Friday, March 14, 2008

Right Down to The Wire


It has been labled the best show on television…ever. Time magazine has listed it in its list of the 100 best TV shows ever, (source: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1651341_1659202_1652752,00.html) The New York times called it “The best and most dyspeptic police drama on television” (source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/arts/television/10stan.html?scp=1&sq=the+wire&st=nyt) and it has been labeled outright as the best show on Television by the likes of the Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, Slate magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. The Wire is an HBO drama illustrating the drug trade in Baltimore. What has set it apart from other Police dramas is the realism it uses to portray the issues. From it’s accurate portrayal of every player in the trade, to the vivid, authentic scenes it paints, the Wire views almost as an argumentative essay, discussing with its readers the actors, the problems, the solutions and ultimately the perpetual failures of these solutions.

As a result, perhaps the most honest praise for The Wire’s realism has been in its use as a tool by real gangsters in avoiding arrest... (source: http://www.nytimes.com/) and the continuing cycle of drugs, violence and poverty in the ‘hoods of America.

On Sunday, March 10th, HBO presented The Wire’s final episode. Unlike many other TV shows that continue until viewership drops below a profitable margin, The Wire has lasted primarily due to its critical acclaim. Further, rather than outstay its welcome, the show has set itself clear goals in all of its 5 seasons. Despite having a sustained plot line throughout, each season of The Wire was themed to portray one primary aspect of the issues; Season one portrayed the inner-city ‘hood, season two discussed the role of the ports, season three the government, season four the children and season five the media. It’s hard to think of what was missed.

In his 9 part blog entitled “What do Real Thugs Think of The Wire?”, Colombia Sociologist, Sudhir Venkatesh, discovers little was missed. After asking his “thug” acquaintances what they would have included, he is told The Wire failed to deal with prostitution, the role of women and the suffering and human side of gangsters living in the streets. (check it out here: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/the-wire/ ) In part 9 of his blog, With two episodes remaining in the season, he learns that the “thugs” do not wish to see any more episodes. While effectively preemptively ending his series, it is appropriate that they missed the final episode. “we’ve seen this sh—t already” he is told, “I mean, we can walk out the door and see this stuff every day.”



The Wire ended as Jimmy McNulty (pictured above), a police detective, overlooked Baltimore from afar. As he did, the screen flashed to each of the ongoing storylines offering some form of conclusion:

Bubbles, a former crack head, had finally made it off the streets. Having gotten help in previous seasons to beat his habit, he had been given a home in his sister’s basement and has put some semblance of a life together. In the final moments of the show, he is finally allowed upstairs to be included in a family dinner as the progress he has made towards normalcy is recognized.

Duquan, a poor, yet smart teenager had shown promise in using his cerebral abilities to pull himself out of that ghetto abyss. Instead we see him flee that abyss chemically, as he injects himself for the first time with heroin.

One major gangster is taken away from “the game” just to have 10 others step into his place.

An honest police commissioner is replaced by a dishonest one.

One good police is promoted; another is forced to retire from the force.

In short, nothing has really changed.

In offering such a bleak conclusion, The Wire achieved its purpose. It effectively elucidated the need to break the vicious cycle of the streets. In response to Steven Harper’s promise of increased police presence by thousands on the streets of Toronto following the rash of shootings there, David Kennedy, a researcher at Harvard’s School of Government opined, “When there’s a breakout of this kind of violence in some place like Toronto, people act as if nobody has ever done anything effective…They simply go back to their original, essentially uninformed preconceptions and play out the same old tired, ineffective scripts.” (source: Enter the Babylon System: Unpacking Gun Culture from Samuel Colt to 50 Cent) To reiterate the above, the Wire views almost as an argumentative essay, discussing with its readers the actors, the problems, the solutions and ultimately the perpetual failures of these solutions.

As one statesman might say south of the border… it is time for “change we believe in”.