Why is it that the fragmentary structure of a TV series constructs a state of pleasurable longing in the audience? Maybe F. Jameson’s answer turns out to be acceptable, as we all acknowledge that there is no other recognizable rhythm in representation than repetition: “Repetition enhances the function of the television set as consolation and security: you are not alone when it is on, in the house with you, and you are not lonely or isolated when your space is peopled by so many familiar faces and characters”. The sense of incompleteness draws us in creating the slow pace at which collective reality moves inside fiction as if we would want to see it crawl inside visions of time that we establish. There is something so stabilizing about resuming the narrative from where you’ve left it the previous night, when your favorite character died. It’s like taking back the world after you had the option of abandoning it in a cryogenic state that preserves emotions as if they could be stored like flesh.
For a while, I thought that David Simon’s Baltimore was the world and I would not be able to take it back from there and release it into the big picture of global existence. This impression soon vanished, but somehow I felt the investigation went on, infiltrating reality from inside fiction, and making it respond to that detectivistic logic that makes the world deeper, always ready to receive another layer of reality.
And, finally, there it was, bringing back the long forgotten resonances of The Wire: the new TV Series by David Simon, Show Me a Hero.
The usual “musical montage” at the end of the The Wire left me poetically assembling what was left from the two Americas Žižek distinguishes between: those who participate in the American Dream and those who are left behind. The opening of Show Me a Hero takes me back to a panoramic view of the city of Yonkers, from the plane, tracing the post-industrial landscape as if the secret of humanity was in the configuration of those scratches upon the surface of Earth. And, indeed, the series’ background is the public housing developing projects at the end of the ‘80s and their desegregation orders. The city of Yonkers is one of the first places in America to architecturally and politically integrate what is called scattered site housing, meaning publicly funded low density units in middle-class neighborhoods. The architect of this urban “revolution” was Oscar Newman, who developed the defensible space theory in the 70s. He proved that the high crime rate from the high-rise public house buildings (the towers in The Wire) is due to the fact that people were not able to territorialize a space inhabited by some many other people and feel personally responsible or in control of it. Designing a community starts from the very instinctual principle according to which you distribute it in space. The Jewish city planner indirectly stated the interdependency dynamics between the sense of property and the sense of security. I believe the envisioning of identity in relation to place is the underlying theme of the series, beyond race, the condition of the immigrant and inequality. It also beautifully explores the urban proximity of the Other, and visually recognizes it as the snapshot inside the gaze of the neighbor that looks out the window into the street. There is this scene in the high rises, when the Latin-American immigrant looks out the window towards the drug dealers and asks: Gabriela’s boys? Just yesterday they were so little. They are older now. This is the subtle, emotionally soft way in which the episodes point out her fear of bringing up her own children in that place. The undertones of the narrative that follows the lives of those who are about to move into the new public houses (as the project is being violently postponed by the outrage of the middle-class people that want to keep their neighborhood the way it is) are carefully mastered inside relations that are no longer just about the deep psychology of the people, but about the deep inner extension of the inhabited space. Suddenly, building a house becomes the equivalent of building a life, as residency is the channel for modes of existence.
The politics behind the housing projects is dirty, dictated not by civic interests, but by electoral competition between Democrats and Republicans. You would expect the series to expose dirty politics, as well as racism as pure evil, but Show Me a Hero is far from doing this. It humanly draws upon fears and obsessions that make people languish in the impossibility of really inhabiting the world. There is no heroism at stake, as the title might suggest, the only epic dimension being the struggle. Show Me a Hero is a beautiful, lyrical and realistic portrayal not only of the struggle of minorities (as we would normally expect from ex-journalist David Simon), but also of the struggles of a man trying to build a political career. The main character, played by Oscar Isaac, is absolutely brilliant, because he constructs empathy, not by relying on good and evil affiliations, but by means of creating an intimacy with that kind of strong innocent obsession which doesn’t do the right actions in the name of good or it doesn’t harm because it understands the nature of wrong.
At the end of the series, the pictures of the real historical characters of the story are shown in parallel with the fictional characters. The effect is strong and long-lasting, because it is like double-picturing the face of urban drama, which is both a matter of representing and mourning a true story. Show Me a Hero is lucid and majestic as a whole and it shows the shapes of weakness and power without individualizing blame. The line from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Show Me a Hero and I Will Write You a Tragedy, is stated as a political premonition for any kind of resistance that tries to grow so individually absorbed as to become an act of heroism in the eyes of history.