Monday, April 11, 2011

A Truth Event


What would Jesus do?

Philosopher John Caputo takes this one step further, giving the ‘do’ a specific purpose. He asks, What would Jesus deconstruct?

To help flesh out this philosophical term Caputo cites HBO’s The Wire as a modern day practitioner of deconstruction, a prophetic voice in an urban wilderness of broken promises and moral decay. As The Wire demonstrates, deconstruction is not preachy or comfortably moralistic. It is a truth event, wherein the dominant way gets to see itself for what it really is.

The dominant way – the way that The Wire shines a big spotlight on -- is perhaps best embodied in the show by the character Marlo Stanfield. He is a powerful individual earning millions as the top dog of a big business. He is in complete control of his employees, feared by his competitors, with his goal in life being to rise to the very elite of his profession and thus have his name synonymous with success and respect.

Marlo Stanfield is a drug dealer, though of course he never touches the drugs. In fact being a drug dealer isn’t about the drugs. It isn’t even about the money, though money has a role to play. In Baltimore as in life there is a game, and Marlo’s goal is to be the number one player. He wants to “wear the crown.” When told that those who wore the crown before him ended up dead or in prison soon after, his response is telling: “The point is they wore it.”

Marlo is the embodiment of unbridled dreams. In his world people are objects, laws are irrelevant, feelings and sentiment are weakness, and the crown is everything. In season four of The Wire he gets to wear it, and it wears well on him. The opening of episode 4 captures the ideologue that is Marlo Stanfield to a tee.

After a poker game he heads to a local grocery store. He walks past a security guard, picks up a bottle of water and pays for it at the counter. While the checkout lady gets his change, he takes a couple of lollipops from a stand, shoves them into his jacket pocket, and glances over at the security guard just to make sure that he knows what happened. Marlo walks out of the shop as cool as you like, with the security guard lamenting the choice he now has to make. Reluctantly he decides to confront Marlo outside on the street, in Marlo’s kingdom.

The security guard curses Marlo for stealing the merchandise “like you don’t even know I’m there”. “I don’t”, says Marlo. The guard isn’t looking to “step to”. He is simply a man trying to stand up for some semblance of justice and order. Marlo’s parting line puts things in their proper place:

“You want it to be one way…you want it to be one way…you want it to be one way……….but it’s the other way.”

Marlo’s muscle Chris pulls up, takes his boss away, and later that episode we see Chris and his partner in crime Snoop boarding up a vacant house - now a tomb for the murdered security guard.

While scoping the guard before murdering him Snoop asked Chris what the guard did. “Talked back” was the guard’s sin.

In this kingdom there is no talking back. As Chris says to Marlo’s new employee/subject Bodie “‘Why’ ain’t in your repertoire no more”. Criticism of the crown, questioning of the crown, is punishable by death.

It’s the other way. It’s the way of unchecked power. It’s the way of fear. It’s the way of greed for money and greed for the crown. The beauty and the terror of The Wire is that Marlo Stanfield, a drug dealer, is not butting heads with the institutions of America, at least when it comes to what “way” they’re going. They’re all playing the same game, and, as David Simon and co illustrate, it’s a game that’s killing American cities, quite literally.

In a later episode Bodie and Poot – two pawns in the drug game – talk about global warming. Conversation then moves to the murder of their friend Little Kevin. Bodie doesn’t think it’s right. He doesn’t think Marlo had to “do” Kevin. He calls Marlo a “cold” so-and-so.

“It’s a cold world”, says Poot.

“Thought you said it was gettin’ warmer?”

“World goin’ one way, people another, yo.”

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