Persuasive Writing – Essay – 2012

“The one way, namely, that which is and cannot not-be, is the path of persuasion (peithos), for it attends truth (aletheia)” (Diels 2).

THE WIRE

The art of rhetoric, which itself belongs to no definite science, is highly political in its origins. While Aristotle’s treatise admires the individual rhetor’s skill, Plato condemned rhetoric as deceptive and unprincipled. In the contemporary domain of persuasion, the rise of capital production has integrated into social formations of ideology, where mass media operate as a tool to institutional rhetors. This essay will argue how Althusser’s state apparatuses and the agents of production shape ideological functioning and cultural behaviours of society. Just as Plato’s Gorgias describes rhetoric as the persuasion of ignorant masses within the courts and assemblies, David Simons’ modern ‘post-industrial tragedy’ TV series The Wire reveals how private domains of the ruling ideologies repress and persuade the people of Baltimore. Simon, following Althusser, also reveals how agents are themselves ‘steeped’ in their ideologies in order to perform their tasks conscientiously –tasks of the exploited (proletarians), exploiters (capitalists), exploiters’ auxiliaries (managers), or of high priests of the ruling ideology (functionaries) (Althusser, 1968). This essay will analyze the fifth series’ final episode “-30-”, a didactic medium where ideology occupies the present recovery of rhetoric, paralleling “the inherent distortion of meaning by demands or operations on power of discourse” (Kastely, 221). “-30-” is ultimately the result of “a triumph of capitalism over human value” (Simon, 2008).

 “…the life of kings” – H. L. Mencken

-30-

Kastely recognizes a paradigm shift from rhetoric as the art of an agent to rhetoricality as a feature of discourse in general, where issues of justice and responsibility emerge as problems: “Can the world still be conceived as a scene for action once subjectivity is pluralized and diffused?” (222). The Wire answers this question for viewers by exposing the power in Baltimore and how ideological systems of ideas dominate the mind of the community (For Marx, 149). In each season, the series investigates ideological state apparatuses (ISA) of the legal, trade union, and educational ISA in Baltimore. “-30-”, the final episode of the series, explores the political and communications, or press, ISA. While ISAs predominately influence the private domains of society by ideological reasoning, Althusser argues that public SAs of Administration, Police, and the Courts, constitute the repressive SAs, which function by forms of violence. “-30-” shows the majority of the capitalist characters threatened to a decision. Bill Rawls is threatened to lose Major in the Police SA (scene 7). Pearlman is at risk of losing her career in the legal SA (scene 4: 7); her character reveals the rigid hierarchy of power, “The weight will not fall on them. It never does”. Carcetti suffers the highest risk of losing his campaign and credibility in the Administration, as revealing the truth of the homeless would conflict with his moral purpose and faculty as a mayor of Baltimore.

 The Wire not only demonstrates the repression of proletarians such as McNulty and Freamon, but the constraints on the capitalist agents of production, repressed and deceived by their own SAs. Valesio notes that even rhetor’s unconscious is bound to collective patterns. Cedric Daniels is the only character that manages to sustain individual principles and a promising career, unlike the proletarian police. Daniels overtly condemns his SA’s duplicity, “Instead of cleaning house like we need to, he’s up there figuring out how to hide the dirt. I swear, I gotta mind to call the governor and just let it fly…” (Scene 4: 7). When Daniels is eventually threatened, he chooses to resign: The tree that doesn’t bend, breaks, Cedric”, which he responds, “bend too far, you’re already broken” (scene 57:69). This metaphor proves the inherent conditioning of ideologies by discipline, where individuals are made flexible to the institutions.

McNulty and Freamon chose to operate outside the dominant code by manufacturing an issue to get funds to capture vicious drug criminals. Wilson recognizes the proletarians’ actions as parallel to those of their capitalists: “They manufactured an issue to get paid, we manufactured an issue to get you elected governor. Everybody gettin’ what they need behind some make-believe” (scene 1). Wilson reveals how the characters are operating for their own private advantage. The criminals and drug-dealers are not repressed but in fact a step ahead of the SAs, operating as counter-disciplinary institutions. The internal repression of the Police and Administration SAs ultimately results in the freedom of Marlo Stanfield (scene 47). Thus Simon is polemic that docile bodies of SAs sustain an ineffectual, “Kafkaesque bureaucracy: not only dysfunctional, but systematically incapable of remedying its dysfunction” (McMillan, 2008). “The Wire” argues “the real enemy of rhetoric is not logic but ideology” (Novantiqua, 61) as the people of Baltimore are constantly trapped in a state of pluralized subjectivity.

 

Althusser also acknowledges “no class can hold State power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the State Ideological Apparatuses” (1971). This idea is clear in “-30-” as Carcetti, who initially promised government reform, ends up following his institutional SA by concealing statistics and convincing the public, by mass media, that crime is declining. “-30-” presents the media as an ideological tool to maintain the dominance of those in power: “all the repetition and incantation of the sanitized term information, with its cleansing cybernetic properties, cannot wash away or obliterate the fundamentally dirty, semiotic, discursive character of the media in their cultural dimensions” (Hall, 367). The Baltimore Sun reproduces the capital interests of the Police and Administration by concealing the murders, promoting Carcetti’s credibility for the upcoming political campaign (scene 49). Alma’s reporting on the murders is cut and Carcetti’s erroneous triumph in the homeless murders makes the front page. The Baltimore Sun reinforces the ideology that successful Administration does not have high crime rates, operating as a repressive SA as its agents, including the exploiter’s auxiliaries Whiting and Klebanow, become disciplined to follow the process. Haynes, like Daniels, opposes the SA:“our job is to report the news, not manufacture it” (scene 27). Yet Haynes is punished in his opposition, being demoted in the office.

As former Sun reporter, Simon uses The Wire to address the problem of the press SA, employing epigraph as a rhetorical tool to add authorial support to this statement.In “-30-” an excerpt of H.L Mencken’s quote is displayed in the lobby of The Baltimore Sun when Alma tells Gus she has been demoted (scene 55). The full quote reads “…as I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.” This scene persuades viewers to question the role and motives of the media as an agent. Alma’s punishment for acting against the hegemonic code and reporting the murders is contrasted with Templeton’s fabulist methods, which eventually win him the Pulitzer Prize (scene 75). Yet in context of the series, “-30-” highlights the issue not of what Templeton is doing, but what everyone is not doing: covering all the stories the audience is aware of, but that the Sun omits from its pages. This includes multiple deaths, schools, the disbanding of the MCU, Carcetti pressuring police to cook statistics. The Administration and media cyclically deceive the people of Baltimore, as “linguistically veiled or dissimulated operations of power become an inescapable fact for worlds constituted by and mediated through discourse” (Kastely, 221).

The Wire, and particularly “-30-”, is a complex work of art which highlights the transition of rhetoric to one of capital exploitation. The characters are punished by their own rigid ideologies and the media acts as a tool to regulate hegemonic encoding, transforming human beings into subjects as, “the signifying systems which constitute the sphere of ideology are themselves the vehicles through which consciousness of social agents is produced” (Kastely, 51). “The Wire” enacts a critical maxim for the social assemblages of persuasion, where Diels’s rhetoric of truth is compromised for the purpose of private advantage. Simon, like Kafka and Plato, appeals against a society dominated by dysfunctional institutions. “-30-” concludes with images of the Baltimoreans (scene 73-85), the continuation of SA power as the rest are “waiting for a day that never seems to come” (85).

References:

Simon, D, The Wire, 2007, Season 5 of 5, “-30-”

http://kottke.org.s3.amazonaws.com/the-wire/The_Wire_5x10_-_-30-.pdf

Scene 1/ page 1: MAYOR’S OFFICE/CITY HALL

Scene 4/ page 6-8: WAR MEMORIAL PLAZA/DOWNTOWN BALTIMORE – DAY

Scene 7/ page 10-11: CORRIDOR/MAYORAL SUITE/CITY HALL – DAY

Scene 27/ page 36: MANAGING EDITOR’S OFFICE/NEWSROOM/BALTIMORE SUN- NIGHT

Scene 47/ page 54-55: CONSULTATION ROOM/BALTIMORE CITY JAIL – DAY

Scene 49/ page 58-59: PRESS BRIEFING ROOM/POLICE HEADQUARTERS – DAY

Scene 55/ page 63-64: NEWSROOM FLOOR LOBBY/BALTIMORE SUN

Scene 57/ page 69-70: COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE/POLICE HEADQUARTERS – NIGHT

Scene 75/ page 80: BANQUET ROOM/NEW YORK CITY – DAY

Scene 77/ page 81: HOTEL MEETING ROOM/BALTIMORE – NIGHT

Scene 80/ page 81: COURTROOM/DISTRICT COURTHOUSE – DAY

Scenes 73-85/ page 80-82: Montage

Scene 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdpG92dsx1A&list=UU14tVdvyCkgRx5BS5No28mQ&index=17&feature=plcp

2008, March 17, The Wire’s Final Season and the Story Everyone Missed, The Huffington Post, retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-simon/the-wires-final-season-an_b_91926.html

Althusser, L, 1962, For Marx, The Penguin Press.

Althusser, L, 1971, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review P, 2001.

Aristotle, 350B.C.E, Rhetoric.

Diels, H. A, 1903, The Fragments of the Presocratics, Parmenides’ Way of Truth, 2B, W. Kranz, Berlin.

Griffin, Em, A First Look at Communication Theory, Cultural Studies of Stuart Hall, chapter 26, 5th Edition, Boston: McGraw, 2003.

Kastely, J, 1997, Rethinking the Rhetorical Tradition: From Plato to Postmodernism, Yale University Press.

 McMillan, A., 2008, Dramatizing Individuation: Institutions, Assemblages, and The Wire, The University of British Columbia’s Film Journal: Volume 4, Post Genre, retrieved from http://cinephile.ca/archives/volume-4-post-genre/dramatizing-individuation-institutions-assemblages-and-the-wire/

QUT Power Points –Ideology, Classic Rhetoric I and II

Skinner, B. F., 1989, The Origins of Cognitive Thought, Analysis of Behavior, Merrill Publishing Company

Valesio, P, 1980, Novantiqua: Rhetorics as a Contemporary Theory, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

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