Monday, August 3, 2009

The Wire and the Mamet: espresso, home


We started watching The Wire yesterday. Halfway through episode one, I could tell it was not only Another Series From HBO, but also One That You Get Reaaaaally Hooked On. Admitting this may require me to turn in my white person badge, but I'm not sure I have time to get to know that many characters again. That's the same reason I didn't get through disc one of Deadwood. I've already watched all of The Sopranos twice, I don't ineed to do it all again in a different scenario. Yet still I let out an involuntary sigh of relief every time I hear the HBO logo's "pssssh...aaaaaaah" sound.

Another thing I could tell halfway through episode one was that I couldn't possibly take it seriously: the profanity. I don't have a problem with swearing, or cursing/cussing, or coarse language, or whatever you like to call it. I just think they've taken it to comedic extremes in this show, and it's hilarious to think somebody sat down at their Macbook in Starbucks trying to capture the streets of Baltimore in a string of expletives. In other words: shit man, there's too much fucking swearing up in this motherfucker, you four-eyed cocksucker.

Not many things intrigue me more than units of measurement that are named after people. Either they wrote themselves into the history books by naming it after themselves, or their research was so critical that they were honored in unit-name form posthumously. Either way, it's a pretty good way to guarantee you will be talked about for hundreds of years after your death. We have the Hertz, the Ohm, the Kelvin, and the Henry. Well, pretty much any unit with a capital letter at the start. I propose the introduction of the Mamet, to measure the frequency of the word "fuck" in literary works.

In 1982, David Mamet squeezed an unprecedented amount of profanity into his play Glengarry Glen Ross. At an astonishing rate of one "fuck" every 40 seconds, it set the bar pretty fucking high for swearwriters for the rest of the century. People were inspired, yet a little afraid. Every time they tried to reach Mamet's lofty profane heights, their computers inexplicably crashed. They couldn't get away with falling just short of breaking new ground: word would get out, and their work would be discredited for all time. They had to wait. There would be plenty of "fuck" to be had, but it would have to wait for another era.

And so here we are, almost a tenth of the way into the next century, and I'm watching episode one of The Wire. There's a good one minute and twenty seconds with no swearing at the start, and for added realism they keep the language pretty clean in the courtroom scenes, but they soon make up for it with lines such as the following:

“Motherfucker probably came in here to take a shit.”

“Sit the fuck down, detective. Put your ass in that chair.”

“Fucking shitstorm.”

But it's not just quantity. They also strive for quality of swearing.

“And he, not the judge, has what's left of your beshitted career in his hot little hands.”

That line alone deserves a Pulitzer Prize.

Unfortunately we can only count uses of the word "fuck", but it's still worth acknowledging the fourteen asses (including two assholes), five bitches, forty-eight shits, two bullshits and fifteen n-words (one of which was said by a white guy - I don't want to be another one) in one hour and fifty-eight seconds. In that time, there were also one hundred and one fucks, including an immense twenty-seven motherfuckers. Incredible.

Subtracting the one minute and thirty-five seconds of opening credits, that's 101 fucks in 59 minutes and 23 seconds, or one fuck every 35.28 seconds. The Wire therefore contains:

1.13 Mamets


  1. I'm so going to use the Mamet scale from here on out! The maths may flummox me most times I try, but I'm definitely going to stick at it.

    Which, by the way, you really ought to with The Wire. It really is just about the best television ever, and I don't say that lightly. I think, based on David Simon's work as a journo in Baltimore, and his previous show The Corner, that is pretty much how the cops and criminals in Baltimore speak (I know I get fairly close to that Mamet rating most days), and beyond that if you don't rekcon Omar is one of the finest characters ever then... Well, you're either wrong or a stronger man than most.
    I've watched it twice now, and wish I could erase it all and enjoy it through all over again, but it is true that it does like to devour a large portion of your life when you discover it. I'll stop evangelising now, but only after pointing out the first comment that usually is made of it - it takes a few episodes to really grab you - so if it's hooked you already, it's only gonna get worse!

    And since I'm here - awesome gig in Glasgow the other week!

  2. Thankyou, first commenter. I've still got disc one, I'll take your word and persevere. I haven't seen enough to know whether I like Omar yet...actually I don't even know which one Omar is. But I'll get to that.


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  5. That line is hilarious. I'm tempted to watch The Wire just after reading it.

  6. Haha, I also might watch The Wire...

    Any HBO show is a great show! I remember pumping Entourage for the first time after just finishing the Sopranos. The obligatory HBO "psssh... awwwww" at the start brought back fond memories :P. STILL DOES!

    You should give Entourage a go, by the way. It's great!

  7. Ahahaha! Funniest post ever. I would've thought Californication and Weeds would have a fairly high Mamet rating at times too...?

  8. Deviant: awesome video link.. that's like watching the whole film, every scene is there! And nice list of films...there's a doco about swearing called Fuck?!
    Ben: I tried the first three eps of Entourage, didn't really dig it, I decided I had better things to do.
    JMo: So far, Weeds is streets ahead with the c-word..

  9. Ahh! Don't give up on the first season, seriously. I nearly did, but just persevere with it! It gets A LOT better!