Firstly, thank you so much to The Guardian for quoting me when I said am a geek about The Wire. A real badge of honour in this case. It made me sound ever so slightly like a stalker (which I can assure you I’m not), but what the hey. Secondly (and more importantly), it was great just being able to attend an academic conference on The Wire, the first of its kind in the UK I believe. I presented an academic paper (of sorts) on Omar Little, and as an academic it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Harvard University has already hosted a conference on The Wire and was graced by David Simon’s presence. Our conference was opened by Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer at the Eastern District, who gave us a detailed insight into the reality of working as former cop in a neighbourhood full of challenges for the individual, community and the city.
The only low point was not enough clips of The Wire (including my own paper). I think the conference organisers definately missed a trick not rounding off the conference with a montage or two of some of the finer moments of comedy (yes, The Wire is very funny in parts).
But that’s just nitpicking, as the high points were many. Kimberly Moffitt, from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and a native of Baltimore herself, gave a paper on the representations of Baltimore through the eyes of natives. She’s mid-way through the research, and already there are some interesting themes, particularly around how ‘white ethnics’ are portrayed as heros – very interesting indeed and a great piece of research that’s well worth keeping track off. Fans of Omar Little will be pleased to know that as he’s such a compelling character, he got his own conference slot (not sure McNulty’s ego could cope with that). All the other presenters before me gave wonderful insights into the man who is easily the favourite of many (even Obama).
Terry Austin from University of Canterbury, New Zealand, gave a joint paper with John Farnsworth on the writers room process. The strength of this process shows in how the story arc can move from the small narrative (corrupted families) through to the grand narrative (urban politics) with such clarity and tightness. He also said that Simon produces the journalist’s traditional beat in telling his story; the street, unions, government, schools and public institutions, and press colleagues.
The best papers were most definately saved till last. The standout papers, for me, were from Natasha Whiteman (University of Leicester) on the response of fans and academics to the cult programme; Daniel Trottier (Queen’s University, Canada) on how the use of new media has made The Wire into a different viewing experience altogether. And finally, an outstanding paper by Linda Speidel (Roehampton University) about how different forms of work were represented throughout the 5 seasons. The characters in their different settings, she says, are all struggling to find an ideal work situation which is forever out of reach, inspite of the compromises they make in striving for this ideal. And she’s right – if you watch The Wire, you’ll see a work situation that you recognise and emphasise with how frustrating it can be, whether it’s in the office or otherwise. You’ll recognise the pettiness and competition that surfaces between colleagues, the emphasis on hierarchies and the ‘rules of the game’ that restrict some and help others.
I wish I’d had time to digest more papers, but that’s the nature of these conferences. More later on The Wire once I’ve gathered some more of my thoughts…..