Sunday, December 30, 2007

THE WIRE - The Feminine Equation

The first in a planned series of posts on the female characters in THE WIRE is now online, and open to discussion.

Should be interesting to see if I manage to offend anyone with it... but no, this is not the controversial post that's forthcoming - that's still to come. Promise. : )


John McFetridge said...

"All of these women are very strategically placed within the story, in several cases to emphasize, to contrast, to develop story lines of major male characters."

Maybe. On the other hand, all of the characters are in place because of the storylines. Characters much different from these (male and female) would seem very out of place in these stories.

The great thing about The Wire is how it stays true to its stories, true to its locations in time and place. To do anything else would undermine and make it phoney.

These stories take the material that's there - the law, the way the law is broken and the characters involved. It would almost be as tough to imagine very different characters (and character reactions) in these stories as it would be to imagine different laws.

Unless people see fiction as social engineering, imagining worlds the way they "should be" it's going to be as true to life as the creators (writers, directors, producers, actors, etc.,) can make it. This limits the type of characters just as much as it limits everything else.

Now, if Batman shows up, well, then anything's possible...

Sandra Ruttan said...

But what I note is that even for the placeholder roles, with (in my opinion) one exception, they're always filled by men as well. The choice to have a female role is far more deliberately considered. By placeholder roles, I mean pretty much anyone could do what the character does, the character is almost inconsequential - Sydnor much of the time is irrelevant to his role, he's more or less just there, same with Dozerman. The judge in season one easily could have been a woman, plenty of female judges, but isn't, which allows the use of flirtation from Ronnie to advance the case. Ronnie is in place not just to flirt with the judge but to be the reason for McNulty's marriage breaking down, to give us a face for Elaina's anger.

In reality, watching The Wire, I could buy that affirmative action hasn't hit the US yet. In all four seasons how many female cops have we seen, how many female lieutenants? Majors? Colonels? Someone would have to help me out on that one, but it's hard to believe that unit to unit, from patrol to homicide to narcotics, to command, there are a miniscule number of women. It's curious to me. And so I argue that they've used women sparingly, to heighten the effectiveness of the gender choice, even in positions they could have placed women in.

For me, the only female placeholder is Massey. Massey could have been anyone. Her character was quite underdeveloped, same as Sydnor, Dozerman and a handful of homicide cops I can't remember the names of.

John McFetridge said...

Well, I'm really looking forward to your further posts.

But as you say, the judge couldn't be female because then how could the flirtation happen?

The thing about affirmative action, or even just opening up traditionally male jobs to women is it takes a long time for that to have an effect further up the ladder. My guess is, there are very few women detectives working homicide in Baltimore (there are very few in Toronto, that's for sure).

If those 'placeholder' roles start being dished out to meet some kind of affirmative writer action, then it'll probably show. It's a problem on Law and Order, young really good-looking female detectives (not a problem to watch for me, just a believeability problem). I say 'problem' because it's a problem in everyday life.

I think many TV shows, movies and books have given a distorted view in an attempt to make things more gender-equal. I'm all for equality, but not doing that is one of the things that makes The Wire so good.

Sandra Ruttan said...

And I'm absolutely not advocating that they're sexist or doing anything wrong... I think that part of the reason I notice it is the contrast to other shows.

I remember in commentary discussing THE SHIELD they talked about how CCH Pounder got her role - originally written for a man. Her agent asked if they'd consider making it a female part. Again, a male dominated world, and yet they've had (I guess) two female captains, and have featured a higher percentage of female cops than The Wire. Not as high as a show like Law & Order - even if you look at Homicide in the later years it had a higher number of female detectives. It's very weird going from repeats on a show ten years old and seeing that, then watching The Wire.

We do see this more come season 4, though. More room for women in terms of the educational role, and yet there it's more 50-50 in terms of what we're given. Considering that schools still tend to have female teachers in the majority - at least here - that's interesting to me. I'm very curious to see season 5.

Richard Cooper said...

Happy NEW YEAR, Sandra!