Show Me a Hero 1×03-1×04 ‘Part 3 and 4’: “What are we trying to accomplish?”

Show Me a Hero 1x03 Cover

There’s a very important scene maybe two-thirds of the way through “Part 3” of Show Me a Hero.  Spallone takes a camera crew into the housing projects and drives around while pictures are taken.  This is after his first set of pictures was shown during a city council meeting to a cascade of fear and rage.  But here we see the cameraman linger over an image of kids walking by and then take a shot of the two kids fighting.  We see kids playing on a playground but see a shot taken of a drug deal.  It’s an explanation of why the citizens of Yonkers are so scared, of why people believe new low-income housing would bring crime and pain.  People create the narratives that work to their advantage.  Racism benefits white people, especially white people in power whose constituents feed off of it.  So creating a narrative that reinforces the belief systems of those constituents works to not only keep those politicians in power, but to solidify the worldview of those exposed to it.  We generally believe the things we see, and the more that we’re exposed to narratives that involve racism, the more racist we become.  We have to shield ourselves against negative and manipulative narratives in order keep from being manipulated.  But if those shields aren’t up, if we aren’t critically analyzing those narratives, then they continue to poison us, blinding us from reality.

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Source: HBO

And think about who is creating these narratives.  Another very important scene from “Part 4” has Norma talking to a friend of hers who notes that the only people talking about the housing issue are white.  The only people talking on TV about it are white.  The narratives are created by those who have control over them.  White people have the most control over the media, over the reach of their narratives, so they’re the ones that fuel those narratives.  Black people are able to contribute to that narrative, but only to a certain degree, and any amplification of their voice has to be accomplished through force.  Fear is created through the preservation of the capitalist system that thrives off of the destruction and devaluing of black people, of Latino people, of women, of anybody who isn’t a straight white male.  And those in power need to be in control of the narrative in order to create fear, in order to preserve the broken system.

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Source: HBO

There is another important scene about halfway through “Part 4” where Nick Wasicsko, while watching anti-housing leader Jack O’ Toole, notes that people in the spotlight shy away from saying racial epithets but understand how to communicate the same racism underneath the calm words.  He says that they learn not to say the bad words, but can still communicate the same fear.  It’s an important point that rings true today, where people learn how to deny their racism by cutting out the blatant racism and infusing their speech with insidious undertones.  And it’s important to note that it’s just as damaging, just as racist.  Look at Mary Dorman, who clearly has prejudiced beliefs against black people, but firmly believes that she’s not racist.  Since she’s not outwardly racist, she can plausibly deny that she is a racist person.  But it’s not as easy as that.  And her actions, even though she’s undergoing self-reflection, are just as damaging as those who spray paint “KKK” on the houses undergoing construction.

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Source: HBO

“Part 3” and “Part 4” work to shift from the low-income housing fight, which is resolved in “Part 3”, to the fallout and the continued racist reaction, which begins in “Part 4”.  What it also works to do is showcase the tragedy of Nick Wasicsko and the tragedy of those who work for change in our nation.  What Show Me a Hero does especially well is remind us that heroes like Nick aren’t altruistic human beings that would do anything in the name of change.  Nick was simply trying to be a leader, and the more he digs into the fight, the more he believes that he’s on the right side of things.  It’s because he has to believe that; he can’t take the harsh criticism and vitriol of his constituents without believing that his fight is worth something.  But, in the end, after the fight has consumed him entirely and wrecked his change at extending his stay at mayor, he’s lost in his life.  He doesn’t have anything else to show for his work other than a small award that he’s nominated for.  Even though he got married and bought a house, his life is still empty because he has no life outside of his fight.

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Source: HBO

These episodes also show how easy it is to become consumed in a fight, trapped within your life one way or another.  Mary is so consumed in her fight against the low-income housing that she doesn’t understand half of the fight that is happening.  She can justify to herself that she doesn’t want the property values in her neighborhood to go down and that she doesn’t want crime to spill into her neighborhood.  However, after she describes what her home means to her, the reporter asks her whether she believes others that move into the new houses will feel the same way about their homes.  And the argument floors her for a moment, offering a new perspective that she doesn’t allow herself to entertain when she’s caught up in the fervor.  So when she marches alongside Jack O’ Toole, protesting the new housing, even though they’re already in construction, she questions the purpose of the fight.  It’s not even about practicality anymore, though it never really was.  The fight is about ideology, about preserving a status quo of comfort for some and discomfort for others.  It’s about preserving one’s beliefs and their image of the world.  Change works to shift beliefs and ideologies, and the protests of the housing construction work to educate Mary (and the audience) about the wounds that really fuel the fear and the anger.  But Mary is still blind to her own racism and prejudice, and is only beginning to feel even a little discomfort about her stance against the housing.

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Source: HBO

All of the supporting characters in the housing projects are trapped as well.  Doreen, without a father for her child and any real prospects in her life, turns to drugs and starts doing crack cocaine.  Her parents give her an out, but she still believes that she can escape the trap, at least up until she has to sell herself to the dealer for drugs.  It’s only then that she does everything she can to escape, calling her parents for help.  Norma has trouble with her disabilities aide, who doesn’t really want to spend any time in the housing projects, so she can’t even get help with her blindness.  And Billie, who I believe is a new focal point in this set of episodes, doesn’t want to contend with the realities of the world involving school and employment, instead getting pregnant by a man who quickly ends up in prison.  Billie, in choosing motherhood, may be bringing a life into the world, but is still opting out of making a major decision about her life by letting the baby make it for her.  She may seem unsympathetic, but the pressure of growing up in the housing projects is so great (as a result of the lack of opportunity there) that robbing yourself of choice is the way to avoid breaking down entirely.  These are all more examples of how reality eludes the political sphere, as politicians work off of popularity instead of reality.  And since politics operates based on popularity, the cycle of validating delusion (both the politicians’ and the constituents’ delusion) works to erase reality in place of what keeps the status quo operational.

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Source: HBO

We also further see how the political fight surrounding the new housing has really nothing to do with belief.  Politicians do what they need to in order to be re-elected, which is the reason that Wasicsko is dropped from office and Spallone is elected mayor.  Spallone runs for mayor by vilifying Wasicsko and the low-income housing as intensely as possible, and when that wins him the election, his victory speech panders to his constituents’ anger but also basically reiterates what Wisicsko says.  He has to follow the law, even though his constituents don’t want him to, and even though he can make them forget about it while he runs his campaign, he has to follow through once he’s in power.  And even when Mary confronts him, he simply responds by saying “You know me”, trying to elude the confrontation.  Politicians don’t care about beliefs as much as they care about keeping their careers afloat.  The only reason that Spallone fought during the housing issue as intently as he did was because he knew that it would inevitably boost his career.  The political game is distanced from the reality of actually governing, and Show Me a Hero continues to make that painfully evident.

It’s clear that none of this will have a nice and neat resolution.  Show Me a Hero continues to illuminate the dismal fact that, while change is inevitable and does happen, our democratic and capitalist system is built on creating fear and preserving vicious and predatory status quos.  Fighting for change is a noble cause, but it doesn’t win you friends.  It doesn’t win you power.  It doesn’t win you allies.  It’s an isolating cause, and it’s a consuming one as well.  And even if you win, improving the lives of other people can still result in tragedy for your own.

What did you think of “Part 3” and “Part 4”?  Is the show still living up to your expectations?  I know that my review is just a cursory glance, so tell me your favorite parts of the show and your thoughts as well.  Be sure to post them in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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