The Game Done Changed
May 4, 2015 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Reconsidering 'The Wire' Amidst the Baltimore Uprising (Dave Zirin for The Nation)
posted by box (103 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think that was an excellent piece (though I've never seen the show, so discount accordingly).
Why was The Wire big on failed saviors and short on those trying to save themselves? And if these forces were invisible to David Simon, shouldn’t we dial down the praise of the show as this “Great American Novel of television” (Variety!) and instead see it for what it is: just a cop show? There’s no shame in that. I’ll even call it the greatest cop show ever, a cop show with insanely brilliant dialogue, indelible performances and more three-dimensional roles for black actors than 99% of what comes out of Hollywood. But all the same—still just a cop show.

After reading stories like this, I think I’m done with cop shows for now.
If I do get around to watching the show, I'll certainly view it through this lens.
posted by languagehat at 9:47 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh boo hoo. He used to worship the show, and now he doesn't. It's not like David Simon WASN'T a dick before the recent Baltimore news, and The Wire is still and will always be one of the greatest television dramas. But it wasn't real life. Maybe his previous devotion to the show was over the top, which makes his little come down seem more powerful or meaningful, to him. So he is done with "cop shows." Great. Isn't he supposed to be writing about sports anyway? And we all know how important to the world is "Sports Chatter." Then again, he's a guy who proudly brags that as soon as he got his sports radio job, all he wanted to do was interview the stars of his favorite TV show.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:48 AM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


I suspect it's best viewed as a work of fiction relating to the generalities of society in America which uses some aspects of the history of policing in Baltimore as a base than a documentary about Baltimore or its police.>
posted by Artw at 9:49 AM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


If I do get around to watching the show, I'll certainly view it through this lens.

I would encourage you NOT to look at it through somebody else's lens. Because then you'll see that it is not really a "cop" show. It's way wider than that, it's about a city, really. A city, drugs, police, politics, education, media, blue-collar, white-collar, corruption, addiction, poverty, power. I mean, the list goes on. It's an extremely deep show and you shouldn't take some sports writer's view as a means to interpret the show when you finally watch it.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:50 AM on May 4, 2015 [51 favorites]


I'd greenlight another season, sort of like a 10 years from the end of the show update.
posted by Renoroc at 9:53 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Unlike Treme, which is about New Orleans, The Wire is actually "just" a show about shitty parts of cities that happens to be set in the city with shitty parts we're talking about now.

(And I say this not just because sometimes I forget The Wire wasn't set in my hometown of Chicago.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:55 AM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


i thought it was pretty good article considering how many people i know who are very progressive and consider The Wire to be almost documentary-like.

I really think the author makes an excellent about wondering where all the activists were tho. And why the police violence was left out when it was apparently a huge issue even back then.

I know I gave the show more credence because it was supposedly by a cop who then worked for a respected paper and was considered a good journalist who was trying to tell the truth and show the experience of the reality of baltimore.

Altho it's been years since I've watched it and I didn't think it was the GOAT or anything, I really thought it was a different kind of tv show that was based in fact. I see now that is was still heavily skewed. Where were the activists? Where were the groups? They existed then and they exist now. Why did I not notice they were missing? Why didn't I view it with a more critical eye?

I don't think it's wrong to ask these questions. I'm glad he is.
posted by sio42 at 9:56 AM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


All those criticisms are more or less spot on, and yet I don't read them as criticisms of The Wire.

Which is to say, I don't think the shortcoming is in The Wire, i think the shortcoming is in people who think that The Wire is going to teach them everything they'll ever need to know about Baltimore or other fucked-up cities.
posted by entropone at 9:58 AM on May 4, 2015 [44 favorites]


Somewhere between the airings of Homicide and The Wire, I really lost my taste for cop shows. I really tried hard to watch The Wire, trudging through the first season and then giving up for a few years and then trying again last year with the first episode of the second but I just couldn't bring myself to continue.
posted by octothorpe at 10:01 AM on May 4, 2015


This piece instantly gets me thinking of hard core cover of John Lennon's Imagine that a friend's band used to do back in the early 90s, where they added the line, "Imagine there's no cop shows, it's easy if you try." It always made me smile in a dark sort of way, so incisively did it cut into our culture's embrace of The Cop. Not actual policemen/women but the ubiquitous TV and movie versions who, even if the were "realistically"drawn, couldn't help but skewer our impression of the actual reality of things.

But I'm fumbling the words here. Hakim Bey puts it way better than I ever could. Cynical as f*** but ...
posted by philip-random at 10:01 AM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


I really tried hard to watch The Wire, trudging through the first season and then giving up for a few years and then trying again last year with the first episode of the second but I just couldn't bring myself to continue.

Ditto and ditto. I think Homicide was actually the one that broke me. I mean it's a great show, well produced, acted, and written, and I couldn't care.

I didn't make it through the first season of the Wire.

"NWA for people who read The New Yorker" is totally cheap but also a totally great diss.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:03 AM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Is the problem that a fictional show is "inaccurate", or is the problem that people don't feel comfortable talking about the shittiest parts of our shared culture unless it's filtered through the comfortable, distancing prism of entertainment?
posted by selfnoise at 10:04 AM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


And why the police violence was left out when it was apparently a huge issue even back then.

It kind of wasn't, though, relative to real "cop shows" (of which the wire is unlike in a vast number of respects). One of the most memorable first season scenes to me is when someone defends himself slightly while being arrested and then suddenly is surrounded by cops who just start viciously beating on him, including some who've been portrayed as apparently non-violent protagonists up to then (e.g. Kima).

I think there are a lot of weird memory filters being applied here, speaking as someone who recently rewatched part of the show.
posted by advil at 10:05 AM on May 4, 2015 [35 favorites]


I would encourage you NOT to look at it through somebody else's lens. Because then you'll see that it is not really a "cop" show. It's way wider than that, it's about a city...

you can see Simon's problems front and center with his recent essay on "Baltimore's Anguish"
beginning with the drug-free zones and with the misuse of what are known on the street in the previous generation as ‘humbles.’ A humble is a cheap, inconsequential arrest that nonetheless gives the guy a night or two in jail before he sees a court commissioner. You can arrest people on “failure to obey,” it’s a humble. Loitering is a humble. These things were used by police officers going back to the ‘60s in Baltimore. It’s the ultimate recourse for a cop who doesn't like somebody who's looking at him the wrong way. And yet, back in the day, there was, I think, more of a code to it. If you were on a corner, you knew certain things would catch you a humble. The code was really ornate, and I’m not suggesting in any way that the code was always justifiable in any sense, but there was a code.
he's saying that the Baltimore Police have *always* been lawless and violent but couching it sort of like some Mafia Don in the Godfather lamenting the passing of the old ways. Drill down into it and it's clear that Simon has a hard-on for the cops... but the problem with the Wire really comes from the need to have likeable characters. All of the characters in his story are, in real life, deeply unlikeable people.

I grew up about 5 blocks from that burned CVS in Baltimore. Actual police detectives are scary people in real life. They tend to be cold-blooded and have a sort of predatory affect, in the way you would associate with professional killers. I assume it comes from the job. Same for professional gangsters.

But, the Wire isn't a documentary (also, if it were a documentary it would be entirely in subtitles,) it's more like Shakespeare: that's why it's full of British actors. AND, it's not really about Baltimore, it's about what happened to the US when we decided to liquidate manufacturing employment and abandon the old urban centers. The fact that white America walks around pretending that their whole suburban lives aren't built on destroying the lives of about 20-30% of the population, and finds the facts of the Wire unfamiliar, speaks more to this audience than the Wire as a creative work.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:08 AM on May 4, 2015 [45 favorites]


I kind of feel like if there were activists on the show, and we wanted to try and be at least a little realistic about it as The Wire usually attempted, they would have campaigned for that great reformer Carcetti and ended up disappointed like some Obama voters. Or maybe they would have set up an Occupy style protest and ended up just like Occupy. Activism has as many flaws and moments of hopelessness as any other group depicted on the show. Maybe you could see the union as a form of activism, or at least collectivism, and it turned out corrupt and in a losing fight against greater forces even if Frank hadn't gone lone wolf.

I think The Wire was trying to dramatize what the city was, it wasn't really about what it could become.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:11 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think part of what is being critiqued here is the intense proselytizing that is done by fans of The Wire. "I don't watch tv but I love The Wire/You have to watch this show to see how things REALLY are/this show just GETS it" etc etc. The constant claims of how REAL REALLY REAL the show is have been everywhere for a long time, and they have always been tiresome.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:12 AM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


It kind of wasn't, though, relative to real "cop shows" (of which the wire is unlike in a vast number of respects). One of the most memorable first season scenes to me is when someone defends himself slightly while being arrested and then suddenly is surrounded by cops who just start viciously beating on him, including some who've been portrayed as apparently non-violent protagonists up to then (e.g. Kima).

If I'm remembering correctly, that was the episode that really turned me off. You see police beating suspect and the show just seemed to laugh if off.
posted by octothorpe at 10:13 AM on May 4, 2015


You see police beating suspect and the show just seemed to laugh if off.

This is ... not what the show does.
posted by advil at 10:16 AM on May 4, 2015 [46 favorites]


AND, it's not really about Baltimore, it's about what happened to the US when we decided to liquidate manufacturing employment and abandon the old urban centers.

this is what i got out of it, personally.

and i thought that i had missed something when everyone was telling me about it because it's not why people told me it was great. and when i heard it talked about on npr or saw stuff i skimmed over on the web, it was all about how awesome and respected and full of integrity david simon was, how truthy he was.

granted, i stopped watching after the face-slash fight in the classroom because it was just too depressing.

i've always had some kind of unresolved feeling about the show but couidn't quite place it. i guess it's that i wanted it to be about something that it wasn't. it was about the decline of a city, not a quasi-documentary on law enforcement.

i feel this guy is finding that out now too. and we both probably feel kinda dumb for not seeing that.
posted by sio42 at 10:16 AM on May 4, 2015


The argument is correct, though. Just as the mainstream movies (influenced by the CIA and NSA) are biased to show the US government in better lights; TV shows are biased to show cops as heroes. That's why The Shield was such a big deal (and a better "cop show" (from the few episodes I've seen ;), IMO, than The Wire).

is the problem that a fictional show is "inaccurate"

The problem is that it glorifies cops. The cops are the "good guys," the "drug dealers" are the "bad guys."

But mostly the problem for me was that, aside from certain scenes, it was pretty slow. And the actors mumbled too much.

more flaws of The Wire
posted by mrgrimm at 10:20 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


why the police violence was left out when it was apparently a huge issue even back then.

There are a number of cops who are shown to be violent. Herc is certainly around to bang heads. Season 4 has the African-American cop, Walker, who beats up and steals from people. Colicchio gest drummed out of the force I recall for attacking someone in the community.

The Wire is of course about civil society's institutions and how they fail us, fuck with us, and persist despite attempts at change. But how does The Wire communicate this? Through the actions of experiences of individuals. It's ridiculous to say that the show exposed the police department as a corrupt, violent, and morally bankrupt institution and then turn around and say, 'but they didn't give us any examples of police doing bad things'. Really? Then how did anyone get the impression the police were shitty in the first place? Because the police characters were largely awful people or good people made to do awful things - that's why.
posted by boubelium at 10:21 AM on May 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


The Wire is fantastic at what it does, which is to explain the political landscape of Baltimore right after the war on terror started, when the war on drugs was accelerating. To understand the riots happening now, you have to realize that the war on drugs is another form of the system that lies at the core of the country. To understand that system, you have to go back hundreds, not dozens, of years. Even if Simon has read this history, I don't think it's essential to his critique. Baltimore as portrayed in The Wire has no history older than the war on drugs. We get the impression that if there were another three or four McNultys, the good guys would've won.
posted by yaymukund at 10:23 AM on May 4, 2015


The problem is that it glorifies cops. The cops are the "good guys," the "drug dealers" are the "bad guys."

My experience of the wire (and those of my friends who I've talked to about the show) is just so utterly different from many of the comments here that I just don't even know what to say at this point.
posted by advil at 10:25 AM on May 4, 2015 [69 favorites]


Where were the activists? Where were the groups? They existed then and they exist now.

I grew up in Baltimore in the 80s and 90s and "activists" weren't visible to me if they were doing anything. The biggest thing missing from the Wire is it doesn't really get into how big a part the suburbs play in the drug trade. One of the reasons why North Avenue and the "West side" is so bad is that it connects up with Rt. 40 which goes straight out into the county. Like everything else car traffic patterns is a big pattern of selling drugs and white people buy a lot of drugs.

I kind of feel like if there were activists on the show, and we wanted to try and be at least a little realistic about it as The Wire usually attempted, they would have campaigned for that great reformer Carcetti and ended up disappointed like some Obama voters.

LOL no. Carcetti is a stand-in for (now presidential candidate) Martin O'Malley. He was always a schemer who slid in between divisions in the black political elite of Baltimore. The real Obama of Baltimore was Kurt Schmoke; it's strange that the Wire didn't actually have anyone who really corresponded to him. The black mayor in the first season is way too coarse.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:27 AM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


The problem is that it glorifies cops. The cops are the "good guys," the "drug dealers" are the "bad guys."

I think that this is a very selective reading of The Wire. I think the show humanizes both, unflinchingly, and that should not be mistaken for glorification.
posted by entropone at 10:27 AM on May 4, 2015 [17 favorites]


I've long thought Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and David Simon's The Wire share a lot in common. Both were political and social commentaries and chronicles of working-class life in an American city.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2015


So a sports writer spends a few weeks reading about the Baltimore riots and talking to activists and suddenly he has more insight than a TV show created by people who spent decades working in Baltimore. This is the same childishness and naivety that made him unable to swallow any criticism of The Wire before.
posted by bittermensch at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Wire has its flaws, but the idea that it is good guy cops vs bad guy drug dealers is laughable. The drug dealers are if anything more deeply developed and easy to empathize with. Wallace, looking after a bunch of little kids and trying to make sure they have food as he gets them off to school? Omar, with his code and despisal of those who involve civilians? Stringer Bell, with his careful attention to his business-school classes and attempts to rationalize and reduce the violence of the drug trade?

I'd agree that it was in many ways confined by the format and didn't explore the corruption and violence of the police department in depth, but Manichean dualism it was not.
posted by tavella at 10:36 AM on May 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


I grew up in Baltimore in the 80s and 90s and "activists" weren't visible to me if they were doing anything.

just to clarify my own comment, someone like Tahnesi Coates could write the story (and has) of what happened to the radical black activists of the 70s (his father was one): they certainly were around doing things. But the overall story was the rise of a black political elite in Baltimore, and it's those people who are most directly threatened by what just happened.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:38 AM on May 4, 2015


Did I watch the same show as this person?

I hate "cop shows". I loved The Wire.
posted by dry white toast at 10:41 AM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


The problem is that it glorifies cops. The cops are the "good guys," the "drug dealers" are the "bad guys."

Yeah, this is not remotely what I got out of the Wire.
posted by Mavri at 10:41 AM on May 4, 2015 [13 favorites]


One of the best insights about The Wire I had was having it pointed out (somewhere) that Simon did all his research for the show, essentially, as a reporter back in the late 80s and maybe early 90s -- whenever he "made it" with Homicide: Life on the Street. The "burners" that were a constant focus of especially the first season were really corner pay phones, for example.

I did not live in Baltimore (although I did live in two major metros) during that same era, and I think it's entirely possible that the activism did not match up in any way with what we've seen in the last couple of years. There was a lot of hostility back then between the (still somewhat muscular) unions and the street activist contingents, who were often too radical for any cooperative approach. Racially-infused organizations were also solipsistic and not good at coordinating with each other. The SEIU has played a critical role in organizing in cities over the last couple of decades and overall I think it's not really unfair to have discounted their roles in The Wire. In Simon's era on the streets (Reagan/Bush and all that), the movement was disconnected and forlorn in many ways.

In any case, I don't think it's wrong to discuss the shortcomings of The Wire, as long as we also realize that it's unlikely to have been perfectly aligned with the concerns of a decade later. Certainly, even though Baltimore remains a hotbed of drug and gang violence, it's also now a city rejuvenating, with others, as crime rates have fallen dramatically and center cities attract development cash (some of that was, of course, foreshadowed, mostly in S2). Most important, I think the experience of the last two years has raised the consciousness of a lot of us to this new issue of excessive police violence, and how inequally it is meted out, and how obviously it was always there lurking under the surface. I don't claim to be sure what the dynamic is, but I suspect it is the dramatic drop in overall crime rates that has allowed it to be visible in a way it rarely has in the past. The fact that a decade-old TV show written based on experiences that were themselves another decade removed from our own, in an era with crime rates unlike any in the historical American experience, shouldn't be terribly surprising.
posted by dhartung at 10:48 AM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


The problem is that it glorifies cops. The cops are the "good guys," the "drug dealers" are the "bad guys."

wut

I'm in the midst of rewatching the first season right now. The issue of police violence is front and center from the very beginning. Cops are seen to use violence without cause, simply to swing their dick around, and it is made clear this is something they're doing because they can hide behind a badge and not because their targets deserve it. One victim who loses an eye to a cop early in the season is lighthearted and jovial when we first meet him, and when we see him again he's (rightfully) bitter and has joined the crew working the projects. There is a very clear line drawn between what happened to him and his current attitude towards the police. And then there's the entire exposure of the whole of the BPD being a mess of corruption, gladhanding, and laziness.

Looking back, I think they do not address issues of race as explicitly as they could have, focusing instead on class and urban blight. At one point a white police officer shoots a Black officer, mistaking him for a criminal. From what I remember (but I haven't reached this point yet), charges of racism are levied against the white guy but he's defended by his Black colleagues as not-racist. He loses his badge but issues of subconscious racism are not brought up, just that this guy fucked up.
posted by schroedinger at 10:53 AM on May 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


(Not to add to this pile-on, but "good guys" in my comment above was not meant to echo "good guys" from prior comments. I agree the show takes a more nuanced approach than good cops v. bad druggies. For all its nuance, though, I don't seem to remember any history before the drug war, and I think that has a lot to do with its failings... but I still love the show despite these things!)
posted by yaymukund at 10:55 AM on May 4, 2015


The article more or less gets at what I've suspected (having seen only the first season, I have a decent but still limited understanding of the series): it's a good introduction to the failures of the system in a variety of contexts. But it's really just that, an introduction. The fact that it's so widely considered an unflinching portrayal of law enforcement and the legal system just shows how far we have to go in our conversations about these topics. It's possible that a truly unflinching show - one that truly captures the daily costs and struggle of being caught in this system, with the proper context of history and how the injustice is perpetuated both on an individual level and a systemic level - wouldn't have been greenlit even on HBO, and it would likely have turned off more viewers than it gained. Maybe it would have come from an African-American showrunner, and would have garnered criticism for being too didactic, pulling the race card, and villainizing the police. The Wire was the show America felt ready to handle - a gentle 101 introduction that nevertheless blew minds, just like an intro to philosophy course might be life-changing for freshmen unexposed to those ideas, yet dully obvious and filled with glaring omissions from a graduate's perspective.

With Ferguson, Baltimore, and many harsh truths coming to light for a wider swath of the country, maybe the time is ripe for a show to go further. We're ready for a more advanced course.
posted by naju at 11:00 AM on May 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


The "burners" that were a constant focus of especially the first season were really corner pay phones, for example.

They use payphones until I think season 3, when the dealers destroy them to keep their subordinates from using them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:04 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


The problem is that it glorifies cops. The cops are the "good guys," the "drug dealers" are the "bad guys."

Like others, I wonder if I watched a different show than some folks in this thread.

Herc and Prez look like two total imbeciles most of the time. Herc is a protypical brutal cop. McNulty is a raging, drunk asshole. Carver's a spineless dweeb. Burrell/Rawls/Valchek are all careerists who care less about the actual outcomes than they do getting ahead.

If I were to list folks in the show who were portrayed as generally good but through shitty systems sometimes made bad decisions, it'd be Daniels, Lester, Bodie, Kima, Omar and Bubbles.
posted by buoys in the hood at 11:07 AM on May 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


McNulty is a raging, drunk asshole

And that's putting it mildly. In the later seasons he was so off the rails he was basically an outright villain
posted by Hoopo at 11:09 AM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


At one point a white police officer shoots a Black officer, mistaking him for a criminal.

And it's the same officer who took the kid's eye, too.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:11 AM on May 4, 2015


(Small point of order: Dave Zirin is hardly just some "sports writer.")
posted by Medley at 11:11 AM on May 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


it's a good introduction to the failures of the system in a variety of contexts. But it's really just that, an introduction.

I can see how you might say this after watching only the first season, but keep watching, because plenty of solutions are proposed and implemented in the series, the most obvious of which is Hamsterdam. Every solution, though, is thwarted by the bosses or politicians no matter how well they work.
posted by Huck500 at 11:15 AM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I realize a lot of people really like The Wire, but what about the criticisms from others that this author cites in his article? It seems like there are other, non-sportswriting people who have a problem with the exotifying white gaze that this show garners and a problem with David Simon, who has shown himself to be quite an idiot on what's happening in Baltimore right now.
posted by easter queen at 11:28 AM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Carver's a spineless dweeb.

Oh, I disagree. I'd say he comes out of it all looking a lot better than Daniels or Kima. He started as a rough-em-up cop and then slowly matured and morphed into, like, the idealized neighborhood cop who gets how things happen and is actually trying to prevent crime (and keep kids from getting into the system). And then the show does the work of answering, "why can't we have more cops like Carver"?
posted by entropone at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


it's more like Shakespeare: that's why it's full of British actors.

Er, IMDB lists about 270 recurring characters; these teeming multitudes of Brits you refer to would not, so far as I can see, would not fill a Miata (even if you include the Irishman).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2015


And then the show does the work of answering, "why can't we have more cops like Carver"?

I would agree with this more nuanced assessment than mine, but I guess I felt his moral compass was effectively attached to someone else's wagon the entire show and thus am not totally buying that a promoted Carver would choose what was right over what will get him ahead from here on out. He's a complex character because he exhibits everything you like and hate about cops all over the course of five seasons.
posted by buoys in the hood at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


The cops are the "good guys," the "drug dealers" are the "bad guys."

Apparently there's a different cut of The Wire than the one I watched.
posted by aught at 11:50 AM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


It kind of wasn't, though, relative to real "cop shows" (of which the wire is unlike in a vast number of respects). One of the most memorable first season scenes to me is when someone defends himself slightly while being arrested and then suddenly is surrounded by cops who just start viciously beating on him, including some who've been portrayed as apparently non-violent protagonists up to then (e.g. Kima).

If I'm remembering correctly, that was the episode that really turned me off. You see police beating suspect and the show just seemed to laugh if off.


What actually happens in this scene is they bring the guy - who in context is a primary suspect in a cold-blooded murder - in for interrogation, taking a "before" polaroid presumably meant as insurance against injury. They start asking him questions but he just mouths off, ending with a particularly ugly dig at Kima's sexuality. So they rip up the photo and it cuts away as they get their communal beatdown going.

On one hand it's a perspective of brutal honesty about police culture and practices, but on the other I think it does laugh it off a little bit. Like - "look, we won't dress this up, cops beat the shit out of people they don't like, but you might want to punch a guy too if you knew he was a bad guy, if he said something like that to your friend."

There are several other portrayals of police violence over the course of the show. Most explicit instances are shown as the purview of lunkheads like Herc or sadists like the on-the-nose bad cop character who terrorizes the kids in season 4. You couldn't accuse the show of neglecting institutional issues in general, and there are a few other reminders that "busting heads" is a-ok at all levels if you don't get caught, but you could definitely argue it only halfway addresses the issue at the institutional level. Even though McNulty goes off the rails in the end, more often than not the show seems to celebrate the autonomy and effectiveness of a good patrol cop and blame problems on the bureaucracy. I don't think I need to explain the problem with that.

The Wire definitely isn't a "good guy cops" show and it does a good job of making almost every "side" sympathetic, but it is certainly a "cop's eye view" show more than anything else. That's who David Simon talked to as a reporter and has written about his whole career. That's what Ed Burns was.
posted by atoxyl at 12:23 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's been a while since I watched seasons 1 and 2 but I've recently picked up where I left off and have been really enjoying the end of season 3 and am eager to work my way through at least the rest of 4.

It's better than most shows and certainly has an admirable perspective for a police show, but I agree with those that feel this sort of reappraisal says more about the fan coming to terms with the show's failings than the failings themselves. No hour long cop/gang drama, no matter how intelligent, will get to the "truth" of a place and community. It's ridiculous to think one can. Using The Wire as an entry point to start thinking about the problems in cities like Baltimore works but it's probably best for those outside of and less engaged with the communities it represents to avoid the urge to feel they have inside knowledge after watching 5 seasons of a tv show.

To suddenly look at the more recent news from Baltimore and be shocked that The Wire didn't accurately prepare you for it is just silly. Articles like this read like lazy arm chair reporting by those straining to make their interest in pop culture relevant to the news. It's not a particularly insightful critique of the failings of narrative storytelling on TV and it doesn't say anything all that relevant or interesting about what's happening in Baltimore. It's just a guy coming to terms with the gap between fictional entertainment and reality. But I guess there are too many people that take The Wire as gospel so it's good to have people publicly dial it down a bit.

I'll also assume that, like me, he wrote this mainly to kill time during a slow day at work.
posted by AtoBtoA at 12:25 PM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


I realize a lot of people really like The Wire, but what about the criticisms from others that this author cites in his article? It seems like there are other, non-sportswriting people who have a problem with the exotifying white gaze that this show garners and a problem with David Simon, who has shown himself to be quite an idiot on what's happening in Baltimore right now.

If that is a common feeling among black Baltimore, I would be very interested in reading what specifically they have to say. Third hand anecdotes from Zirin don't provide much to comment on. Have D Watkins or Ta-Nehisi Coates or someone else with their ear to the ground in Baltimore ever written about that?
posted by riruro at 12:28 PM on May 4, 2015


It helps to have seen more than just one or two seasons. Aside from law enforcement, the show focuses variously on unions, schools, city government, and the press. In the process, it depicts many of the same fundamental problems occurring over and over again in different contexts: the problems that result from perpetually low and inconsistent funding, the counterproductive focus on statistics, the ripple effects of communities breaking down, good people that are prevented from doing the right thing by dysfunctional policies, and not-so-good people using those policies to serve their own interests. In other words, it's a show about institutions--specifically, how those institutions fail the communities they're supposed to serve. It's not a show about the oppressed vs the privileged, nor should it be, because the world is messier than that, and the stories we tell need to reflect the complexities of the problems we face.
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:30 PM on May 4, 2015 [27 favorites]


What actually happens in this scene...

I think the scene being alluded to is not the one you cite but the one where Bodie gets a beatdown for punching a cop who is a huge dick and a waste of a paycheck in the face.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:39 PM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


In some ways this is less about The Wire than about David Simon, I think. Because he's perceived as a voice for reform on various law enforcement issues and intentionally or not sort of ended up positioned as a white ambassador for Black Baltimore. So his "don't riot. please?" message looks pretty embarrassing and the "Baltimore's Anguish" follow-up, while it has some interesting bits, just kind of makes you think "wait tell me again why is this guy being treated as the foremost authority on race and policing in Baltimore?"
posted by atoxyl at 12:45 PM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


What actually happens in this scene is they bring the guy - who in context is a primary suspect in a cold-blooded murder - in for interrogation, taking a "before" polaroid presumably meant as insurance against injury.

Yeah, so that scene also fits the bill and was one of the many instances of police brutality in the first season that I think has somehow dropped out of people's memories, but it isn't actually the scene I had in mind. Here's a somewhat poor quality video of the particular one I was talking about, which is perhaps slightly more provoked than I'd remembered (Bodie actually punches Mahon), but definitely not a setup for laughs or making anyone look like a protagonist (and this theme is played out in the consequences of this scene over the rest of season 1). This scene happens in episode 3 I think, and is one of the earlier cues that what we have here isn't a normal cop show.

It actually makes sense to me that this scene could turn someone off the show, but not for any of the reasons stated so far -- I found it to be fairly uncomfortable scene myself, which is part of its power.
posted by advil at 12:47 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's not even the other scene I thought it might be - the one (actually the very first example I think) where the rookie/incompetent cops go to the projects and start shit for no reason. I thought you meant the one I described because of the mention of Kima. That's the one that stood out to me because it shows characters who are mostly presented as "good cops," - in the moral sense and in the sense of proficiency - like Kima and Daniels, getting pretty brutal with a suspect in captivity. Yours is a pretty good counterexample since Bodie is ultimately a very sympathetic character, though it's still the rookie/dumb cops who actually deliver the blows.
posted by atoxyl at 1:08 PM on May 4, 2015


The Wire was"NWA for people who read The New Yorker"

Wow, I liked NWA and The Wire, so I must be totally beyond the pale.
posted by layceepee at 1:09 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Kima runs over as Bodie is getting beaten up... and then hits Bodie while he's on the ground while shouting for someone to hold his arms.
posted by squinty at 1:12 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yours is a pretty good counterexample since Bodie is ultimately a very sympathetic character, though it's still the rookie/dumb cops who actually deliver the blows.

Well the point is that Kima sees what happens, runs over, and joins in with the rest of them in a pretty vicious way. She's swearing at him with the rest of them too. As one of the youtube commentors noted, you first sort of expect her to be breaking up the fight, because this just isn't something an apparent protagonist would do in a "normal" cop show (and for that matter her rank).
posted by advil at 1:14 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


In other words, it's a show about institutions--specifically, how those institutions fail the communities they're supposed to serve. It's not a show about the oppressed vs the privileged, nor should it be

This is a common characterization of the show, and I won't argue with it. But I don't quite understand how a show with that scope (about failing institutions) wouldn't unflinchingly address the hegemony of those institutions, or the history of how that hegemony became so entrenched. Maybe the show does. But it sounds like it doesn't go far enough.
posted by naju at 1:14 PM on May 4, 2015


An interesting read. I have not watched the wire or understood the riots on a deep enough level to comment, but I did take something away from the article... a new word:

verisimilitude - the appearance of being true or real.
posted by greenhornet at 1:25 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reading all of these comments, I think that when i watched this show, I think I just ignored the police violence as something "made up" for tv.( Like how they add way more of Littlefinger's brothel to Game of Thrones than is ever mentioned in the book. ) I just wasn't aware then as I am now of the extent that police brutality is overlooked or how the casual subconsious racism of Prez lead him to shoot a fellow officer. I just didn't know enough to watch it critically, at least the parts about the cops. I know at that time I watched this that I wasn't as into or as aware of police issues. But that I certainly knew more about and had a better understanding of the issues raised in the stevedores season.

Maybe with my new frames of reference and understanding, it might be a good time to rewatch and see what looks different to me now.
posted by sio42 at 1:27 PM on May 4, 2015


Baltimore remains a hotbed of drug and gang violence, it's also now a city rejuvenating

except it's not. a lot of real estate investment has come in and they've continued to dump money into the entertainment-industrial complex, but if you look at the areas that are the most "rejuvenated" they are exactly the last outposts of the white working class in baltimore: hampden and canton. oh and they demolished the projects without building full-replacement housing. the last 15 years have been absolutely brutal for people with just a high school education, which is an awful lot of black baltimore.

the brutal truth is that until the steel mills and the shipyards re-open, etc. places like baltimore are never going to generate enough employment to "rejuvenate." and that's the sort of thing which is really beyond the capabilities of city and even state governments. so, until then, places like baltimore are going to continue to be dumping grounds for people that society has written off and local government, whether it's black or not, is going to be forced to run places like baltimore as open-air jails.

that's what the riots are about and there are places like Baltimore all across this country.

bottom-line: the only real difference between North and Penn now and North and Penn 20 years ago is that CVS... or was that CVS.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:30 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one that had difficulty with Season 5? It's focus on the media just felt messy and condescending. It felt like it lost focus and/or didn't know what to do with itself. As if the writers thought: we did drugs, unions, politics, & schools, so yeah we might as well do news/media.

I guess some people enjoyed it but for me, Seasons 1 & 2 were the show at its best.
posted by Fizz at 1:47 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nah, season 5 is pretty widely regarded as a let down.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:51 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's like these ignorant critics haven't even watched or listened to the show. The same kind of ignoramuses who claim to have to watch the show with subtitles because they don't realize that the closer you listen, you begin to learn exactly what all the street slang and cop lingo means.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:29 PM on May 4, 2015


What season five got right is that it closed the narrative arc. The closing montage hammers home the fact that, for all the drama of the last five seasons, nothing of substance has changed. From the hoppers to the police to the politicians--the faces have changed, but the story's the same. Just business as usual. McNulty has finally been brought down by his own hubris, for the folly of thinking he could buck the system. But the system doesn't change. You either become part of the dysfunction or get chewed up by it. The only other option is that, like Bubbles, you work to change yourself instead.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:42 PM on May 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


Agreed with above. I suppose lots of people thought the "McNulty vs. Red Ribbon Killer" subplot was far fetched, but christ, our entire nation went to war over fakery. Seemed plausible enough to me and remember, NOTHING was publicly revealed about that in the show.

I thought it was a great way for McNulty to unravel, and I also loved the Marlo story in season 5. Plus the devastating completion of the Michael/Dukie relationship. Whatever, it's all really compelling.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:59 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


From what I remember (but I haven't reached this point yet), charges of racism are levied against the white guy but he's defended by his Black colleagues as not-racist. He loses his badge but issues of subconscious racism are not brought up, just that this guy fucked up.
PREZ: I didn't give a shit he was black, or whatever. Or maybe I did. How the fuck do you know if that's in your head, or if it's not?
posted by mbrubeck at 3:06 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


My better half loves the Wire, and I'm big time on pop culture literacy so I've been trying to watch it with him. It's taken us a long time, because I am simply not one of those people who can binge watch the Wire, it frankly cuts a little too close at times to absorb at the end of a long day.

Apologies if a reference to this episode was mentioned upthread, but the one we just watched chilled my damn blood in light of the Freddie Gray story. In Season 3, Episode 3, McNulty sees a bloody dude in the interrogation room, and asks Bunk what happened to him. Bunk makes no illusions that the guy had the shit beaten out of him by officers, and it's strongly implied this is SOP.

I've lived my entire adult life in cities under DOJ investigation for police brutality, but seeing it depicted in such a cultural Thing as the Wire and have it be just sort a la-dee-dah part of the storyline was a bit of a gut punch.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:10 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


i think hamlet is grebt
but is accurate danish politics?
plz halp
posted by klangklangston at 3:14 PM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think people who watched The Wire and saw the cops as “the good guys” are really saying that they identified with the cops, and failed to identify with the cops’ targets.
posted by mbrubeck at 3:42 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]




The Wire *regularly* featured police, even sympathetic protgaonists, beating the crap out of black kids for no reason. It offered in that sense what now seems a pretty realistic picture of how the police there operated. Is the objection that the cops didn't actually kill the kids?

And saying that the Wire isn't realistic because there wasn't effective collective popular agency/'struggle' to save the city is bizarre. That failure is what led to the problems we are seeing in Baltimore now.

Also, David Simon is not some random privileged dude. He was a police reporter in Baltimore for 12 years which means he did his part to bring these problems to the attention of the public -- did more than the internet kibitzers criticizing him now. His call for the rioters to stand down is one that echoed the call of numerous other people in Baltimore, black and white. And was actually followed pretty quickly, much to the benefit of the city.

The Wire is a great show, maybe the best dramatic series ever on American TV. But it's not the word of god, speaks from one particular perspective, and has imperfections like any work of art. It seems like this guy is holding it to some impossible standard. Either that or searching for some clicks by using the Baltimore riots to write about a popular TV show.
posted by zipadee at 4:14 PM on May 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm glad to see that recent events in Baltimore have FINALLY inspired people on the Internet to have a serious, passionate debate about exactly how good The Wire is.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 4:21 PM on May 4, 2015 [24 favorites]


Have D Watkins or Ta-Nehisi Coates or someone else with their ear to the ground in Baltimore ever written about that?

If it matters, Ta Nehisi Coates, who grew up in West Baltimore, LOVED the Wire when it was on. See this bloggingheads where he praises it to the skies:

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/1685?in=00:09&out=04:45
posted by zipadee at 4:31 PM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


But I don't quite understand how a show with that scope (about failing institutions) wouldn't unflinchingly address the hegemony of those institutions, or the history of how that hegemony became so entrenched. Maybe the show does. But it sounds like it doesn't go far enough.

Far enough...for what? The Wire definitely had a perspective and agenda, and over the course of five seasons, that vision was successfully articulated. So it's not enough to discuss the current state of the police, street crime, labor unions, schools, city hall and newspapers...you want the history, too? In five seasons? I do not believe that I'm exaggerating when I say you've set the bar far higher than any televised entertainment has ever achieved.
posted by Edgewise at 5:11 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thinking about it, I can understand some of the concerns about white objectification of "Black" problems that surround the show. The Wire was pretty explicitly political; a large part of it was dedicated to demonstrating exactly how difficult it is to grow up Black and poor. So when you hear about someone loving "The Wire" you kind of make the assumption they might have absorbed some of those lessons. And yet there are so, so many self-proclaimed lovers of "The Wire" who were also all too happy to chide the Baltimore rioters and celebrate face-slapping moms and talk about individual responsibility and "culture". That kind of cognitive dissonance could totally leave an outsider wondering how many supposed "fans" just enjoyed the show as self-righteous suffer-porn, rather than taking away any of the obvious messages it's trying to communicate.
posted by schroedinger at 5:23 PM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


schroedinger, that's precisely what I've been trying to explain. To understand the baltimore rioters, you need to understand that the last 25 years are only the tail end of centuries of oppression. The Wire, for all its precision in describing the political gridlock of baltimore circa 2003, can't see further back than the start of the drug war. If our plunder of black communities started with the drug war, then Simon's position might be reasonable. But it didn't, so it isn't.
posted by yaymukund at 6:14 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


And yet there are so, so many self-proclaimed lovers of "The Wire" who were also all too happy to chide the Baltimore rioters and celebrate face-slapping moms and talk about individual responsibility and "culture". That kind of cognitive dissonance could totally leave an outsider wondering how many supposed "fans" just enjoyed the show as self-righteous suffer-porn, rather than taking away any of the obvious messages it's trying to communicate.

And yet, the article is about the author's reaction to how Simon chided the rioters. Surely he took away all the show's messages? I think it's possible to agree with everything that the show has to say and STILL think that it's counter-productive to destroy your own community in protest. I don't think there's any cognitive dissonance there. I'd call it nuance, but it's not actually that complicated.

Heck, you don't even have to be white and affluent to have this viewpoint. All kinds of folks differentiate between civil disobedience and rioting. It sounds like Rev. Bryant wouldn't disagree with Simon. That doesn't mean that they're right, but it does suggest to me that it's not necessary to see Simon's views, and by extension The Wire, as representing an exclusively affluent white perspective.
posted by Edgewise at 6:36 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


So it's not enough to discuss the current state of the police, street crime, labor unions, schools, city hall and newspapers...you want the history, too? In five seasons? I do not believe that I'm exaggerating when I say you've set the bar far higher than any televised entertainment has ever achieved.

I'm not expecting a Ken Burns documentary. It's not as hard as you make it sound. As ambitious as the show was, I don't think it's out of the question to point out its shortcomings. Even supporters of the show have pointed out that it's culled largely from reporting on the police perspective, and is generally sympathetic to that angle. I would hope shows that take inspiration from it will go further than it did and hold back less punches. Sorry if that's unrealistic.
posted by naju at 6:43 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a Baltimore native, I think that while the criticism that The Wire did not address community activism in the city has some merit - to the extent that sure, this fictional television show about a city did not address every important element of that city - it misses the mark by levying the criticism against the way the show's "message" was that individuals fighting the system are bound to fail.

And by that I mean when and where is that ever not the case? If anything, The Wire encouraged (not caused! please don't misunderstand me here) the kind of banding together and fighting back we're seeing in the Uprising. If The Wire's point, for the sake of argument, was that one person alone cannot fix the broken and predatory corruption endemic in Baltimore, you could take that to mean that maybe all these people together - who outnumber those in power by a pretty healthy margin - might be able to do so.

Will that happen? That's way too soon to tell. The smoke hasn't even cleared. Hell, the streets are still red hot. But I think the criticism that The Wire demonstrates that a lone individual against systemic corruption will fail isn't proven wrong by the Uprising; it's underlined by it.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:01 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


The problem with Simon, The Wire, and the US more generally is that the show portrayed the cops as vindictive, psychopathically violent abusers of an entire city -- and that was *still* unrealistically generous towards the actual police state.
posted by chortly at 7:47 PM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


You know, if Simon had included a season or subplot devoted to community activists, it would have gotten the same narrative treatment as everyone else. The group would be depicted as a mix of sympathetic and unsympathetic characters, the dynamics of the group would be largely dysfunctional, the group would fail repeatedly to enact lasting change (or they would succeed only to see those changes rolled back soon after), and one or more of their leaders would become so corrupt that they end up betraying the movement. I'm not sure Zirin would have been pleased with the end result.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:57 PM on May 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


I'm not expecting a Ken Burns documentary. It's not as hard as you make it sound. As ambitious as the show was, I don't think it's out of the question to point out its shortcomings. Even supporters of the show have pointed out that it's culled largely from reporting on the police perspective, and is generally sympathetic to that angle.

I agree with the fact that it is cannot help but be colored by the police perspective, although I'd also argue that it makes use of that perspective to criticize the police department in ways that would be impossible for an outsider.

What I am disagreeing with you about is that there was some onus to provide a more "complete" context, including the history of the bureaucratic institutions being depicted. It wasn't about that, and it doesn't need to be. It's not a shortcoming for a story to fail to explain everything about how a situation came to be.

Simon and Burns wrote about what they knew, intimately and firsthand. They are artists and journalists, not academics. I believe that they had something valuable to say, and it would have been overreaching for them to try to say more.

Maybe you have something very modest in mind, but it's hard to imagine a proper treatment of history that would be concise. The themes of The Wire deal with institutions, but the story is always told through complex characters and the (usually tragic) consequences of their collisions with those institutions.
posted by Edgewise at 8:24 PM on May 4, 2015


I'm not expecting a Ken Burns documentary. It's not as hard as you make it sound. As ambitious as the show was, I don't think it's out of the question to point out its shortcomings. Even supporters of the show have pointed out that it's culled largely from reporting on the police perspective, and is generally sympathetic to that angle. I would hope shows that take inspiration from it will go further than it did and hold back less punches. Sorry if that's unrealistic.

If you are at all inclined, I would strongly urge you to keep going with the series beyond the first season. While still pretty great, Season 1 sticks close to the police procedural style a la Homicide:Life on the Streets or what have you. Without giving too much away, the second season takes a sharp turn into a different (but ultimately connected) storyline altogether, with many of the first season characters hardly appearing if at all. This is when the nuance Wire fanatics love to talk about really starts showing through.

This is also maybe the deepest it gets into the history and breadth of the drug trade beyond the projects, and I do wish it could have gone further. From then on, it really takes off until the last season (from what I hear - I've only made it to the fourth so far). I can totally get the "Meh, pretty good for a cop show" interpretation from watching just the beginning, but if you made it that far, it really is worth it to keep going.
posted by sphexish at 9:42 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Didn't see any mention of it but Cutty starting the community boxing gym in season 4 was a decent example of practical activism.
posted by mannequito at 11:23 PM on May 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I think Simon and Burns make a distinction between people doing the work on the ground (e.g. Cutty, the Deacon, Walon) and the 'come to do good, stay to do well' (Bunny's words, not mine) folks.
posted by box at 5:28 AM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


The group would be depicted as a mix of sympathetic and unsympathetic characters, the dynamics of the group would be largely dysfunctional, the group would fail repeatedly to enact lasting change (or they would succeed only to see those changes rolled back soon after), and one or more of their leaders would become so corrupt that they end up betraying the movement.

There was a storyline in season four, where Bunny Colvin becomes a field researcher for an educational project to help corner kids succeed in school. The program has some success, but it's ended and I can't quite remember why. I feel like it's partly because of the school budget and partly Carcetti. Ultimately, very little changes, except for one student. So, yeah, you're pretty much on the nose with how it gets portrayed.
posted by gladly at 6:19 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's an extremely deep show...

So, my ankles will get wet, then ?
posted by y2karl at 7:54 AM on May 5, 2015


Simon and Burns wrote about what they knew, intimately and firsthand. They are artists and journalists, not academics. I believe that they had something valuable to say, and it would have been overreaching for them to try to say more.

I couldn't agree more. There's a (possibly apocryphal) story that Simon and Burns had been asked to talk about Baltimore's burgeoning Latino population in a putative sixth season. They demurred, citing the fact that they knew nothing about the population, had no experience with it, and had no "ins" to the community.

I think that Simon and Burns did the best they could with what they had. And that was pretty impressive. Criticizing them 10 years later for not reflecting current events seems silly. Do we hassle Shakespeare for not portraying 16th century poverty and brutality accurately? Where was Austen's discussion of how Jane could have done better working for herself?
posted by aureliobuendia at 10:14 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


" The program has some success, but it's ended and I can't quite remember why. I feel like it's partly because of the school budget and partly Carcetti. "

$54 million school deficit that Carcetti could have alleviated if he'd publicly asked the Republican governor for the money, which would hurt his own run for governor in two years. Same thing that scuttles Major Crimes.
posted by klangklangston at 10:28 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


And yet, the article is about the author's reaction to how Simon chided the rioters. Surely he took away all the show's messages?

My point (which I didn't make clearly) was that I think some anti-racism activists assumed people were understanding the racial components of urban poverty while they were digesting everything else in the show. So it's an ugly shock when you see "The Wire" fans--and even the show's creator himself--demonstrate this blindness towards the issues of race that drove the protests and riots. Re-watching it now I'm realizing how very little it had to say about race at all, save the demographics of the characters who were on the street versus members of law enforcement. There was the situation with Prez and little scenes like a politician assuming a white dude is a supervising officer rather than the Black man beside him. But the messages of the show were overwhelmingly focused on the "human nature" and economic side of the institutional factors influencing the cycle of poverty, rather than acknowledging the additional influence of other social structures like white supremacy.

So yeah, the ignorance of intersectionality is a legitimate criticism. Then again, the concept of intersectionality is a relatively new one to popular culture and I guess I'm not surprised two white dudes who worked in Baltimore in the '80s and '90s are not exactly on the up-and-up with things like that.

I think it's possible to agree with everything that the show has to say and STILL think that it's counter-productive to destroy your own community in protest.

People a lot more eloquent than I have written about this strawman you're constructing. But needless to say, it is possible to understand that level of rage and call out the hypocrisy of the legions of white people chiding rioters and not endorse riots.
posted by schroedinger at 11:19 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


They demurred, citing the fact that they knew nothing about the population, had no experience with it, and had no "ins" to the community.

When did they do this? Simon wrote The Corner, where he spent a year hanging out in some of the worst parts of southwest, and forging something like friendship with quite a number of residents. It's not like he's been seeing Baltimore from behind a desk.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:21 AM on May 5, 2015


Oh, the Latino community. Disregard my previous question.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:23 AM on May 5, 2015


The fact that white America walks around pretending that their whole suburban lives aren't built on destroying the lives of about 20-30% of the population, and finds the facts of the Wire unfamiliar, speaks more to this audience than the Wire as a creative work.

Mass Incarceration: The Silence Of The Judges by Jed Rakoff - "For too long, too many judges have been too quiet about an evil of which we are a part: mass incarceration. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in US jails and prisons. Most of the increase in imprisonment has been for nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession. If current rates hold, one-third of all black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes... Basically, we treat them like dirt."
posted by kliuless at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2015


If I do get around to watching the show, I'll certainly view it through this lens.

Why? Reducing The Wire to just a cop show and seeing it just like that because this writer sees it like that is like seeing anything with any nuance whatsoever through the eyes of Rush Limbaugh.

And why the police violence was left out when it was apparently a huge issue even back then.

Herc has a history of brutality charges against him. Bunny endorses a certain level of quite brutal violence against those who don't go to Hamsterdamn. Walker breaks the fingers of the kid who keeps stealing cars rather than go through the arrest process. Bubbles gets laid into by Vernon while he's in the box. Daniels and Greggs (and others I believe but can't remember) beat the shit out of Bird. Bunny makes a huge speech about how the police aren't policing but warring. Collichio attempts to kick the shit out of teacher. Prezbo blinds one kid's eye. There are other incidents.

That is violence left out?

You see police beating suspect and the show just seemed to laugh if off.

How so?

The problem is that it glorifies cops. The cops are the "good guys," the "drug dealers" are the "bad guys."

What show was that? The Wire does the opposite of glorifying most of the cops. Any cops with any merit are torpedoed or crippled ultimately.

As for activists, there is some presence in the Hamsterdamn story. Much of season 4 is about Bunny and his team attempting to make a difference in the lives of some "difficult" students.

They use payphones until I think season 3, when the dealers destroy them to keep their subordinates from using them.

They ripped a set out of the pit in Season 1. I can't recall for sure but I don't believe pay phones were used by any competent crew after Season 1.

Am I the only one that had difficulty with Season 5?

It's generally regarded as the worst season. I would guess that the unbelievable amount of corruption, violence, racism, etc., that the show dramatizes pales when compared to the unbelievable McNulty story arc in season 5. But it does make some narrative sense, in the society is so unfathomnably absurd, and institutions so fucked, that an outrageous lie to get them working properly again, for a time, shows how hopeless the situation is, or at least how McNulty felt. It's kind of funny, because the rest of it should be just as outrageous and unbelievable, and yet the line is drawn with McNulty's serial killer plot.

So, my ankles will get wet, then ?

Privates too.
posted by juiceCake at 1:04 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, The Wire always was a reactionary apologetic for police violence. May we become yet purer in proclaiming it!
posted by batfish at 1:16 PM on May 5, 2015


There was some degree of apology in it. You can see it in how Simon talks about "the code" in his articles. So there is obviously some, "What did you expect if you punched a cop?" But in the long run a lot of the police violence is plainly misguided, counterproductive, or purely criminal.

I don't think you are supposed to come away with the idea that the violence is a great idea.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:20 PM on May 5, 2015


I don't see the apology. Anyway, I find the whole conceit of this piece ridiculous on its face. Sanctimonious white liberal does press tour of baltimore riot, reconsiders opinion of The Wire. It's a fucking Onion joke.
posted by batfish at 2:29 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I'm remembering correctly, that was the episode that really turned me off. You see police beating suspect and the show just seemed to laugh if off.

I think some people are confusing how the police characters get away with police brutality and everyone acts like police violence is just normal with the notion that the show is saying that the violence is okay, which I don’t think is the case at all.

I was recently reading Film Crit Hulk talk about The Wolf of Wall Street and how some people were saying Jordan Belfort didn’t get punished enough in the movie. And Hulk’s point was that to punish the character actually diminishes the message, because it lets the audience off the hook of dealing with the actual issue. To show that this behavior is normal and not normally punished is actually a more punching critique of the system then to have some karmic retribution, which lets the audience forget about the issue.

I think the only time we see someone in The Wire punished is when Pryz is dealing with the kid he blinded. And Pryz feels bad and he has to confront the repercussions of his actions. Because Pryz actually did receive some (emotional) punishment it makes him more likable to the audience, even though he’s still a terrible person. His guilt didn’t solve the issue but it let the audience not deal with that one instance of police violence anymore. The point is having some moral authority chide the police characters about brutality would mainly exist not to reflect reality or make a point about society but to make those scenes less uncomfortable and painful to the audience. If you want to make the point that police brutality is normalized, you show it being normal.
posted by john-a-dreams at 3:27 PM on May 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I love the very last lines of the last episode. IMO, The Wire is genius and beats the hell out of the rest by 100 miles. It was poetry.
posted by clavdivs at 5:48 PM on May 5, 2015


So, my ankles will get wet, then ?

Privates too.

Not unless I'm three feet tall. Oh, c'mon, it's a TV cop show. It's not like I'm going go out and sell everything I own to start a religion to a cop show, however well written.

Well, Bukow and König, on the other hand....
posted by y2karl at 7:52 AM on May 6, 2015


Reducing The Wire to a TV cop show is like saying The Americans is a spy thriller.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:00 AM on May 6, 2015


And your point is ?
posted by y2karl at 8:08 AM on May 6, 2015


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