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The Wire (2002–2008)
Mikkel Jensen

This chapter examines why The Wire is structured in a seemingly pessimistic manner. While several critics have argued that this serial is both bleak and systemic in its portrayal of contemporary society, this chapter argues that it is useful to understand these textual elements as building blocks in The Wire’s attempt to create a coherent and consistent political argument. Had The Wire been structured as a more uplifting and redeeming story, the systemic nature of its societal criticism would be undercut and the serial would not embrace the logical consequence of the politics it espouses. This politics connects to how The Wire rejects the trope of the lone outsider as having the potential to make a difference. The chapter argues that deromanticizing this outsider figure is an important part of the show’s politics, and the chapter shows how this aspect is tied to The Wire’s ‘sociological gaze’ in which all social phenomena are seen in relation to each other. The chapter also examines how The Wire tackles the issue of deindustrialization and shows how the serial’s second season emphasizes class over race as a focal point in its depiction of the American city. This analytical section connects The Wire’s depiction of deindustrialization to the challenges that many American cities have faced especially since the 1970s.

in David Simon’s American City
Treme (2010–2013)
Mikkel Jensen

This chapter examines Treme’s more uplifting take on the American city compared to the one The Wire offered. Taking issue with the bad press New Orleans faced after Hurricane Katrina, Treme’s celebration of New Orleans is a very specific historical comment but it also counters a longer tradition of anti-urbanism in American cultural history that extends back to the eighteenth century. Though Treme shows New Orleans to face severe problems in the 2000s, the show emphasizes the importance and vitality of the city. Its depiction of New Orleans charts the city’s numerous challenges in the wake of Hurricane Katrina but the tone never becomes despondent and Treme remains an homage to New Orleans in particular and the American city more broadly. Exploring Treme’s response to the negative discourses that persisted after Katrina, the chapter discusses how the serial explores a dynamics of insiderhood and outsiderhood. Through different characters and storylines, the serial tries to show how a struggling city – like New Orleans at this point in history – needs outsiders to take an interest in a city’s culture and survival. But the serial emphasizes that the nature of this interest is of crucial importance, warning of the dangers related to pigeonholing and disaster tourism.

in David Simon’s American City
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Mikkel Jensen

The conclusion drives home the argument that the city is the central through-line in Simon’s serials and also analyzes Simon’s two miniseries that do not focus on the American city: Generation Kill (2008) and The Plot Against America (2020). By calling back to several analytical arguments about each individual serial, the conclusion outlines how Simon’s oeuvre coheres as a whole. The conclusion shows that while Simon embraces a progressive representational politics when it comes to race and gender, the politics in his serials do not center on representation. Simon focuses more on social-historical issues like the crack epidemic (The Corner), deindustrialization (The Wire), Hurricane Katrina (Treme), residential segregation (Show Me a Hero), and economic marginalization (The Deuce). These are the central issues in Simon’s depiction of the American city.

in David Simon’s American City
Author:

David Simon’s American City is the first comprehensive study of showrunner David Simon’s productions, devoting a full chapter to each of Simon’s series. The book examines the much studied The Wire but, crucially, also looks beyond this serial in order to explore the other aspects of urban America that Simon has presented in serials like Show Me a Hero and The Deuce. Zooming in on Simon’s depiction of urban realities in contemporary American society, the book explores how each of his serials offers distinct takes on the American city but the book also shows how Simon’s works articulate a sustained and intricate exploration of urban problems in America. This volume traces the urban through-line in Simon’s work and shows how his oeuvre coheres as a whole in its exploration of current social issues in the American city.

The Corner (2000)
Mikkel Jensen

This chapter explores how Simon’s first miniseries, The Corner, humanizes drug-addicted inner-city residents. Invoking certain discourses about urban issues in order to counter them, The Corner employs both realist and melodramatic impulses in its depiction of marginalized Baltimoreans. The chapter examines this aesthetic while also uncovering how the miniseries uses elements of self-reflexivity to preempt potential allegations of it being melodramatic in a pejorative sense. The chapter also discusses how The Corner’s depiction of the inner-city underclass evades long-standing arguments between conservatives and liberals in America. Contextualizing this aspect in relation to political disagreements about issues regarding structural causes of social maladies and the role of individual responsibility, the chapter shows The Corner to emphasize the importance of understanding social ills in a broad societal context but it also discusses the negative cultural effects that sometimes arise in certain areas that house large portions of a society’s most marginalized citizens.

in David Simon’s American City
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Mikkel Jensen

The introduction establishes the book’s main argument, namely that the central through-line in David Simon’s oeuvre as a showrunner is the American city. The introduction also outlines the book’s contextualist approach, which emphasizes the fruitfulness of seeing Simon’s serials in relation to each other while also uncovering how Simon’s productions speak to current themes in American society and culture. This contextualist approach is informed by the methodological writings of intellectual historian Quentin Skinner.

in David Simon’s American City
Show Me a Hero (2015)
Mikkel Jensen

This chapter examines how Show Me a Hero uncovers some of the historical background that remains implicit in The Wire. While The Wire shows the interconnectedness of different social issues (e.g. the war on drugs and the state of inner-city schools), it does not dramatize how the situation it portrays came into existence. Show Me a Hero historicizes Simon’s depiction of the American city by looking at the historical roots of residential segregation. Focusing on the real-life case of Yonkers, New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this miniseries reimagines how the history of the civil rights movement can be expanded beyond the classical civil rights narrative that is usually set in the South in the 1950–1960s. Drawing on current historical scholarship that extends the civil rights narrative into the period after the 1960s, the chapter explores how Show Me a Hero offers a televisual intervention in an ongoing debate about racial realities in America with a specific focus on housing.

in David Simon’s American City
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The Deuce (2017–2019)
Mikkel Jensen

This chapter examines how The Deuce extends Simon’s interest in the historical roots of the American city. Showing how The Deuce explicitly tells a story of gender inequalities, prostitution, and the emergence of the pornographic industry in the 1970s, the chapter explores how the serial more broadly chronicles New York City’s transformation since the 1970s. The Deuce portrays a pornographic industry in which female directors are able to make a name for themselves, but the serial consistently emphasizes the road blocks they encounter when trying to establish themselves. The chapter explores how the serial’s portrayal of gender issues is tied into economics realities and how The Deuce contextualizes these issues in the urban reality of 1970s New York. The chapter makes a central contextualist argument by situating The Deuce in relation to two major shifts in the 1970s that still frame American society today. Economic policies shifted to the right, abandoning Keynesian economics in favor of more fiscally conservative economics, all while politics regarding gender, race, and sexuality gained a stronger hold in terms of setting the agenda for America’s views on many cultural issues. The Deuce’s exploration of gender issues (as a form of ‘cultural politics’) and its relationship to the economic exploitation of the women in the porn and sex trade industry (economics) represents Simon’s and George Pelecanos’s way of exploring this paradigmatic shift in American history.

in David Simon’s American City
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If nobody speaks of loneliness rooms
Sean Redmond

In the conclusion, I draw together the diverse themes and threads of the book, situating it within my own creative practice. I look to celebrate the ordinariness of loneliness while recognising the unequal forms and formations that it materialises from. I reflect on the journey of the project, on the rooms it visited, and the stories that it was gifted. I conclude by demonstrating the power of creative practice to better understand the contours of loneliness.

in The loneliness room
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Loneliness in cinema
Sean Redmond

There is a long history of exploring loneliness in cinema: it is found in genre filmmaking such as the melodrama and science fiction, in social realism and modernism, and in the work of auteurs such as Wong Kar-wai and Lynsey Ramsey. One can periodise loneliness in cinema, as Kolker has done when looking at the failed masculinity of urban dwellers found in 1970s American cinema, and films such as Taxi Driver. Loneliness is also aesthetic, crafted into the high and low, inner and outer, spatial metaphors of city films, and is given sonic agency, since loneliness can be heard as a cinematic scream in the dead of the night. There are age and gender markers to the way loneliness is played out and signified, where loss is carried through aging transformations. As the book’s participants observe, cinema itself is a loneliness room: people go there to experience isolation, to be alone, and the theatre of cinema calls forth the expressions of privatised experience. In this chapter I chart the way loneliness is fictionalised in contemporary cinema, drawing upon such films as Under the Skin (Glazer, 2004), Her (Jonze, 2013), Red Road (Arnold, 2006), Ghost World (2001, Zwigoff), and Lost in Translation (Coppola, 2003). I also explore the lonely video work supplied by the participants, seeing and hearing cinematic ‘sirens’ between them.

in The loneliness room