The “Fuck” Scene

11 Nov

For last Thursday’s in-class “hypothetical pedagogy” exercise, our group used the infamous “Fuck” scene from the fourth episode of the first season of The Wire as a springboard for further discussion about how The Wire deviates from or challenges the conventional narrative strategies employed by most procedural crime dramas, in a lesson tailored to a high school demographic (with access to hypothetical permission slips and cool parents, of course). In case this doesn’t ring a bell, for whatever reason, or if you’re an outsider stumbling upon this blog, it’s the scene where McNulty and Bunk are investigating the scene of a murder and piecing together the clues, all while saying or muttering “fuck,” or variations of “fuck.”

The scene is both hilarious and brilliantly self-reflexive in its eschewing of redundant dialogue as an expository device, a narrative strategy prevalent in many crime scene investigations conducted in Law and Order, in favor of essentially-nonverbal, visual exposition that ultimately provides the same amount of narrative information. Implicit in a scene that is so minimal and economical in its exposition is a level of trust that a writer has with the viewer (whose spellbound spectatorship is figured by the landlord in this scene), which is often a safe assumption to make with HBO’s audience — in other words, if you’re not closely following the series of connections being made by McNulty and Bunk, then the final discovery of the bullet jacket in the grass might not be such a satisfying revelation. Indeed, information is rarely ever spoon-fed through cheap expository devices in a narratively complex show like The Wire, although the pilot does at one point break this principle by turning to a flashback to clarify a connection between the Gant murder and an earlier courtroom testimony. In the commentary track for the pilot, David Simon expresses how he was very much against relying on this time-manipulation device because it disrupted the organic, linear momentum of the narrative, and perhaps momentarily undermined its style of realism; although, as someone who often struggles to follow or keep up with the logical flow, jargon, and pace of the series, I definitely appreciated it and thought it effectively visualized an internal moment of epiphany.

One Response to “The “Fuck” Scene”

  1. Alessio Franko November 11, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    That scene marks a really important moment in a watch-through of The Wire, specifically when we viewers come to understand that profanity in the show is not just there because it’s HBO and it’s allowed. As you point out, profanity is an integral part of storytelling in the show. Trying to write an episode of The Wire without regular swearing would be a fool’s errand – it just wouldn’t be the same show.

    I see profanity in the show as the linchpin allowing it to maintain its incredibly dense tapestry of details while also having access to its intense, universally felt pathos. Following from that, of course, the show also finds its greatest moments of pathos when there is NO swearing. Omar’s scream at the sight of his boyfriend’s corpse is one of the more chilling in this season, the nonverbal catharsis so impactful after rounds and rounds of profanity. Omar also shows how vocabulary is a sign of social structure. The police and the gang both have their own unique vocabularies of swearing (for instance, “motherfucker” is predominantly used by the gang members), but Omar, enjoying a peripheral engagement with every institution less broad than “The Game” is the only character who never swears.

    I leave you with this. It is a must-watch:

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