I was looking at my collection (yes, I do this a lot) and I was wondering.
How can I have on the same shelf genres such as hard-boiled, gritty, literary, noir, literary noir, police procedurals, timeless classics like Catch-22, In Cold Blood, Naked Lunch, but also Dan Brown, some pulp PI novels and a collection of films that can go from Otto Preminger to Michael Bay?
(Thank God I don’t have any of those “My! Oh! My! Who could it be that stole the magic cupcakes?” and I’m not even getting into my sci-fi titles.)
How can I explain my (and probably your) taste in such a diversity of genres? Well, let me try a few examples.
First thing that comes to mind is Castle because, well, I was watching Castle.
Castle is cute (yes I’ve used the word cute). The murder scenes are not too morbid. The bodies are not decayed realistically. No bystanders ever appear to be panicking or screaming in utter terror and they always seem to break their case in a few days. (That would make it a hell of a police unit if you ask me.)
Don’t get me wrong, I like Castle as much as the next guy. Both lead actors are Canadian. (I can’t help but root for the local team, what can I say?) I think that Nathan Fillion is incredibly funny in the show even if I miss Firefly dearly. I like the relationship between Ryan and Esposito. Nikki Heat and Kate Beckett are great, great character names… And although I have no doubt that Stana Katic’s strong, powerful stares would never, ever break any hardened criminal, it makes for good television. As I have said, it’s cute.
Other times I watch or read something that would never, ever, EVER happen. And I don’t mean something like The X-files’ “realm of infinite possibilities.” Where I would be like, “alright, maybe that would never happen but it would be so fucking cool if it did.”
I’m talking “Shit just ain’t gonna happen.”
It’s like that scene in Dan Brown’s Deception Point (sorry Dan!) where the two protagonists are on the ice shelf and two highly-trained-hand-picked-heavy-hitting-SEAL-team-six-badass-undercover-operatives manage to MISS their target in pure white open spaces where there is literally no cover.
I know these guys won’t miss! I’ve been to the range more than once. I just know that’s not realistic. And to add insult to injury, not only do the two protagonists manage to escape, they fall into some of the coldest water this planet has to offer and within the three minutes that they can survive a freaking NUCLEAR SUBMARINE emerges and saves their sorry asses.
This will simply, never happen in real life. I’d rather bet on the shape-shifting aliens Mulder and Scully have been chasing all these years. But I read it and I enjoyed it. I finished the novel so it couldn’t be that bad. I accepted the impossibilities because, well, a nuclear submarine emerging from cold waters in the nick of time is actually pretty cool. Or at least it’s entertaining and sometimes entertaining’s all I want.
On the other hand, there are those rare few books or shows in which the murders aren’t “cute” and in which the action is not farfetched. These works of film and literature portray murder as an act that is nowhere near entertaining. Yet I read and watch them as well.
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood still sells today because he wrote it with such intensity and attention to detail that decades after its publication, the novel still manages to bring me inside the heads of both the murderers and the people of Holcomb. I read these kinds of works because I am curious to know what could drive someone to do such a thing as murder. I find it interesting to see what kind of social pressures, failures, context, or history can push a man or a woman to it.
And so, this is where I want to get into The Wire.
The Wire is arguably one of my favorite series of all time. The dialogue was incredibly sharp, the characters were credible, the entire mechanics of crime, police, and politics felt real. There was an undeniable journalistic approach to the show and that was one of its strong points.
The murder and drug trade was not cute because it is not cute in real life. Kids in the show were drawn into this circle of violence because of a social context that favored these kinds of behaviors. Of course, The Wire remains a work of fiction. But it tackled issues that I could only read about in sociology classes in University and it managed to address these issues during five seasons without losing sight of what it was doing. There was always a balance between the dramatic, the comic, and the real.
And now, thanks to The Wire, maybe (just maybe) a bunch of people out there have changed their opinions about their drug use, their way of life, or how to tackle such challenges in their communities. Obviously, I am most likely an optimistic. A lot of viewers probably enjoyed the show because it reminded them that they didn’t live in Baltimore and that they “sure enjoyed a good way of life.”
But then again, even that ain’t exactly nothing now, is it?
Ian Truman is a hardcore kid turned writer. He has been straight edge and vegetarian for at least a decade now and hopes to bring the passion, verve, and dedication of hardcore into the art form of the novel. You can find him in Montreal, Quebec, with his wife Mary and daughter Kaori or on his website at iantruman.wordpress.com.
Read all posts by Ian Truman for Criminal Element.