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“This America, Man”

“This America, Man”

Tragic Reconciliation, Television, and The Wire

(p.85) 3 “This America, Man”
New Television
Martin Shuster
University of Chicago Press

This chapter gives a close reading of HBO’s The Wire, arguing that the show powerfully engages with themes of absorption and theatricality (as these are understood in the work of art historian Michael Fried and philosopher Stanley Cavell), and thereby connects to issues in modernism (as they descend from painting, photography, and film). Such a preoccupation appears in the certain key scenes in The Wire, where the camera acknowledges the viewer and thereby meditates implicitly on the viewer’s absorption. Alongside this story, the chapter shows how these aesthetic themes are, in The Wire, bound up with its political aspirations, which are (1) to present a picture of the suffering that Baltimore—and by extension all US cities—undergo due to the effects of late capitalism, and (2) to meditate on what it means to acknowledge such suffering. In this way, the chapter also develops a notion of ‘tragic reconciliation’ and argues that The Wire employs this automatism throughout exactly through and because of its aesthetic ambitions. The chapter concludes by introducing—finally, now in detail—the notion of new television, arguing that The Wire participates in this genre.

Keywords:   David Simon, The Wire, HBO, television series, new television, Michael Fried, Stanley Cavell, absorption, tragedy, tragic reconciliation

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