fixing, you know what’s broken, you know when you’re done and can tell in some way if it is fixed or not.


About thrasymachus33308

I like fast cars, fast women and southern-fried rock. I have an ongoing beef with George Orwell. I take my name from a character in Plato's "Republic" who was exasperated with the kind of turgid BS that passed for deep thought and political discourse in that time and place, just as I am today. The character, whose name means "fierce fighter" was based on a real person but nobody knows for sure what his actual political beliefs were. I take my pseudonym from a character in an Adam Sandler song who was a obnoxious jerk who pissed off everybody.
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8 Responses to I’m Not Crazy!- Somebody Else Thinks American Liberalism is Victorian

  1. Heil Hizzle Mein Nizzle says:

    You bring up some intriguing points, doubly intriguing because the wire was co-written by Richard Price. Price roads a bunch of novels about the fictional setting of a new Jersey City that was a Dickensian crucible. One of these “Freedomland” is loosely based on the story of Brenda-What’s-Her-Name who drowned her baby. If you can get his novel “Clockers” you will find it to be a brilliance literary counterpoint to the TV show in question. The book was also turned into a movie by Spike Lee, and it turned out to be one of his less crappy outings. Price also wrote “The Color of Money” as well as the coming-of-age novel “The Wanderers.”

    • I read “Clockers”, the only thing by Price I have read. You may remember years ago Tom Wolfe called for more realistic novels commenting on current society; but there are actually people writing like that, Price and crime novelists like George Pelecanos. I think I read one thing by Pelecanos years ago.

      • Heil Hizzle Mein Nizzle says:

        “The Bonfire of the Vanities” is a hoax, I believe, as is Tom Wolfe. Bukowski used to say that “Thomas Wolfe sounds like an old woman on the telephone,” and I’m inclined to believe the same thing about Tom. Price is, I believe, the best author in the history of literature when it comes to rendering realistic dialogue. A general rule of thumb is use the dialogue to propel the action, but Price flouts that axiom and takes entire paragraphs of exposition and engages you.

        On a purely genre level, I think Charles Willeford is the greatest crime novelist ever.

      • Wolfe is a better journalist than novelist but he is worth reading. “I Am Charlotte Simmons” is pretty good.

    • Exurban says:

      “Price is, I believe, the best author in the history of literature when it comes to rendering realistic dialogue.”

      George V. Higgins had some great dialogue, probably inspired by his experience as a prosecutor listening to wiretaps.

      One thing The Wire has going for it in spite of its liberalism is its fairly accurate portrayal of corrupt city government. It shows you something truthful even as it tries to tell you something else.

  2. Heil Hizzle Mein Nizzle says:

    Forgive the shitty grammar, as I am using “Dragonspeak,” which screws up punctuation left and right.

  3. Heil Hizzle Mein Nizzle says:

    For once Lee demonstrates some maturity. I haven’t seen violence this real since…well, ever. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giLbKDKeecI

  4. Pingback: Linkage Is Good For You: Truncated Moving Week | Society of Amateur Gentlemen

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