Monday, April 20, 2009

Surveillance and Realism

As a culture, we are preoccupied with observation, images, spectatorship. Almost every show on television is advertised as “Reality,” whether or not it is actual Reality. We enjoy debating the validity of the advertised Reality, as if it is the most important aspect of the show. Our entertainment has less to do with entertaining than it does with this idea of Spying on other’s lives. Here we are: spectators of spectators. People sit in their homes observing other peoples’ lives. “Seven Strangers trying to Live Together,” “Rise to Fame,” “Crazy Wilderness Survival,” “Interesting Skill Mastery,” “Watch Them Fall In Love.” The distinction between observer and observed is slowly dissolving. And when this happens, we are trapped in the endless cycle of observation. Where is Action?

All of this Observing doesn’t give us much time for Action. This is a handy side effect for Those Content with the Current Situation. Namely, the Man. In The Wire, Action is discouraged by those in authoritative positions. McNulty is reamed for “giving a fuck.”

Although it is a show about Watching, it seems that The Wire wants to encourage its viewer to get off her butt and stop Watching. There is crime, injustice, a stratified class system, and a whole mess of other problems to be tackled. We are in a constant struggle between passive viewership and vigorous action. Should we “give a fuck” when it’s not our turn or turn on the Tube?

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