artium and moribus

Of HBO’s The Wire & Tom Wolfe’s ‘Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast’

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By David Beilstein 

AS I consider the impact of David Simon’s achievements on The Wire, I am reminded of the value of reporting techniques in order to discover unavoidable truths about human experience. Reporting allows not just the setting to be real — but also the characters within that setting. How is life really lived by diverse groups of people? Using reporting techniques as a foundation for fictional representation in cinema avoids the idly cliché and meets people where they are in whatever cultural and social milieu embraces them.

New Journalism master Tom Wolfe’s insight in his Harper’s essay, Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast, are specific to the work achieved on The Wire. David Simon’s reporting background at the Baltimore Sun formed the basis of The Wire being created — but also the basis for it being successful both commercially and critically. To watch The Wire, is to watch our selves. And so, reporting techniques, whether cinematically or literary, is not just for journalism — but should be the bedrock of realistic fiction and cinema.

All to often, fiction is created out of the solitary sump of the idea — married to convention and social science agitprop. This false notion has consumed the literary world post Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner. Pre-dating the solitary idea novelists, these master writers captured the humanity living within all people and were still able to realize diversities of race, class, sex, and culture in their work. All three of these great masters gleamed life through the microscope of reportage, coming back over rough seas speaking tales about people being blends of all human glories and frailties.

And so, using reportage as foundational to fictional creation does not diminish the differences in ethnicities, sex or class, but broadens the scope of those diversities.

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