Silliness in Criticism

I’m going to kick media critics a bit here, which I know is nothing like me.

The Wire is as good as television gets. In fact, watching it has spoiled me so rotten that the police-and-crime aspects of other television shows have started to make my teeth hurt. The authentic feel of both the police and criminals on the show, and the work they do, is such a marked difference from most television that The Wire is basically in its own league. Pretenders need not apply.

It’s the brainchild of David Simon and Ed Burns, two Actual People who became writers. Simon was a newspaper reporter who spent a year with the Baltimore homicide unit before writing The Best Nonfiction Crime Book Ever, known to others as Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Burns was a Baltimore policeman-turned-teacher who eventually teamed up with Simon to write The Best Nonfiction Book About the Inner-City, known to others as The Corner: A Year in the life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. Both books are marked by for their honest and accurate portrayals of their subjects.

Simon and Burns created a sort of amalgam of the two works with The Wire. We follow both the players in the West Baltimore drug trade and the cops investigating them. The really amazing thing is how dead-on the world is portrayed, right down to the dialog. The show doesn’t try to explain its slang and jargon; its characters just use it and the writers allow you to use context to follow along. It works, too. I knew nothing about the life on a West Baltimore corner when the show started, but while I always had to work to keep up, I never felt lost. In fact, this is one of the things the show has been praised for: it expects you to be smart.

So this year on The Wire we add the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun into the mix. This has caused some consternation among critics, all of whom work in newsrooms of one sort or another. When the police, the drug trade, the docks or the school systems were shown as decaying institutions that have failed in their missions, that was cool. That was edgy. That was real. But don’t knock the journalists! For instance:

The problem is that the newsroom aspect is likely to resonate only with those with an intricate understanding of the media. Many fans may be driven away by the insider-speak and newsroom politics.

– Melanie McFarland, “On TV: ‘The Wire,’ like newspapers, is about writing”

Really? You mean the fans without intricate understanding of drug and homicide investigations, dockworkers unions, drug corners, school systems and mayoral elections who stuck around this long are going to be driven away because they can’t understand how a newsroom works? Reaching for problems much?

This is the kind of thing critics do when they feel personally annoyed by a show but can’t find objective criticism to level at it. There are potential problems with The Wire this season. The McNulty fake serial killer plotline, for example, is irking some people for good reason. But critics are basically saying that they don’t like the newsroom plot because it’s:

  1. Too realistic
  2. Not realistic enough

That’s a sure sign that good criticism is afoot, isn’t it? It’s ok, guys. None of us like being kicked in the shin, especially when we deserve it. Right?

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