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On Tiffany Potter and C.W. Marshall’s “The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television” (2009).

[Crossposted from my five-star review on Goodreads.]

I rarely give out five stars, especially to an essay collection (where the quality can be uneven). But this is just fantastic: a highly readable selection of scholarly essays — mostly from professors of English, actually, but the essays are written from a more sociological perspective.

Doubtless the fact that I love the television show — perhaps the greatest in the history of the medium, but take my hyperbole with a grain of salt — has much to do with my appreciation of the book. The variety of the essays is its main virtue: there’s a discussion of “the production of gender” among the “Barksdale women”, two essays loosely about genre (the police procedural, and the melodrama), capitalism and violence (as seen through Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale), serial vs episodic narratives on television, inner-city manhood, a close reading/viewing of Agnieszka Holland’s visuality, and an analysis of fan reaction to Omar Little (and queerness and American citizenship). Foucault is mentioned a lot — not just because of the theme of surveillance running throughout the show, but because, like Foucault, The Wire takes as its main topic the nature of modern institutions and the distribution and exercise of power within them.

Of course, the book won’t make much sense to folks who haven’t seen the show. But for fans who want to delve further into the rich, complexly layered world of The Wire — and not just read a book that merely features making-of anecdotes or behind-the-scenes gossip (though I’d be happy to read that too) — this book is highly recommended.

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Thinking about Television.

So this has been one of those great weeks for me: the book finally in my hands, four sweet long days with my little daughter Izzy in Austin, Inauguration Day, and tonight, in an hour or so, the premiere of the fifth season of Lost.

Lost (and also The Wire) has been one of the main reasons why I haven’t been blogging about movies as much. I’m not a big fan of television at all, so I myself am surprised about the amount of time and energy I’ve invested in these two shows in the last three months. (I consumed all four seasons of Lost in a little less than two months, bloodshot eyes be damned.) I suspect part of it has to do with the sprawling, sequential nature of both serials, but even that seems to be a fairly new development. (My friend Ben was wondering whether the popularity of Mexican and Korean soap operas around the world had influenced this reimagining of what television audiences could handle; I’d like to think that The X-Files‘ shifting between their mythology arcs and stand-alone Scooby-Doo episodes had something to do with it as well.)