Sunday, September 20, 2009
Before David Simon and Ed Burns made The Wire-- they wrote The Corner. Its brilliant, of course. And it shares many themes with The Wire. But its also more focused then The Wire. The 600 pages of The Corner focus on a year in the life of a handful of real people who lived near the corners of Fayette and Monroe in East Baltimore in the early 1990s.
A consequence of this focus is that the physical, cultural and allegorical world of the corner that Simon and Burns depict- in their words "an existential crisis rooted not only in race-- which the corner has slowly transcended-- but in the unresolved disaster of the American Rust-belt" where "an increasingly draconian legal system's inability to mitigate against human frailty and despair, against economic neglect and institutional racism, against a failed educational system and the marginalization of America's urban populations "- is personalized.
The people caught in this world are humanized. You identify with them. You hope for them. You cry for them. You live in awe of them. Coupled with Simon and Burns extended and brilliant discussions of how the corner has developed, how its economy functions, its culture, the failure of the war on drugs, wellfare and the institutional abandonment of the underclass, you are given an intimate connection to people forced to live under conditions where
"To see it in retrospect, to look backward across thirty years on the Fayette streets of this country is to contemplate disaster as a seamless chronology....cursed as we are with a permanent urban underclass, an unremitting and increasingly futile drug war, and Third World conditions in the hearts of our cities, the American experiment seems, as the millennium to have found a limit."
Yet, in the people who make it out, who make something where all others fall tragically to the corner- in the unbelievable example of Ella Thompson- who following the murder of her 12 year daughter against all realism holds runs the local community centre- or Fran Boyd or Tyreeka Freamon, you gain some hope. For, on The Corner "no ending is certain and hope itself endures.' Even as "The Corner is, itself, immutable." That is until we "acknowledge[ing] honestly the depth and complexity of the problem." In other words, we face what has created the corner in its own image- capitalism- and transcending it before it is too late.