The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32

The diseased depths of the American mind

So, last night, I finally met my illustrious co-blogger Matt Thompson for dinner at a DC restaurant. We didn’t get a picture — I had to limp/run out of the restaurant to catch a late-night train — but 1) Robin wasn’t there and 2) we weren’t wearing our black paisley vests either, so maybe it’s for the best.

Taking Robin’s place as our guest/facilitator/cultural psychoanalyst was longtime friend of the Snark Rachel Leow, whose blog a historian’s craft you should know. Here are some of the things we collectively figured out:

  • The Wire is awesome. In particular, it shows several crash-only institutions at work, albeit at their most dysfunctional. Seriously, a drug gang is the crash-only institution writ large, but politics and police don’t fare much better. This also lets David Simon hammer away at how prioritizing short-term over long-term thinking nearly always results in tragedy. (In these dysfunctional institutions, if good things happen to good people, it’s because someone has made a terrible mistake.)
  • Brussels sprouts cooked really well are fantastic, if salty. I think these had bacon or some kind of other salted pork product too, so they were really going for it.
  • There are plenty of American pathologies that our Malaysian-by-way-of-Cambridge friend drew out of us for discussion, but here’s one I hadn’t thought very much about. American class ideology, where 99% of people see themselves as middle-class, prospering through their own hard work, without any real inherited privilege, has a pessimistic corollary: at any moment, someone could take it all away. Which, if you think about it, makes a perverse kind of sense: if privilege and status are completely elastic, you could just as easily fall down as well as up. 90% of all public political discourse follows from this.
  • Yeah, the American academic/scholarship system is pretty screwed up, reinforcing privilege and throwing up self-destructive barriers to entry and access. So much smartness there, though — so much possibility.


There are few things more delicious than Brussels sprouts done right and I find it sad that few know this.

You should try sautéing them lightly in garlic or a a few hot pepper flakes.

Yay for snarkmeetings!

I am always despairing of ever catching up with this Wire phenomenon, b/c I want to start at the beginning, but 60 hours is a lot of TV to try to watch, considering I basically watch none. (Somewhere in these tabs I have languishing a long and abandoned comment on one of the recent TV threads.) If I rent the discs from my beloved if probably dying local video store, then I feel an inordinate amount of pressure to watch everything on the disc during the week I have it; heretofore I have refused to open a netflix account for just this one project, but I may have to give in.

I often cynically wonder if the symbiosis between academia & its wealthy patrons has evolved as a survival mechanism for the latter, channeling the majority of potential disruptive intelligentsia into a safely isolated obstacle course that has just enough potential for upward mobility to keep it attractive without enough wealth accumulation to make it an independent power base. A designed version was one of the more clever ideas in one of the science fiction series of my youth. (Wikipedia explanation with spoiler alert for an Orson Scott Card book.).

Brussell sprouts cooked with mustard are one of my mother’s specialties; I have never understood people’s antipathy to the vegetable.

I like to braise Brussels sprouts in beer.

Also echoing Saheli on the overwhelming prospect of watching lots of violent television despite how compelling and important everyone continues to say it is.

I had no idea that the brussels sprouts comment would be so popular.

The Wire does have some pretty horrible violence in it, but like The Sopranos, it’s surprising how peripheral it is. Also, one salutary feature of violence on The Wire (unlike, except in very rare moments, The Sopranos) is that the characters — and not just the ones you’d expect — are almost always grappling with it in all of its dimensions.

Suzanne has a good point that this goes beyond series-as-time-sinks to violent-series-as-time-sinks. And sometimes deeply thought out violence is worse. I mean, I haven’t ever watched the Sopranos (and any Sopranos comparison is unlikely to move me), but there’s a sort of cartoon or shorthand violence that exists in certain police procedurals that I used to watch (back when I watched TV) that I wouldn’t be afraid of watching now, except for the whole time and money thing. The violence doesn’t stick with you after the episode is done. The only episode of the Wire I have seen (I believe Season 2, episode 1) wasn’t even that violent but it featured a large quantity of dead female bodies and I’m not sure I have the psychic energy and time to start absorbing that. If the characters are grappling with it, then I have to grapple with it, and that can be problematic, multiplying 60 hours of consuming TV into 120+ hours of being consumed by TV.

It’s not that this a TV-specific problem, completely: I randomly decided to pick up The Lovely Bones this weekend, and of course had to finish it, and had a bunch of great nightmares and then a sleepless early morning as a result. Some friends and I were discussing how this is the price one pays for reading literature: most literature is about bad stuff happening, and you have to pace it out, but you can’t abandon it completely. Most of my favorite movies and many of my favorite books are pretty grim, so it’s not a major obstacle. But series-TV’s specifically high demand for time & attention does combine badly with any hesitations about engaging with violent media.

Tim Carmody says…

This is intended as encouragement, not chastisement:

Even talking about it as “a time-sink” begs the question and misses the point. Maybe The Lovely Bones is a time-sink, I don’t know, I haven’t read it. Whatever pleasure or pain or engagement you have might be internal to the book, and your feelings about it, its characters, a style of writing, whatever. LOST, which is a show I really, really like, is a time-sink. Solving some paradox or speculating about some mystery or getting excited about the characters doesn’t really do anything beyond the world of LOST. I can go to the meta-level and start thinking about TV entertainment and media changes and American culture, but that’s about it.

The Wire is one of an exceedingly tiny handful of television shows that actually helps you understand something about the world, and articulate things you knew but couldn’t quite get at before. It is not a time-sink; it’s genuinely transitive.

That isn’t to say that it isn’t entertaining, funny, shocking, with great characters and moments and events in it, that you don’t get sucked into the world as it’s created. But, god, god.

There’s a running thread on Snarkmarket about “the ideas! the ideas!” The Wire makes “ideas” just too weak a word. It is seriously that valuable.

I should be more clear: I don’t need to be convinced. It’s on my to-do list. My last snarkmeeting, also with Matt, clearly bumped it near the top. I’m more just interested in how, because of its format, it’s so much more problematic than, say, a book. If you three had sold a book as hard and steadily and exuberantly as you’ve been selling the Wire, I would have read it by now. In fact, I read the Harry Pottery series with much less persuasion on your parts. Throw in everyone else I know who’s tried to sell me on it, and it’s really remarkable. And yet. Series TV–especially HBO series TV–is just not as accessible as, say, books. Or even single slice movies. That barrier to entry is what I’m remarking on, and what I mean by ‘timesink’ (not timewaste). So it’s really a more general point: different media have different barriers to entry for different populations, and the resulting variegation in access and enjoyment and delayed enjoyment creates its own dynamic beyond the sheer content. Happy Birthday, Marshall?

Extended thoughts on The Wire tk. All I’ll say right now is that there’s conversation, and then there’s Conversation, and Tim and Rachel brought it.

Saheli, if it means anything, I resisted The Wire for ages for precisely that reason: it just seemed like such a significant investment of time. I am still resisting The Sopranos for the same reason. But my reaction has been the same as many others: it has reframed what I might expect from television and film.

Another way of expressing this: I think I started less than a month ago and I’m already on Season 4. It’s just that engrossing.

I’m sorry, were you all still talking? Someone planted a dream in my head of gorging on brussel spouts braised in beer. Om nom nom, as they say.

I’m sorry, “brussels sprouts.”

When Snarkmarket finally all dines together, we dine on Brussels sprouts. (And in matching black paisley jumpsuits.)

You do realize that I have a pie recipe I’ve been working on for just this occasion? If you eat your brussel sprouts, you get some pie.

Though honestly, the chances of my buying some Brussell sprouts tomorrow and braising them in beer, pepper flakes, garlic and mustard are quite high.

Also, as I told Tim, I went to the video store last night, and they had every. single. disc. of. the.wire. except. number 1. So THERE!

Reading Rachel’s “Only Collect” post for the first time a year or so ago, I finally understood what Emerson meant when he wrote “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time ….”

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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