Call For Papers


January 29-30, 2009
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Sponsored by
The Black Humanities Collective
and The Center for Afroamerican and African Studies

Please distribute widely

The Black Humanities Collective (BHC) and The Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (CAAS) of the University of Michigan invite individual paper and panel proposals for our 2009 symposium, “Heart of the City: Black Urban Life on The Wire.

Critically acclaimed and nationally syndicated, HBO’s series The Wire depicts a racialized postindustrial cityscape, marred by the brutal provenance of the drug economy.  In its five seasons, the series is as much a dramatic achievement as it is a complex portrait of a black urban experience.  Featuring a predominantly black cast, The Wire is an exceptional cultural text from which to examine a wide range of urban issues, to be approached from literary, historical, political, and sociological perspectives.

This symposium proposes a critical consideration of The Wire, which treats the show as both a topic and a model of critique. Our aim is to create a space that is open and interdisciplinary. Graduate students, professors, and independent scholars working in the Humanities, the Arts, Social Sciences, Public Policy, and elsewhere are encouraged to join this collective discussion. In this sense, The Wire can serve as a common point of discussion, as a viable vehicle of social engagement in its own right and a text worthy of careful and extended investigation.

Potential paper/panel topics include:

  • Urban Renewal and Decline
  • Race, Place, and Visual Culture
  • The Black Family
  • The City as a Transnational Conduit
  • Critical Masculinities and Femininities
  • Media Ethics and Issues of Representation
  • Sex and Sexualities in the City
  • (Counter-)Public and (Counter-)Private Spheres
  • Pedagogy and Educational Practice
  • City and Regional Planning
  • Performance and Performativity in Urban Space

To submit a paper or panel proposal, please send a 250 word abstract via email to Abstracts and pr oposals are due Monday, December 1, 2008.  Acceptance notifications will be emailed by Monday December 15, 2008.

The Black Humanities Collective is an interdisciplinary graduate student and faculty organization at the University of Michigan dedicated to the intellectual and professional development of those studying Africa and its diaspora.


Bigger than the war

Defeated, gobsmacked and heartbroken.

Copy that.

Nate Fick at DNC 08-“It took seven years of hard experience to get me on this stage.”

Nate Fick was one of the early speakers in the line up for the Democratic National Convention’s final night at Invesco Stadium. He was one of the “American Voices,” a group of Americans selected to tell their stories during last night’s historic event.

Below, the text of Fick’s remarks.

Good afternoon. I’m Nathaniel Fick. My Marine platoon landed in Afghanistan on a moonlit night in 2001. A little more than a year later, we rolled into Iraq. I’ll never forget one dawn after a vicious gun battle. We’d just medevaced one of our wounded Marines, and I turned to see a small American flag hanging from a humvee’s antenna. For a second, it reminded me of the line we all know so well: “And our flag was still there.”

I registered as a Republican at 18 and voted for John McCain in 2000. It took seven years of hard experience to get me on this stage. But we cannot afford more of the same. That’s why we need Barack Obama and Joe Biden to lead us beyond the tired divisions of the past. They have the judgment to make the right decisions, leading our military, and uphold our highest ideals.

Everyone who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan has left something: a friend, a limb, a piece of their youth. In those palm groves and on those ridge lines, this is personal for us. I don’t want to retreat; I want to win.

The past seven years have been hard, often heartbreaking. Our flag, however, is still there. Let’s move forward in our quest to live up to the idea of America.

I can’t find a video of it on the DNC site yet, but I did see Fick speak. It was very moving. The part about everyone who was there “left something” reminded me of something that completely tore me up when I saw it during one of the video segments aired earlier during the convention: a young Marine spoke about how seeing the boots and helmets of  fallen comrades, arranged in lines for a memorial service, was so powerful for soldiers because they had each spent so much time living and fighting in those exact same uniforms, wearing those exact same boots.

Episode 6: Like fucking for virginity

Sorry so late. Satellite went out this week, I had to scramble.

Patrolling with NVGs on, Kocher and his team snatch up a lone armed Iraqi. Aside from interrupting the guy taking a dump, which I don’t think the Geneva Conventions covers anyway, it’s by the book.  Then Captain America comes flying over the the side of the berm like he was shot of cannon and fucks everything up, because yeah, that unarmed guy Kocher’s now got cuffed and is pushing in front of him?  Yeah, that guy was trying to kill Eric, man!

Just in case anyone had a doubt, Captain America has lost his fucking mind. Officially. The guys in his platoon aren’t even bothering to talk behind his back about him anymore. Though, the guy who tells him his hamster’s jumped the wheel does call him “Sir.”

Thus opens the next-to-the-last episode, Stay Frosty.  Frosty, because, see?  Captain America, hell, everyone, not so frosty. Get it?  I’ll just say here at the beginning, that therein is my problem with the episode.  Too much telling, not enough showing.  No stray unconnected dots, pretty much every punch is telegraphed. A few examples:

Manimal being a dog to the Iraqi woman on the roadside/Manimal being a bigger dog to the female Marine later.

Exposition about the Iraqis using helmets to escape detection by thermals/Gabe finds an Iraqi helmet/his team gets shot at by the reservists.

Unnamed character out of nowhere shoehorned into scene so that we completely understand about the reservists about to show up.

Just like every other time I have a negative criticism of anything Simon/Burns & Co have done, I feel like a schmuck for saying so, because they are who they are and have done all the awesome they’ve done, and I’m sitting on my couch, barely able to crank out a post per show.   Nonetheless, this episode felt off-target, not of a piece with the others. That’s my story and I’m stickin to it.

Of course, it’s still pretty great…

The scene of Colbert dancing or flying or whatever he was doing was the highlight. Wonderful, though it would have been perfection without the exposition between Ray and Evan. Still, there was enough wtf? left in, and jesus did we ever need a palate cleanser right there after the dee-secration of the filtration dee-vice scene. Now we know why Sixta exists.  Because when you routinely condition people to act like violent animals, well, they aren’t going to stay inside the lines and someone has to be there to kick them in the head and make them stop. Remember Ray’s reference to pit bulls?  I once saw a pit bull attack another dog. There were dozens of people around, some of whom tried their best to separate the dogs but the pit bull was like a machine without an off switch.  Then two guys ran up with their cooler and threw the ice, freezing water, cans of beer, all of it, on the dogs and that did the trick.  That’s what Sixta is for.

Is it just me, or did anyone else have the same sick feeling at that first long shot of the refugees on the road, like any second we were going to see them blown up by an artillery attack?  That rubber band just keeps twisting and twisting and twisting all through that scene, aaaaaand sure enough, there goes an old man’s head.   You have to feel for these soldiers, I guess, because any man, woman, child, or small animal in their vicinity seems to die violently no matter what they do.  I mean they are supposed to be expert killers, not killing people by accident. Which, of course, is one of the things this episode hit us over the head with.  We’ve seen it every week, so we didn’t need Poke and Ice Man to spell it all out for us.

That’s what Stay Frosty was about though, more than anything. Drive around the head, run over the body.  You can’t win. Simultaneously blowing the shit out of a country and saving it at the same time is pretty close to impossible, especially when the whole premise is a lie to begin with, especially when you don’t do it with enough personnel and resources, and especially when even the good guys have to throw away the rule book because it’s irrelevant because…see beginning of sentence, and repeat.   Eight thousand Sixtas couldn’t unfuck things at this point, and remember: this is only a month in.

A little estrogen.

This was the week that Iceman met Riverbend and Chaffin and that other whiskey tango piece of shit met an actual female soldier. “Concertina bush” — jeez, what a pig. I was so repulsed by that, not the least by the writer’s co-yuks with his new homies. Seeing as how this is an all-girl blog, anyone want to take that one on?

Ep. 5, A Burning Dog: Dig a hole. Eat. Kill.

First thoughts on A Burning Dog.

Well, first off, it’s safe to say we’ve moved into politics. Encino Man (“Whoo! Whoo!”)  doesn’t quite get it but everyone else does. Fick:

“It’s all on that guy’s passport. Two weeks ago he was still a student in Syria. He wasn’t a jihadi until we came to Iraq.”

Last week’s metaphor, masturbation, was about waste and futility and missed opportunities.  Compared to tonight’s episode, Combat Jack seems like a walk in the park in retrospect.  Person’s Stevie Wonder joke was ironic, given that more than in any ep so far, the blinders have come off.  If there was any doubt of their mission, it’s gone. They are there to drive into ambushes and draw fire.  If there was any doubt about the ineptitude of Encino Man and Captain America, it’s gone.  One’s as dumb as a rock, the other is a hysterical menace. If there was ever any doubt that innocents were going to get blown to bits on a daily basis, it’s gone.  See, when I saw them surveilling frolicking children and old ladies baking bread this time, I thought it was a narrative device to simply heighten the tension.  Which, I guess, it was after all.  Another day, another hamlet obliterated.  Time to dig a hole.

Even Ice Man and Fick are at odds, though they are both coming from more or less the same place, which is that this war is not one of the good ones, is not played by the rules, is not the war they trained for, is not going to be winnable, is not ever going to leave them alone, its dead children haunting their dreams forever. If the assembled clowns running the show don’t get them killed, that is. To Afghanistan, gentlemen!

That thing about being the last man to die for a mistake?  Imagine dying because there aren’t enough batteries? Even though I knew the outcome, that nighttime sequence leading up to the bridge ambush was terrifyingly effective.  Imagine rocking through pitch blackness toward a certain ambush, the dark out your window illuminated only by artillery fire, knowing that the guy driving your humvee can’t see what what he’s doing? No wonder Scribe can’t stop the shakes.

I know I’m flogging this parts of a body idea a little hard but let’s go there again. These guys are all parts of the same body. You see now the importance of calling in the shots, the constant back and forth communication about even taking shits, it’s the nerve impulses that let the body operate effectively. The supplies, and the lack of them, that’s the blood flow. Guys like Colbert, Kocher, Pappy, they’re just the arms, the legs. The officers are the brains.  So these guys have Encino Man at the top, so already their brain is mostly gone. I don’t know the name of the Lt. in Alpha company, the one that called in the massive artillery strike on a bare patch of desert?  At that same level, in Bravo,  there’s Captain America.  No matter how good and steady and reliable his counterpart Fick is, there’s Captain America skittering around, like a bad case of epilepsy, with a little bipolar thrown in for good measure.

Oh man, they are all so fucked.

I’m going to revise that arms and legs thing, just for Colbert. He’s the eyes.  In the book, Wright notes that Colbert, especially, was obsessed with figuring out small visual details in the distance, and the film’s borne that out over and over again.  Colbert watches, looks, sees.  Last night’s ep was about seeing, and not seeing.  How awful and appropriate then, that last shot.  Colbert looking into the face of this war, a dead civilian looking back at him forever, through one eye, the other shot out by one of the Marines on his team.

Who the enemy is: Ep 4, Combat Jack Open thread

Alpha and Bravo go their separate ways and the awesome gets spread around a bit wider this week.  Even Trombley does something right.


(UPDATED:  Corrected the misspelling of Trombley’s name. Regret the error)