Conflicting Evidence as to Whether or Not Susan Sontag Would Have Loved “The Wire”
March 11, 2010
I don’t know whether or not Susan Sontag ever saw “The Wire.” She died in 2004, so it’s possible that she saw an early season or two, but I would guess that she did not. She largely stopped writing about popular culture after the 1960s, and–no matter the magnitude of its scope at the end–the first season superficially doesn’t rise above the level of procedural. Viewers know, of course, that it transcends the procedural, but casual TV guide flippers would not.
Unfortunately, after examining the evidence, I can’t come to a definitive position.
Argument in favor of her loving “The Wire”: length. In Notes on Sontag, Lopate remarks that Sontag gradually starts to acclaim only really long movies in her reviews. Says he,
She seemed to rater artwork in direct proportion to the number of hours it took to experience it. She was demonstrating …a “taste for spiritual and physical effort—for art as an ordeal” (USS, 33) She had become the queen of sitzfleish. * A Yiddish word meaning to apply one’s ppsterior to the seat for as long as it takes.
If she loved the paltry 15 hours that is Berlin Alexanderplatz, then she no doubt would have found The Wire orgasmic.
Inherently contradictory evidence: her attitude toward realism. She hates it. Until she loves it. Her early work is all about proving how great avant garde fiction is and how awful realist fictions are (read–or rather don’t–The Benefactor). Later, she comes to write realist romances in a way that enthralls Cynthia Ozick, sells books, and alienates lovers of consistency. She was against realism before she was for it! What’s to stop her from being so capricious again?
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Evidence against loving The Wire: she dismissed the format completely. This is a theme of one of her later essays, “At the Same Time: The Novelist and Moral Reasoning.” She might have liked the show, but you would have first had to get her to watch it.