The Wire

2017/04/08 writing

I was reading Twitter and bumped into this:

Possessing sarin gas, Hitler wouldn't use it on soldiers even as his Reich fell. He'd been gassed in WWI. Assad has used it 2x on civilians.
— David Simon (@AoDespair) April 06, 2017

I brought it up on social media and it triggered a nice discussion that I reconstrued into a post.

The Wire was a good show for its time but it's already showing a lot of age.

Badass gay character, humanized gangsters, contra-Reaganesque attitude to drugs, true aim against corruption and money, etc. They were all pretty great for its time, but now that a lot of media has caught up, the lackluster areas stick out a lot more.

Broadly speaking, it's got liberal sensibilities, not leftist ones.

Take S2, about the shipping container women. McNulty swears she won't treat them like a mere blip or statistic, but will remember their humanity. At the end of S2, they have a gag scene where McNulty goes "undercover" at a whorehouse, and gets serviced by some prostitutes, while everyone at base overhearing goes "Oh You, McNulty!".

There's also the blaming of teacher's unions for shutting down innovative approaches. Issues that could be chalked up as capitalism critique often end up have more to do with individual corruption, as opposed to the regular brutal application of market logic to human problems (eg: corrupt construction agencies wanting bribes vs. regular white citizens protecting their interests).

In other words, Simon identifies the failures of capitalism with greedy and corrupt actors, not with capitalism itself. It's not the natural culmination of the expressed desires of good and decent people under a system that abstracts away their decisions via market logic, it's the fact that a bunch of greedy evil people run the show.

This shallow and circumscribed commitment to nominal values, not fully comprehending the extent to which they require a fundamental shift in approach, is pretty liberal.

Perhaps the most anti-leftist aspect of them all is how the show is utterly grim and hopeless and nothing ever changes. All radical initiatives are shut down and ruin lives. It works more as a cautionary tale than an inspiration. If all media is propaganda, The Wire works as propaganda for obedient incrementalism, and decidedly against anything revolutionary.

I think I vouch for everything this author said about the bleakness of The Wire's political vision.

Another aspect that wasn't so bad at the time, but has become grating, is its concept of the hero. I'll flesh this out some other time, but ever since 24 "explored" the morality of torture, it opened the gate for people to more or less give up on higher standards.

McNulty is the hero of the show. He's a flawed man trying his best. He'd reply to that classic job interview question with "I'm just too devoted to fighting crime, sometimes I do brash stuff that backfires".

He is "bad" in the same sense that Don Draper is bad, or Tyrion is bad, or Walt White is bad, or the abusive husband in True Detective is bad. They're shallowly bad, they're "I have a token flaw" bad, they're errant-but-fundamentally-good. It really jives with the current prevalent attitude that America-isn't-flawless-but-it's-our-bulwark-against-worse.

I think both Spartacus or The Shield also indulge in "dogged cop with a heart o' gold" character archetypes, but they do so way more carefully, and the indictment really does stirke home.

Anyway, this stuff aside, it's a well developed drama with compelling characters and high production values. Even the politics themselves are better than the harrowing status quo in many places.

David Simon really is an idiot though, filmmaking ability aside:

Hannity my nigga! If they couldn't get Ta-Nehisi or Deray to host, then who but you on the pulse of black America?
— David Simon (@AoDespair) September 20, 2016


I agree re: Mcnulty but disagree that the show blames greedy bad actors - it's hopelessly structuralist
— Ethan
[The] points about the prostitution bust in S2, the way Przebilewski doesn't get charged for killing that black officer in S3, and some others are very compelling to me.
— Alex