Metalanguage in The Wire


The only previous exposure I had to The Wire were the first ten minutes of Season 1, Episode 1. My roommate had Netflixed the first season of the TV show many critics describe as the greatest television series of all time. I’ve never been a big fan of crime dramas, I just feel like I don’t understand them and for some reason that deters me from watching them. In Popular Television and Film, Colin MacCabe writes about the debate the realism. In the text, he connects realism to nineteenth century realist novels and how we can use them to describe film today. He states that metalanguage is what helps achieve “perfect representation.”

The first episode of the wire was a blur to me. I could only focus on the curse words which were being used very other word. In a page of the first episode’s script, detectives Herc and Carver are having a conversation about whether shit or piss roll down a hill while concluding the conversation by saying that they are “effective deterrents in the war on drugs.”

I just don’t get it! I guess I have to let the real meaning of things shine through these words as McCabe explains, but it’s hard. It requires serious patience and concentration.

This separation between what is said and the act of saying is exactly the problem I first had with The Wire; And I think is a problem many others had with it. In class, a few people mentioned that it took a few episodes, even up to eight, to actually get into the series. After watching the first four episodes of Season 4, I was surprised to see myself understanding the characters, the plot, and the idea of the show a little bit more.

In the first scene of Season 4 which we watched in class, Snoop and the salesperson are exactly on the same page when it comes to nail-guns. When they start talking about what the gun will be used for, the salesperson loses her. I could only truly understand this scene after I watched the rest of the episode and the couple after that. It is showing the different points of view within the show. While Snoop is thinking about how she will use it to board up abandoned places with victim’s bodies, the salesperson is just trying to sell the highest priced nail-gun. We, as the viewers have to “measure the discourse” based on what the camera is showing us.

MacCabe, Colin. Popular television and film a reader. London: BFI Pub. in association with the Open UP, 1981. Print.

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