Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Could 'The Wire' Be Misogynistic?

I'm quoted in the Maclean's magazine article of the same title, which is available to read online. The source is a set of posts I started, about the female characters on the show. I got side-tracked (with the divorce and the book and book edits and all that other stuff) and have been planning to finish the other seasons.

I'm not sure if I should be awed or depressed to be cited as a critic to what is my favourite television show, and arguably the best show of all time. I do, however, think that there's an argument to be made, that female characters were not as fully explored as they could have been. I know that Brian (see link to forum) had been planning to present an argument about why season 5 should have dealt with the foster care system, and there's a lot of incredible and shocking material there to explore.

I have been watching season 5 again (bless pvr) and it has improved on me with the second viewing, but I still feel seasons 1, 2 and 4 were the strongest. That said, even a weak season 5 blows the socks off anything on network television.

And for the person who wants to fill David Simon's shoes and do more of Baltimore, at least there's plenty of ground left to cover. Heck, I'd been thinking that, despite my forthcoming move there, that David and Laura had the city wrapped up and I'd stick with my terrain - Canada.

Now, I might be tempted to reconsider.


Barbara said...

I just love seeing a friend show up in McLean's (McLean's!) - "Canadian novelist Sandra Ruttan..." Wait, I know her.

I also like a major magazine picking up on your thoughts, oh wise one. Well done.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ha! I don't know about wise, but yeah, isn't that weird, seeing me quoted in Macleans?! Someone told my mother her daughter had been mentioned in Macleans. Came as a bit of a shock!

Barbara said...

Hmm, I can imagine the feeling: "oh God, what has she done now?" Mingled with pride and awe.

I was just thinking how much launching a book is like the feeling I had when my children were in school plays. You're proud and terrified at the same time that your brilliant, sensitive, wonderful child will make an ass of him or herself. He'll forget his lines. She'll trip over the scenery and everyone will laugh at her. It's a weird mix of protectiveness, pride, and sheer terror.

None of which has to do with the subject of your post, which is giving me much to think about. I hadn't really thought about the gender thing in The Wire except for the uber-violent stone cold killer being a slightly androgynous woman. There's a trend right now to experiment with bad women and incredibly tough heroines and I'm mulling over what it means in the Cosmic Order.

John McFetridge said...

Yeah, forget about Canada, you leave it alone ;)

I am looking forward to the rest of your essay on women in The Wire.

I think many of the questions raised are valid, I just don't like the way the word misogynist gets thrown around so casually.

In many ways The Wire does reflect the male-dominated world of police forces and crime. It's a changing reality, but it won't happen overnight. Yes, though, it does look like The Wire, with such a broad canvas, may have missed some opportunities to have some more fully realized female characters. Personally, I was very disappointed with the Rhonda Pearlman character, but maybe that's just me.

The Sopranos also takes place in a very male-dominated world but had some terrific female characters and ROME also did a very good job of having a wide variety of characters - male, female, masters, slaves, etc.

So yeah, Sandra, there's still plenty of things for you to write about in Baltimore. That's where you should put all your energies, Baltimore. Nothing ever happens in Canada ;)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Barbara, I've chimed in on that discussion. You made some great points.

John, I agree about the word misogynistic (and heaven help me, I don't think I used it myself, did I?) although I suspect it's used to drum up the controversy angle and motivate people to read it. Wouldn't come off the same if the article was 'Could The Wire be a little bit sexist?' would it?

I know what you mean about Ronnie. I felt the same about Beadie. There was so much potential there, left untapped, while we moved on too fast in season 5 to new characters that just didn't resonate as strongly for me.

I actually find myself wondering if, in the end, The Wire was guilty of going for the big wrap-up, and losing the story to that end, instead of just letting things play out. Truth is, much would have just kept on going the way it was going, without the somewhat unbelievable serial killer storyline.

John McFetridge said...

Well, I guess what really wouldn't sell articles would be something like, "Could The Wire creators be writing what they see."

For the first couple seasons it worked really well. Season Two for me is the best (though I haven't seen all of four and none of five), though it didn't have many female characters. It did have some great stuff with the dockworkers, though, characters you never see on TV, and cetrainly never presented in any kind of well-rounded way.

But very few critics ever say anything like, "Is TV classist?" Or ever see any problem that the entire working class world is nowhere to be seen on American TV.

Another issue for another day, I guess.

colman said...

I'm running way behind over here in the UK.
I can't get them live so have to stump up for the boxsets, only one episode of second series watched so far plus series one, so any analysis or comment on what I've seen is limited.
Have to say though it's excellent and beats hands down the likes of CSI and doesn't always get neatly gift-wrapped up after an hour or so, and The Wire reflects that superbly.
I wouldn't necessarily assume that they compete against the other shows mentioned, but it's closer to reality tv than them for sure.
Misogynistic? I'll have to get back to you on that, when I've caught up.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you guys have ended the discussion, but I´ve just started my being annoied about The Wire´s lack of female characters that are not there to support the males. I´m watching the first round of the show (in Norway - excuse my English)- from my Norwegian point of view this is cliché x 1000. I was so disappointed! I had heard "intelligent" and "ambitious" - and I don´t get it. I am annoyed. And when the only real female character´s contribution is to be lesbian and provide some lesbian sex on the sofa, I started thinking about those male magazines for middle-aged men with a taste for boobs and guns. Why should it take effort to think about a solid female character? Don´t the producers see real women every day?
I don´t understand why it should be such a major task.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Anonymous, no need to apologize. Your English is vastly superior to my Norweigian!

I completely understand your comments. I think the only thing I'd say is that I know as a writer, you can't delve into everything, and I'd like to give the benefit of the doubt to the show.

That said, it is a little disconcerting. I even think about John's comment above - could they be writing what they see? What if it's that they just don't see what is happening? We all have things we potentially tune out, or don't fully grasp at the time because they don't capture our interest or we're more focused on something else.

I think there are a lot of female stories to be told. Just think of Nakita McDaniels and that situation. That's not an isolated incident. There was so much potential within the school storyline - heck, even Kimmy. Where did that girl come from, what drove her? We get a glimpse and nothing more. Enormous potential there.

What it tells me is, there's a lot of Baltimore that's been left undone. Maybe it just takes a woman who writes gritty stuff to tackle it.