8.27.2009

"The Wire" (again) and the Menace of Quantity

I finally finished all 5 seasons of "The Wire." And, by the end, a clear argument emerges: quantitative thinking quashes humanity.

The cops juke the numbers — play with the stats so it looks like crime is going down — at the cost of actual police work that focuses on the source of the crime. With juking as the norm, cops are trained to think in terms of numbers — quotas, closing the case at whatever cost — rather than knowing how to do real po-lice work — read the evidence, follow the money, put things together.

Real police work is an art — an art of thinking that demands a certain diligence and intelligence. Juking the numbers is for the masses, the zombies: anyone can do it. It is brutish and it ensures that crime in poor old Baltimore actually gets worse.

And the cops that try to do real po-lice work? They're all forced out in the end.

The schools do the same — juke the numbers — as everything from funding, curriculum, and policy turns on test numbers. Poor Mr. Prezbo actually wants to teach his students math, about how numbers work: he wants to teach the quality of numbers. But he has to review test questions so they kids will score better so the bureaucrats will see higher numbers so the politicians win, or lose, which drives everything. It is more than enough to make you weep.

The newspapers do the same as everything turns on circulation and advertising. Real reporting goes by the wayside in favor of false sensationalism. Just to stick it to us, in the end, we get a 2 second flash of Templeton winning a Pulitzer. "The Wire" is relentless.

A system premised on quantity exhausts humanity, drains it of dignity, civility, and grace. Such, David Simon tells us, is our system (we might call this system capitalism), is ourselves.

2 comments:

www.wordviews.tk said...

The Wire nails, methinks, the predicament of being human, in all of its beautiful multi-facetedness, better than any TV before it. Considering the medium, it is weird to see what at some point seemed like such a hopeless format for expression having finally become an art.

We are all things at once. It is just the emphasis that varies.

It is what it is.

Daniel Coffeen said...

It's taken me this long to respond to your eloquent comments.

I have always loved the format of TV in that it is made for the series, repetition, complexity, a certain slow lingering, simultaneity. But I agree it was not until The Wire that this promise seems realized.