Thursday, April 30, 2009
Krzys asked us why we thought that middle class white kids liked NWA so much. I said that both Bob Dylan and NWA have an authenticity thing going. I didn't actually mean to answer the question, I just needed a vehicle to say that once I thought of it, so I tied it back in. Ha. In fact, I mostly had stuff to say about Bob Dylan.
But anyway, the extent to which Bob Dylan tried/succeeded in being authentic is pretty impressive. We studied him a lot last semester in history of rock music. Rock'n'Roll was in full force in the late 50's. While a couple folk musicians gained popularity (Guthrie, Pete Seeger) then, it was Bob Dylan that brought folk music to the mainstream in the early 60's. The folk music revival coincided nicely with the civil rights movement in New York at least, Bob Dylan writing about it often.
The authenticity part comes in because of how folk music changed rock music, which is mostly lyrically (at least, that's the relevant part. It worked stylistically also, of course). Folk brought activism and politics into rock music at a time when mainstream music had always had banal lyrics about puppy love and throwing parties. This mingling came later, though. When folk being popular was a new thing, folk musicians sought to separate themselves as much as possible from rock music and it's falseness. Fans and musicians dressed differently and opposed any poisoning of the authenticity of folk with rock influences (why Bob Dylan plugging in at the festival was such a huge disaster at the time).
The ironic bit of all of this, of course, is that stating rules and boundaries for folk music is somewhat contrary to the heart of the genre and rather inauthentic inherently. Theoretically, it would be about pulling influences from wherever felt appropriate, but that attitude in music didn't come until later.
This post seems pretty off-topic, so I'll backtrack to NWA and the Wire:
I see a common thread between the authenticity of Bob Dylan and that of NWA. In both instances, it's a little hypocritical (Bob Dylan will not ever really be on the receiving end of racism; NWA aren't quite as on the streets as you might guess), and in both cases, they were using authenticity to make popular a genre of music which contrasted the current mainstream. Bob Dylan brought folk out against rock, NWA brought gangsta rap out against... well, everything wholesome. AND lyrics/message were a huge factor in both!
As far as the Wire goes, it's not a musical artist of course, so that comparison is out the window. I do think it shares the slight hypocrisy in that any television show created for entertainment isn't going to be totally realistic, much like any real gangsta is not going to be in a recording studio. The idea that it's creators are ex-cops and such lends it some credence, though. The "lyrics" of the show, much like NWA or Bob Dylan, are pretty revolutionary. I think the dialogue is one of the strong points in the Wire, both for authenticity and entertainment.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Throughout the Wire, there were references to games being associated with children (The Nursery rhymes and the scenes of children playing games.)It seems (let me try to explain this), the idea of a game plays such a big role in our lives, that we begin learning it as children, and perfect it by the time we are adults. At least how good you are at it determines your success. It seems like the concept of games is like the concept of eating. If you can’t eat, you die. There are different ways of eating, different things to eat, and different ways that eating can go wrong. The game, an essential piece of life, but I guess not all games are bad. It is when the games go bad that it become a problem, a cancer that must be removed at all costs.
I feel this album fits with this class. It is easily the most vulgar and grimy of all the works we've looked at. The Wire is realistic in its crudeness so I hardly find it offensive and I doubt reasonable people would find it so. Banned from the radio and venues, the NWA sound blazed from the streets causing many who do not understand the culture uneasy. The inclusion of this work is only qualified in the sense that it was a hot hot issue about twenty years ago.
If this class was just about what could be considered literature then I would be hesitant to include NWA. Well, maybe just not in the good literature category. Straight Outta Compton's importance stems from its place in hip hop history as an originator. Actually, I've always wondered why every music magazine that made a best albums list since so and so year always placed Straight Outta Compton so highly while hip hop focused magazines never acclaimed it as so.
NWA featured one of the most prominent rappers of the 90s (Ice Cube) and one of the best hip hop producers ever (Dr Dre) but it never seems to exceed exceptional. Ice Cube is easily the best lyricist and his delivery is leagues above anyone else in the group. Dre's work is before it develops until his fantastic G Funk style. If we were to study a truly phenomenal rap album like Illmatic, Ready to Die, Madvillainy, or Reasonable Doubt and numerous others, then I think I would have been more excited when I saw we would study several different works in different mediums at the beginning of the year. As it stands, I think Straight Outta Compton is a fine work to study in this course due to its nature and historical importance
Like I posted in my other blog, I wasn’t impressed by N.W.A when I first listened to their album. They just sounded like the same ol’ rappers rapping about the same ol’ things. However, just to explore the possibilities I asked my boyfriend about them since he is more knowledgeable about rap in general. He said “I don’t even want to explain N.W.A to you ‘cause you won’t understand. They were the real O.G’s.”
By this he meant that the group members in N.W.A were “real” and what they rapped about they meant and probably had done—unlike most of the rappers today. They were drug dealers in Compton, and not just the kind that sell weed here and there. Basically, they were legit. Knowing that, I can see the value of studying their songs more now. They weren’t rapping about topics that sold, they were expressing their world or at least how they saw it (like Sam commented on my blog). Their raps are a way of reasserting their power—the cops might have the law on their side, but they have the freedom to disregard the law and are willing to suffer the consequences of it. Catchy lyrics like “Everwhere we go they say [damn!]/N W A's fuckin' up tha program” says two things to me: They realized they were rapping about taboo subjects and they played by their own rules. N.W.A’s group members were fearless of the law and it’s consequences. If someone disrespected them and broke their rules, their solution was simple—kill or seriously hurt that person. (“The police are gonna hafta come and get meOff yo ass, that's how I'm goin out”) And even if they did get caught, they wouldn’t be held down for long. (“And if I ever get caught I make bail”) I’m not sure how many people they actually killed, but that’s the message they send. And, they sent this message through catchy songs that had even the white middle class listening to them. Using the police and the illegal activities that they do as topics for their songs is the ultimate slap in the face for the law. It’s almost like they tease the law by confessing to their crimes, knowing that the police wouldn’t be able to arrest them for it. In this sense, N.W.A played by their own rules and won “the game.”
Lolita's subject matter is shocking. It is disgusting, but it is beautiful. It is about a child molester. When we took a closer look, we found molestation is not what the work was about. It is about the way it was written and the prose. Lolita is unusual subject matter that will not produce piles of cash, but did because it was executed perfectly.
Bob Dylan has an unusual voice. Simon Cowell, American Idol Judge and Expert on all things good, said that Dylan has a terrible voice. It is his lyrics that make the music worthwhile. Anyone can have a nice singing voice, but few can create poetry and social commentary in their lyrics. He is a success and is one of the most respected musicians, but for all practical purposes, his voice is not the norm of beautiful. Dylan commanded attention despite his imperfections.
NWA's subject matter and language is offensive. It gave voice to injustices and an underrepresented sector of people. They aren't offensive for the sake of being offensive like so many rappers are. Like the other two, they present their views in a way that is not mainstream. They cannot be compared to their contemporaries only. They have to be examined on thier own merits.
We are assuming Bob Dylan and N.W.A. acknowledged the existence of everyone else’s “rules” and “game.” What each album drives home to me is that both play by rules in a game of their creation. Neither artist agrees with the Rule imposed on them, so they disrespect these rules and want to implement their own. When something is broke, fix it.
Dylan lyrics and N.W.A. lyrics rebell against their current situation instead of offering Active Ideas for changing this current situation. Both have Anger Igniting lyrics and themes, but few of their songs offer solutions. Season 1 of The Wire similarly failed to offer any proactive solution. I’ve heard rumors there is more hope in Season Three, but we only watched the First.
There’s not a very poetic or exciting way to put “go to Law School and work to enforce anti-corruption legislation” or “work with community organizers to make an alliance with your local police” into a song. Nor are either of these solutions very RocknRoll/Hard or even effective. The music and The Wire are good to get amped up, but their main focus is not on being constructive. They are more instructive; they draw attention to problems and leave the audience searching for the solution.
It is much easier to passively accept the Game and Rules we are dealt. But, shouldn’t we constantly seek the optimal Game? The Rules should be fluid and allow for change. The Wire, Highway 61 Revisited, and Straight Outta Compton all call us to challenge our current Game.
The first and most striking aspect of Bob Dylan’s lyrics is that they are neither predictable nor typical. In so many songs today, especially popular music, there is a definite conventional formula that is followed and I do not think Bob Dylan ever fell victim to the prescribed formula. However, despite his songs’ originality, they are all still very catchy and gained mainstream success. Dylan is the perfect example of a genuinely talented individual who has fairly earned his title.
Another part of Dylan’s appeal is that the audience can actually feel his brain churning and creating all sorts of innovative and interesting phrases. After reading the lyrics to the album, it undeniable that this is a crazy talented artist and for me, it is difficult not to get caught up in his thought process. In Ballad of a Thin Man, he incorporates “F. Scott Fitzgerald” into the lyrics. Even if Dylan’s lyrics were completely meaningless and unenjoyable, I think people would have still taken note of him, simply because of his novel writing style. Not only does Highway 61 Revisited take on a completely inventive, unpredictable new formula of music writing, but that new formula is amazingly good.
"Some musicians curse at home
But scared to use profanity
When up on the microphone.
Yeah, they want reality.
But you wont hear none.
Or they ban my group from the radio.
Hear nwa and say hell no!."
N.W.A. makes a point to break the limits of censor ship, and this album changed the way that rappers rapped, as this was one of the first to use a lot of profanity and violent language. So you might say that they had quite a few "novel ideas"
As for Bob Dylan, I would say that you can study almost everyone of his songs as a poem or a piece of literature. I don't think his lyrics were as controversial as N.W.A but his style and music were revolutionary. As for loving him or hating him I don't know why people hate him so much. I have heard a lot of different responses but I don't know, I personally like Bob Dylan a lot. He changed the way people thought of Folk and Rock by combining them, and upsetting a lot of people and I think for that he does plays his own game with his own rules.
I think we can, but for different reasons.
Since part of the title of this class is 'banned books' I think we have a lot of reason to study N.W.A. Though it's not a book, this album has had a lot of controversy and songs like F--- the Police never even made it onto the radio like Rachel was saying. In this way I think it is beneficial to study something like music that has been banned and be able to compare it to how it is similar/different from banning a book.
The other half of the title of this class is 'novel ideas' and I think Bob Dylan has a lot of these. His material isn't really controversial like N.W.A.'s but I think his ideas are really unique and insightful. His lyrics are read like poems. I don't have to listen to his actual singing to appreciate what he was trying to say. (Though I do enjoy the music quite a bit). I would consider Bob Dylan's songs to be literature.
N.W.A.'s lyrics on the other hand, to me aren't as sophisticated. They are pretty crude and mostly straightforward. I don't read their lyrics as literature. To me one must actually listen to the music to get the effect of N.W.A., without it I don't find any interest in what they are saying. It's just like someone complaining a lot about life.
These artists are different. I think they're both good to study in our class but for these different reasons. They have different aspects that make them good.
I always feel a bit out of place listening to hard rap and Dex always feels a bit out of place listening to folk/blues /Bob Dylan. Essentially, they are both defying authority in a way that is not at all subversive or subtle. This is what makes for FCC panic. I'm not going all conspiracy theory on you but it is so interesting that in the history of censorship and banning, most if not all had some sort of social commentary that defies the status quo. In defying the status quo, those in power are shown in a new light, a light that exposes the game they are playing. Yeah, drug dealers play the game, white suburbia plays the game...oh but politicians that's a whole new ball game. Kryzs told me once that all stories need to be told, otherwise that's where censorship comes from, stifled stories. Never has this statement made more sense than when I listened to Highway 61 revisited and Straigh Outta Compton.
The Wire tells us we are all players in a dangerous Game. Why is it dangerous? Partly because we are not in control of either the rules or the other players. How does N.W.A. play the game? How does Bob Dylan play the game?
Applying the theory that “the game is dangerous because we are not in control of the rules or the other players” to N.W.A., it follows that their game is dangerous because they cannot control the laws that govern their land, the market that sells their music, or the other players: government officials, police, their competitors in the rap game, record label executives, drug dealers, and all the women only interested in them for their money.
So now that we know why N.W.A.’s game is dangerous, how do they respond? They play by their own rules. They sell, use, and rap about drugs, in spite of the rules set out by the law. They rap about fighting back against the police, attempting the redefine the rules on what players of the rap game are allowed to do. Their album was and is very controversial, ignoring the traditional rules on what subjects rap could discuss. They openly criticized the police, drug dealers and users, and the materialistic nature of American society and the music industry. Instead of watering down their music to make it onto a big label or increase sales, instead they recorded tracks about the importance of free expression (“Express Yourself”) and against censorship (“Parental Discretion iz advised”) and formed their own record label to distribute it. N.W.A. are important as artists because of their insistence on saying what they wanted to say, “’Cause [they didn't] give a fuck about radio play”.
[Yeah yeah, I didn’t answer the part of the question about Bob Dylan, but hey this a blog post, not an essay. I play this game by my own rules.]
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
This song had a huge influence in the 80's after its release, but it continues to thrive. It is covered by Rage Against the Machine, not for racial tensions, but for more police injustice in Philadelphia. The lyrics "a little bit of gold and a pager" show up in The Cool Kids song of the same title, referring to this influential song.
The song came out before illegal downloading of music, so it had to be bought, then shared. It did not appear on the radio, yet its message was heard and influenced a generation of not anti-authority thoughts, but pro-justice.
P.S. I blogged a little late because I went to see The Hannah Montana Movie- how far away from NWA and Bob Dylan could I possibly get?? :)
“From a kid to a G it's all about money”
This idea, expressed as a line in “Dope Man”, is a recurring theme in both Straight Outta’ Compton and The Wire, and if you extend it broader, to Highway 61 as well. All three works deal with the idea of people being products of their environments, and America’s material society forcing people into roles. And in Straight Outta Compton and The Wire, we also see how inner city youth are forced into crime because they have no other option.
But to get back to my original intent of focusing on Straight Outta’ Compton, one thing I recurrently noticed was N.W.A.’s rejection of the material splendor that is the subject of so many stupid, stupid, recent rap songs (Let me buy you a drank?). Even in the middle of the brutal objectification that is “Ain’t tha 1” Ice Cube offers “You shouldn't be, so damn material/And try to milk Ice Cube like cereal”. Assuming that the first line wasn’t added solely to rhyme with cereal, Ice cube reveals that he is actually arguing against the material nature of the world he finds himself in. And when Dr. Dre adds “But chu know it ain't all about wealth/As long as you make a note to, express yourself”, we see that indeed, N.W.A. seems to be the antithesis of what much of rap today is about. Sure they’re cocky and seem to have about 15 different words to rhyme with “gat”, but they’re actually trying to send an artistic message, in their own way. They argue against the way our material society puts focus on what makes money rather than what is new and original, which is in itself, a refreshingly new and original topic for rap, even 21 years later.
As several people have pointed out, there seem to be repetitious themes throughout NWA's songs, such as murder, sex, drugs, and the rest of that good stuff. I haven't closely read the lyrics of even half the album yet, and I'm already a bit tired of this subject monotony.
There is one line in "Straight Outta Compton" that really struck me, though.
In the third verse:
"...straight outta Compton
Is a brother that'll smother yo' mother
And make yo' sister think I love her"
I think it's interesting that Eazy-E compares murdering someone's mother and breaking the heart of someone's sister as if the actions are equally as grave. I sort of have to respect a person who believes that romantically deceiving a naive girl is equal to killing someone. It shows a personal honor code (the Wire!) that, while deviating from the conventional, has no tolerance for deceit and betrayal. While NWA may be involved in drugs and murder, they have a high regard for loyalty and to some extent others' emotions, which is an aspect that I think could easily slip by most listeners.
Dylan and the N.W.A. seemed to come from two different angles. Dylan’s songs connected with the human emotion, but its approach was mellow, and I am not sure if it was because of the tone, or the softer language, Dylan made you think, but it did not hurt. N.W.A’s F. The Police for me was the strongest piece in the album. This is what they are going through, but they expressed so much anger through their language and their beats, that I was hard to listen to.
The use of language in Straight outta Compton reminds me of the scene in the Wire were McNulty and Bunk figure out the crime scene just using the F word. It has always been hard for me to see why curse words are necessary. I have always heard that when people curse words, it is because they do not have a good enough vocabulary to express themselves better, but the Wire made me think twice. What if those curse words were precise enough to get the message across? Imagine “F. the police” being played on the radio with all the curse words bleeped out. In this form, I think we can all agree the song would be destroyed. Never the less, I would like to know what exactly makes curse words wrong, and if there are times when their use is acceptable, or if their use will always be a scandalous move.
Once you really get to listening though, it's not funny. There's not much humor in the very sad, and very real, situations that they are rapping about. Who doesn't remember Rodney King? This is serious shit, and we all know that. And yet we continue to chuckle innocently.
It's almost as if we don't really think that they are justified to say these things, and so it's laughable, and, in turn, censorable. I think this fits in nicely with the Wire (like a few other people have noted). We've been so conditioned into viewing criminals and the police as a black and white affair that we fail to realize that there are good and bad people involved on both sides.
I don't know anyone from Compton, but I bet if I did they wouldn't think Fuck Da Police was funny.
Even the toughest, hardest people in America’s slums get scared occasionally, but one would never know that if they had only listen to N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton. By not addressing human weakness, N.W.A’s pertinent message loses some of its appeal and believability for me. The tough guy persona gets old after a while. In their defense, N.W.A was one of the first groups to utilize this ridiculous, fearless, masculinity since they came out fairly early on the rap scene.
But maybe N.W.A and numerous other rap groups use this intensely aggressive front simply because it’s what they know. Citizens living in slums most likely will live their entire lives in the same area and continue the trend of poverty that they have been presented with. So when the resources one has are very limited, but the individual’s goals of success are the same as other’s who are not living in poverty, the realistic means for achieving success are going to be different than from someone who is from a higher socio economic status. In sociology, this is called the Strain Theory. Kids living in Compton are going to want money and material things and will go about typically nontraditional ways of attaining their wants. Kids know they can make money selling drugs. Kids know they can be safe if they join a gang. The point I’m trying to make is, kids know they can the respect and materials they desire by being tough. Even though the tough guy persona seems very fake and put on, the guys in N.W.A are actually from the streets, where acting tough is imperative. So is the macho, powerful attitude a front, or an inevitable product of society?
“You used to be so amused at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1821) was a French military commander who conquered much of Europe and made himself Emperor of France…As to why one should be amused by the language the French Emperor used, this is a reference to the fact that as a boy Napoleon was mocked because of his Corsican pronunciation, that being his first language. This is illustrated in the 1927 silent film written and directed by Abel Gance, Napoléon: in one scene his fellow schoolboys laugh at the way he says his name in his native Corsican way. It is said that Napoleon, who could not suffer ridicule or slights, declared at an early age that he would have his "revenge on the French people." Considering the great loss of lives during the Napoleonic Wars, and the loss of national prestige following them, this comment seems rather prescient, despite the fact that France considers Napoleon a hero.”
Without reading the annotations, there are so many references in Dylan’s songs that would be lost on me, partly due to the fact that I wasn’t alive during this time. I approached both albums with the question, “Is this literature?” And as far as Dylan’s goes, I would say yes. Though I doubt anyone can understand his lyrics 100%, there is no denying that all of his songs were written very carefully—they’re not just pretty rhymes. His songs have meaning, even if it isn’t obvious at first. During this course we learned that there is no such thing as reading, only rereading when it comes to literature—Dylan’s songs definitely require rereading to fully understand.
N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” on the other hand, I do not consider to be literature. (Though very catchy, no doubt) All the songs are straightforward and crude. I know we learned from The Wire that literature doesn’t have to have clever sentences and a high class vocabulary, but there was reason for The Wire’s using the word “fuck” in every other sentence—It appropriately conveyed the situation realistically. N.W.A’s songs are all about sex, drugs, violence, and their overall power and status. I don’t see how the curse words add anything, other than to add to their “G” status. There is no need for annotations. Even if someone didn’t understand what a term meant, it isn’t too hard to guess using context clues. Sometimes, they even give the definition to you. (“Just like burglary, the definition is 'jackin'And when illegally armed it's called 'packin'”) I don’t need to reread any of N.W.A’s songs to comprehend them. In fact, most of the songs seem to have common themes. All I got out of their songs was that they have sex with women a lot, do drugs, are capable of killing, and are not to be messed with, especially by racist police.
Bob Dylan on the other hand, is one of my favorite people. I already had Highway 61 Revisited on my itunes, and to my enjoyment, this is the second English class I have had where we get to study his songs. Although this is not my favorite Bobby album, I am excited to discuss him in class.
I'm really interested in discussing N.W.A. in class and getting 'below the surface'. I wouldn't be surprised if there was something I'm missing, in fact I expect to find something I'm missing. Its a good time for me to be discussing this because I'm taking an anthropology course in which we are discussing Ebonics/hip hop/rap/African American culture etc. So I'm really looking forward to this discussion!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Another issue that was prevalent in the Wire was the breakdown of the Family unit. Every one you see, with problems, Bubbles, Wallace, De’Angelo, they do not have healthy parent child relationships. Even deeper than that, is the absence of father figures. De’Angelo is a father, but he is barely able to do that. He is in jail, or out dealing drugs, you hardly see him interact with his child. The fact that he dies in the second season only goes to support my point, another father gone. Single mothers are making ends meet in all aspects, but when did raising a child become a one person deal? I think of Wallace, taking care of all those children, and he himself barely a child. I want to help somehow. Even though the Wire depicts a time a little ways in the past, many of the issues it deals with are still prevalent, and are still not commanding the attention they deserve. My question is: has the drug world gotten weaker, or has it just gone deeper?
Sorry for the late post—I wasn’t sure what to post earlier and opted for a late post rather than a complete BS one. I loved everyone’s blogs about Omar. He’s definitely one of my favorite characters as well.
Anyways, I was trying to figure out what to write about tonight and after a while I began to think on the literary aspect of the show; how it’s filmed like a book rather than a regular television show. Sure it’s slow at the beginning. (I was on imdb.com looking for inspiration and came across this Q and A in which a person asked if the show was going to get interesting, because after 3 episodes it seemed to be slow) But I have to admit, by about the 4th or 5th episode I was hooked. I think this has to do with the fact that it required patience on my part, so in the end I was that much more invested in it. When it comes to books I feel the same way—the ones that stay with me are the books that take time and patience to get through. I know I use this example all the time, but take Harry Potter: It takes about 100 pages to get really interesting, yet somehow it is read by millions of children around the world. So then I started thinking about movies that were based on books. Why is it that most of the time, movies that are based on books are horrible? It seems like it should be easy to make popular books into great movies, since they are already laid out chapter by chapter. I can’t think of a single time in which I thought a movie did a book justice. Looking at The Wire, I now know why—they don’t take the time to pay attention to each detail. I understand that it’s impossible to include everything in a 2 hour movie. But maybe, if instead of movies, these books were made into television series similar to The Wire, then it would be possible to take a book and put it on the television screen without completely butchering its beauty.
Sorry this blog is really off topic!
I too thought the narcotics anonymous meeting scene was really profound. I liked how they had the big beefy guy, almost the least expected, to be the one to motivate others and be really well spoken (in his own way). This was a good scene it really seemed realistic.
I sometimes wonder why Omar is in this show. He seems perfect to cheer for in a show where no major player is heroic and if so, too flawed. His sexuality is hardly a moral issue unless you're strongly religious. It is so easy to accept him as a man fighting for his dead lover that we will easily overlook his own role in the game in which death and betrayal are accepted characteristics.
The story allows for us to cheer him as a man of vengeance doing what the cops cannot. It is so very satisfying for us to see Omar whistling down and punishing the antagonists of the show. Omar also shows himself to be intelligent and careful. He has a reputation that can only be achieved with tact. He schools the police on the way of the streets. He is almost too perfect of a character and most likely the least realistic of the show. However, that does not matter to me. I want more of Omar and I would seriously watch a spinoff about him.
The drug addicts in the wire remind me of a less glamorous version of Rent, But instead of singing and dancing, there is a dangerous game that is being played on all parts. In both rent and the wire, they don't use the words "aids" or "hiv", probably for the connotation of the words, and the other less powerful words that can be used instead like "bug" and being "sick." They both just kind of show the power of words no matter what they are or how they are used.
Omar can be violent and cruel, as we see in the robbery, but he also strictly follows his own moral code, unorthodox as it is. He never robs or acts violently against anyone who isn’t a drug dealer. This is contrast to the other street killers that we see. Bird kills the witness William Gant in cold blood, even though the trial has already ended. Wee-bey has no qualms about gunning down innocents such as Avon’s ex Dierdre, and is quick to backstab his co-worker Little Man when he realizes that it is to his benefit in avoiding the police after Kima is shot. Omar, on the other hand, is visibly upset when he is informed of Bailey’s death, and after Brandon’s murder he risks his life to get revenge, by killing Bird and attempting to kill Avon. In this way, Omar shows much more loyalty to those he works with, and much more respect for the “rules of war” by only targeting people in the drug trade.
Omar also doesn’t lie about what he does or try and euphemize it. He is straight up, and gets by on his skill and intelligence. Stringer, a character who displays similar intelligence and reason, does not share Omar’s honesty, and at the end of season declares a truce with Omar, with the actual intention to catch him unaware and kill him. Omar sees through this ploy, however and wisely leaves town.
Omar doesn’t even curse, a minor disgression that pretty much every other character on the show commits. Omar scolds Brandon for cursing and tells him that “no one wants to hear those dirty words”, displaying an unexpected level of manners for someone who robs drug dealers for a living.
The contrast between Omar’s line of work and his moral fortitude is yet another example of David Simon challenging our assumptions. A principled homosexual who doesn’t curse is not exactly the stereotypical image of a drug hold-up man. Certainly, Omar is one of the most interesting characters on the wire, and I’m interested to see how his story plays out in the rest of the seasons. My intuition (and the surprising length of the “Omar Little” entry on Wikipedia) tell me that his departure to New York at the end of season one is not the last we’ll see of Omar.
Context: Bubbles and his friend are at the mandatory Narcotics Anonymous meeting and a big, scruffy looking white guy named Waylon is getting up to give a speech.
Waylon: "Well hell, y'all, you all know I'm Waylon and I'm an addict. And the fact is that I want to be clean today more than I want to be high. It's good to be here, hell it's good to be anywhere clean, even Baltimore. I been clean a few 24 hours now and I'm still dead certain that my disease still wants me dead. I'm in here with y'all talking shit about how strong I am and how strong I feel but my disease is out there in that parking lot doin' push ups, on steroids, waitin' for the chance to kick my ass up and down the street. Scars on my hands, on my feet, 2 bouts of endocarditis, hep c and whatnot knockin' out walls and kickin out windows in my liver. I lost a good wife, a bad girlfriend, and the respect of anyone who ever tried to loan me money or do me a favor. Pawned my pickup, my bike, my National Steel Guitar, and a stamp collection that my Grandad left me. And when it was almost over for me, and I was out there on them corners, not a pot to piss in, and anyone who ever knew me or loved me cussin' my name, you know what I told myself? I said 'Waylon, you're doin' good.' I surely did. I thought I was God's own drug addict, and if God didn't mean for me to get high, he wouldn't have made bein' high so much like perfect. Now I know I've got one more high left in me, but I doubt very seriously I've got one more recovery. So if there's anybody out there who sees that bottom comin' up at em, I'm here to talk sense. I don't care who you are, what you done, or who you done it to..if you're here, so am I."
That's pretty powerful language, even if it is spoken in the hick vernacular.
In the scene (which I really encourage everyone to re-watch, simply reading it doesn't do it justice) you can see Bubbles seriously impacted by what Waylon is saying. Afterwards when they are giving out the chips, Bubbles takes one for 24 hours despite the fact that he got high that morning, not to mention that he wasn't even the one enrolled in the program. The series does a good job at instilling a real sense of ambiguity; the audience is always challenged to question their preconceived notions of "good" and "evil." The drug lords and the cops who are trying to catch them seem to be put on the same pedestal and we're constantly shown both doing bad, bad things. But this is one of the rare moments when the show seems to almost take a stand, very obviously, against drugs. We're not watching the detectives in their dungeon-esque office engaging in their Orwellian Big Brother antics over Baltimore's criminal underworld, and we're not watching the members of the surprisingly organized drug ring deal with their own moral dilemmas or structural problems, we're watching one of the people caught in between. Waylon speaks on behalf of the people who, with the notable exceptions of Bubbles and his friend, don't get much of a part despite the fact that they are essentially the true perpetuators of the conflict that the detectives are trying to solve. When I saw that scene and got to thinking about it I couldn't help but wonder if the writers were trying to say something central to one of the main themes of the show: the true path to the end of the drug war isn't through either of the two organizations who fight over it "winning," but rather through getting all the people caught in the crossfire, the drug addicts, help.
It was also interesting because my brother was a drug addict and I got to grow up seeing everything that Waylon described first hand. Usually when there is a NA scene on TV or in the movies it shows people sitting in a circle and awkwardly greeting one another as they take turn giving corny "motivational" speeches. Anyone who has ever been to an NA meeting knows that isn't how it really goes. That's not how recovering drug addicts really feel, this is. It was was a refreshing dose of reality (!).
Maybe I read too far into it, but it seemed pretty damn important to me. It changed my opinion on the Wire from "good" to "whoa..."