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The Wire and the “Why?” Error of Christianity

I’m off to give a lecture at Pacific Union College for the Visual Arts department. I’ve titled it: Beyond Bored with Good and Evil: HBO’s The Wire and the “Why?” Error of Christianity.

Here’s a taste:

I’ve divided this argument into three parts. The first will center on the Platonic idea of diegesis. Second, I will look at how The Wire deploys diegetical tropes to tell about the city of Baltimore. Finally, I will examine how this cinema/television narrative device shifts the question of “why do bad things happen?” away from individuals or the supernatural. Instead this post-millennial town why-er draws our attention to the moral effects of human institutions. A theodicity.

In turning the city into the main character, through the personalities of institutions – the police, business, the drug trade, elected officialdom, family, the schools and the media – the narrative of The Wire connects to a telling question, if the city is the protagonist, what’s the antagonist? Humanity?

Can a city tell a moral story? After 410 CE, Saint Augustine wrote the City of God. The full title is actually The City of God contra the Pagans. Written after the sacking of Rome, Augustine constructed a narrative of good vs. evil to answer the question of the Roman world. Why had their city, their institutions, their natio, their empire, failed?

Politicians cooking crime stats for higher office, school administrators teaching test questions to vindicate No Child Left Behind, sensitive prosecutions and investigations being undercut for political motives, brutal drug wars fought amid a police department’s ignorance of and indifference to the forces involved — wrong, but these persist.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche tells us that “from every point of view the erroneousness of the world in which we believe we live is the surest and firmest thing we can get our eyes on”. Philosophers are wrong to rail violently against the risk of being deceived. “It is no more than a moral prejudice that truth is worth more than appearance”. This mediated simulacra is a place in which all truth lies.

And as a coda, I’d like to think with you about how we film and television artists/scholars can employ the tools of the medium to get beyond the broken media “why” error of good vs. evil. Instead, how do we Christians create an aesthetic past sheep or goats? In part, we can tell the truth that lies everywhere via a diegetic imagination.

Any fans for The Wire out there?

If you haven’t watched the most critically acclaimed TV in history, you may not get some of what David Simon is talking about below. Nevertheless, I’d be curious to hear what people think of his pessimism about America and the near future of humanity.

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