Clockers versus The Wire by Steve Finbow

I don’t have a television. That’s not a boast or a way around paying the license. I just don’t have one. Spend a year in Japan and you’ll come away loathing your sixteen-foot by eight-foot flat-screen. Japanese television shows are dreadful – like Swapshop and Tiswas for adults. But I do have a MacBook, and on it I watch DVDs. The latest – after The Sopranos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – is The Wire.

I’m one episode away from the conclusion to season two (don’t tell me, don’t tell me) and while watching season one I was reading Richard Price’s Clockers (not at the same time – I mean, I was reading when I wasn’t watching – oh, you figure it out). Pure coincidence. And there are similarities. The Wire’s D’Angelo Barksdale conducts his drug business in the low rises from a sofa, Ronald Dunham (Strike) deals from a bench under the towers. Buddha Hat is similar to Omar Little. Dempsy, New Jersey, could be Baltimore.

Both The Wire and Clockers are neo-realist, tough, and, like McNulty and Rocco Klein, they grab you by the balls and twist. Richard Price wrote episodes of The Wire for seasons three and four, joining other crime writers such as George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Rafael Alvarez, all of whom write about inner-city neighbourhoods and are as gritty and hard-boiled as writers get.

But which did I prefer? The Wire is up there with the best – The Sopranos, Buffy, Twin Peaks – it’s violent, funny, and has well-crafted characters. Clockers is Price’s best work – as involved as any DeLillo, well written, driven. And here’s my problem. The inherent passivity of television, of cinema (don’t get me started), means I cannot fully involve myself. I have to stand back, watch; the implied voyeurism makes it impossible for me to enjoy the thing for the thing itself. I’m always looking for stage props, for lighting, the reality is never real enough, it can’t be.

Yet in the novel, I slip easily between the sheets, go down on the characters, insert my inky digits into the folds, the crevices, come up with a little grime under my nails, a little blood, a smidgen of shit, a dusting of frass. I’m gay for Rocco Klein but can’t get it out of my head that Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty) is English. I can taste the Yoo-hoo Strike swigs from but don’t understand why Kima Greggs insists on wearing her hair up.

Both The Wire and Clockers are post-Zolaesque (that’s Émile not Gianfranco) studies of urban desolation, crime, and corruption – both are true-to-life portrayals of human weakness, bravery, greed, and stupidity; but I prefer the word to the view, the book to the DVD. Television, the cinema, the theatre are passive art forms; the novel, the short story, the poem are active… I wear my red handkerchief in my left hip pocket. Where do you wear yours?

 

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