Frank Sobotka on EDUPUNK

To quote the inimitable Luke Waltzer, Frank “It ain’t about me!” Sobotka is “one of the great characters in TV history.” I have to wholeheartedly agree, the stevedore who “knew he was wrong, but believed for the right reasons,” was an amazing presence on television—a working class guy whose not a ridiculous stooge like The King of Queens. For some more great clips featuring Sobotka struggling with the death of the American working class, check out this clip.

And while I know I am Johnny-come-lately to The Wire, I have been blown away by the shows institutional scope and its intense drilling into the dark and depressing post-9/11 landscape of the US, using Baltimore as a fascinating microcosm. After just finishing up the second season, I have to say that so far this series has surpassed just about every TV show I have seen—save perhaps The Prisoner and The Twilight Zone. In retrospect, The Wire kinda makes The Sopranos seem narrow, tired, and cartoonish.

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11 Responses to Frank Sobotka on EDUPUNK

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    The Wire means I finally have an answer to the question, “what is your favorite TV show of all time.” There are so many reasons I love this show, and you’ve hit on a *lot* of them here. The post-9/11 context is key, and doesn’t get talked about as much as some other things – but the connections between the war on drugs and the post 9/11 world are really fascinating and really deftly examined in The Wire. This essay (full disclosure – my husband wrote it) is one of my favorites about that point.

    Thanks for posting !

  2. I have to admit that I’ve never seen The Wire [no h-bo for me], but the comment is similar to something I’ve been saying lately:

    Instead of BUILDING sh!t in the US, we’re building SH!T.

  3. Tom says:

    Wait until season 4. If you’ve ever taught in k12 public school at all, but especially in a rougher area, you’ll have continuous flashbacks.

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  5. Scott Leslie says:

    At the last NV I was talking to Mikhail about my love for The Wire. He laid a book title on me (“The Box: How the shipping container changed the world” or something liek that, that blew my head off; of *freakin’* course setting season 2 in the docks wasn’t an accident and was about more than just one specific labour union smuggling some drugs, but the power of that metaphor had been lost to me until that conversation (as I keep telling people, I am a slow learner). But that’s what I love about The Wire; every time I watch it again, or every time I talk to someone new about it, another subtle angle, another sub-theme, is revealed. About as deep as I’ve found on the google-box (as, ironically, we used to call it).

  6. Luke says:

    To paraphrase Muhammad Ali (when Cosell asked him why he was “truculent”), I don’t know what inimitable means, but if it means “good,” then I’m that.

    It’s so nice to catch Jim’s enthusiastic and fresh take on this series, which has been a huge part of my life over the past five years. (So much so that when my wife began labor with our daughter at 5 am, we watched a couple of episodes On Demand before she progressed enough for us to go the hospital. Really, if we had had a boy, “Omar” and “Bunk” would have been in the running, and perhaps “Jimmmmmmmmmmaaaay” too if I didn’t have a crazy friend by that name)

    For some of the best writing on the series, check out Alan Sepinwall’s blog; he’s actually reblogging the first three seasons of the series, with separate, spoiler-free posts for “newbies.” He’s also got a couple long interviews with David Simon on there.

    What I love so much about the show is how it challenges its viewers in myriad ways. Jim, you’ll get to this (and I’m not spoiling anything), but there’s an encounter between Omar and Brother Mouzone in season 3 straight out of Sergio Leone; and dozens of other quotes and references. The show mixed Greek tragedy with postindustrial urban history via the density of a nineteenth century novel. It’s been compared to Dickens (which became a running joke in the fifth season), but to me it always felt more Russian in its complex take on morality. In a world where every idea — the Edupunk debate is an example of this — gets filtered into black and white, it was so refreshing to see a piece of art on this scale that pursued truth with such vigor and challenged its viewers to do the same.

    Many think that season two was the weakest (or thought so until season five), but I loved it. The decline of the American city is a topic that’s so important and nauseatingly under-considered. The Wire captures that better than any television or film ever has, and season two shows its root cause: the demise of work.

    Jim’s watching The Wire, reading and thinking about discussing Capital, and leading the Edupunk Revolution are certainly tightly-related pursuits.

  7. Reverend says:

    @Anne-Marie: Your husband’s piece framing this as an examination of the current state of the war on drugs is fascinating. When watching season 1 (and for the record I just made it through season 2) I was struck by the fact that the feds entire modus operandi had changed after 9/11. What’s more, the way this series deals with race, class, gender, and sexuality is downright radical. Whether Simon is mourning the inability for police to do their job more effectively or not, post 9/11, I think think the real magic is how the show refuses a kind of simplified moral order for the world to fall back into. It almost makes frank Sobotka’s brother Louis seem irrelevant and outmoded given his righteous stand for all that is right. It as if he didn’t live in the world. It was almost difficult for me to hear him talk after all the other characters had been framed as complex, on the take, and full of as many strengths as they were weaknesses.

    Great stuff, thanks for the link, and further kindling an ever growing passion of mine these past weeks 🙂

    @Peter: Yeah, this idea of moving from an economy of goods to one of information is striking in this series, and something the essay above that Ann Marie links to nails in several regards. I was so taken with Sobotka’s sustained working class jeremiad, that I really began to feel for his story. Oddly enough, at first when season one started I immediately wanted to hate him for some strange reason, I guess my attachment to all the characters from the first year’s episodes. But that so quickly changed once the new rhythms of an entirely differnet part of the city took over. Anyway, I know you haven;t seen it, but it might be some good Summer viewing if you fins some time.

    @Tom: Funny, I did teach at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn for a year and a half, and I am very much looking forward to that narrative. I’m actually a bit scared of it. Because while I enjoyed that job in so many ways, the institutional violence became unbearable over time. I found myself giving into the inclination to punish, lash out, and become spiteful. Thise were strange days, and it may have as much to do with me as any institution, but I have to think a NYC public high school (perhaps save a few of the flagship schools)suggests many of the deepest problems with how we imagine education in our society. And boy am I excited to see how a show as wild as The Wire walks that tightrope.

    @Scott: You and I both know I have you to blame for the final push. And I have to say I am all a google for The Wire, and it may very well be the subject of several discussions online so that w can prepare for the 5 season marathog we will be having next February in Vancouver in lieu of attending NV.

    @Luke: You are “the greatest.” Nothing like a comment that allows you to compare yourself with Ali, now that is my kind of introduction to an idea 🙂 You nail it with the Russian/Dostoevsky-like quality to The Wire, it is dark, brooding, and so unorgiving when it comes to any clear moral order or code. The best line of season two in this regard comes when Beatrice asks Frank to turn himself in and the dialogie goes like this:

    Sobotka: I knew I was wrong, but in my head i thought I was wrong for the right reasons.

    Beatrice: There are different kinds of wrong.

    Now that is like the best of existential Kierkegaard without the hypothetical philosophical examples, but rather the beautiful complexity of the master Dostoevsky. Brilliant!

    As to your point on the American urban centers, I couldn’t agree more. The whole scene in Season two when Nicos sees the gentrification tear his neighborhood apart was awesome—exactly how I felt in Brooklyn in 2002. And the ending montage in the final episode of season 2 showing the granary succumbing to yet another condominium developer was powerful. The heart of the issue is really this changing understanding of work and the death of collective bargaining and organized labor. We have become more and more disposable, and the comparisons between labor, work, race, and class between seasons 1 and 2 really examine the complex relations of changing landscape of work, politics, and value in a post 9/11 world.

    Great, great stuff.

  8. Anne-Marie says:

    omg – I hope I didn’t spoil you with that essay. I didn’t even think!

  9. The Wire is definitely an awesome show, in the first rank of all American tv, ever. I’ve only seen the first 2 seasons, but would gladly buy the next two to watch, sight unseen.

    Man, that scene where Frank stomps to his fate, blue sky shining overhead!

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