Monday, March 3, 2008

The Wire: "Get their cell phones. The case is in the phones"

Like with The Sopranos, I came very late to The Wire. I tried to get in last season, but the ominous staple gun in the opening episode was a road block. The violence, cruelty, murder, and soul-wrenching tragedy of The Wire proved too dark for me to ingest on a weekly basis.

This final season, the story lines about The Sun in the fore allowed me a way in. And here, even in this tail-end of the episodes, I join the legion of those dazzled by the narrative and the universe itself. Particularly because I can read the expansive summaries/reviews by Alan Sepinwall, and all his loyal posters, connecting ideas back through the years.

What strikes me most, at this late date, is the plot device of the cell phones, and the transmitting of the image of the clock for the meet coordinates. Not only is it a plot device, it is the legal case against the drug dealers.

What a perfect tale for the oft-termed, but-what-does-it-really-mean, media age. The story started with wire taps--a traditional law enforcement tool, where the power to trap comes from intercepting the workings of the old media system of the phone company. Wiseguys and drug dealers have been wise to this for at least forty years now. If they had to speak about business, they would talk in some sort of code. Then came the media shift to the power of mobile phones. Marlo's lawyers told him never to have business conversations on the cells. But sending pictures? It's just a picture of a clock. No laws broken there.

We have all sorts of citizen journalism now, where people send in pictures, or cell phone video, of unfolding news events to wire services or traditional news agencies. These show up on ijournalist sites like Current TV or certain sections of the larger news site. Mainstream network tv shows like CSI and NCIS often show cell phones sending photos of people or crime scenes back to the lab for analysis.

But I think The Wire has the first, highly constructed plot based on the cell phone part of the media revolution. And I think it is a subtle refinement from the epynonmous wire of the first season in 2002.

Some American Studies Ph.d candidate is going to pinpoint this as a watershed moment in American tv in fifty years or so.


Jeremy said...

Please, no more spoilers for those of us who have yet to see series 4. and, a word of advice: go back to series 1, and the simple code the dealers used then, and work your way forward. You won't regret it.

M.A.Peel said...

Yes, I should have posted spoiler warnings. Sorry.

RC said...

i have yet to see the wire, but it certainly sounds interesting. i certainly think this sounds like i show i might like though.

M.A.Peel said...

rc--hence the beauty of watching a series on DVD. I watched the first 2 seasons of Deadwood that way, and it was great.