Ok, so I KNOW what an explosive statement that is…and coming from someone who was so thoroughly obsessed with LOST (until the lame ending), such a statement is HUGE for me…almost sacreligious :). (hope the LOST gods don’t strike me down :P). I also don’t profess to know every show out there, but I do know that The Wire is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s just – different. I’m sure you could say that about many shows. I thought that with LOST. But it’s so wholly unique in how much it manages to express in each episode. Every scene, every comment, everything – has a purpose. It’s not just entertainment, it’s a sociological education. And like a great novel, it can be watched and interpreted on so many levels. The characters are complex, the stories are intricately intertwined, the short and long-term messages are poignant and introspective.
Jacob Weisberg, a writer for Slate, declared, “The Wire” was the best American television series that had ever been broadcast: “No other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.”
Bingo! Couldn’t have said it better myself 😛
At first glance, The Wire comes off as a pretty violent, drug-ladened “cop” show, set in the ghetto. I’m sure if you think hard enough, you might be able to come up with a few others that fit this basic description. It’s not typically the type of show that would appeal to most women, but then again, I don’t usually like a lot of the shows/movies most women like :). Everything about it is explicit – the language, the violence, the sex. Watching it was an adjustment for me. It’s raw – so much so that after an hour, it can get mentally and emotionally draining. I almost brushed it off completely after the first couple of episodes, but somewhere around episode 3 or 4, something clicked. It is insightful beyond any other show that I’ve ever seen. It’s real to the point where you feel like you’re getting an education in a world you knew nothing about – things that our pampered suburban lifestyle have shielded us from all our lives. And you realize over time that the explicitness is part of relaying the story and is not just for dramatic effect.
There is no “star” per say, other than the city of Baltimore, which could probably be interchanged with any major American city. It’s a voyeuristic view into urban life. The show follows a number of complex characters through various plotlines. It feels – documentary – like, minus the direction of a narrator to walk you through each scene. It flows like a novel, a visual novel, where plots are meticulously built (sometimes slowly), to help you understand the context behind so many of the issues portrayed. The show helps you see sides to each character that make them so complete and complex, that often times you empathize with the “bad” guys and hate the “good”. I’m sure each person’s experience is different, but for me, it truly awakened me to the reality of how much environment plays in shaping the life of an individual, and how politics plays chess with the lives of so many, and often times not for the greater good.
The Wire explores issues like poverty, politics, corruption, the school system, the foster care system, drug trafficking, and money laundering, (I’m sure I’ve left something or other out 🙂 and shows you how intricately intertwined all of these things are. It made me realize how much of a joke the “war on drugs” is…because there are so many facets to it, so many hands touching it, that to claim to have the “answer” is beyond ludicrous.
What struck me most is that in other shows…the “bad” guys are just that. Here…you see their circumstances and their desperation to simply survive. The are real people and their good side gets as much air time as their dark, and you come to understand that at times, their moral compass (in that context, within those circumstances, in that particular environment) – might actually make sense. There are things you see that would make you cry for them – things we are truly blessed to be protected from and never have to deal with. You come to see them as a whole person, just doing the best they can with they have access to. It really made understand how much circumstances have forced them into certain lives, and how much responsibility rests at the hands of everyone else who let it get that far.
The first season focused on the kingpins and “the game” surrounding drugs, the second season was the longshoremen, the third season was politics and the fourth season, my favorite was the school system, and the youth. I haven’t watched the fifth and final season yet, but needless to say, I can’t wait. I think what blew me away most about season four was how much you realize the system (and society) views the inner city. Things we would be horrified if our children were ever exposed to are a daily part of life for so many children. We let life do unspeakable things to them, label these children as troubled, and then use that as an excuse to wash our hands of it. You realize how LITTLE their lives are valued, and consequently how little effort is put towards helping them.
The creator of The Wire often says that it’s “a show about how contemporary American society—and, particularly, “raw, unencumbered capitalism”—devalues human beings… “Every single moment on the planet, from here on out, human beings are worth less. We are in a post-industrial age. We don’t need as many of us as we once did. So, if the first season was about devaluing the cops who knew their beats and the corner boys slinging drugs, then the second was about devaluing the longshoremen and their labor, the third about people who wanted to make changes in the city, and the fourth was about kids who were being prepared, badly, for an economy that no longer really needs them. And the fifth? It’s about the people who are supposed to be monitoring all this and sounding the alarm—the journalists. The newsroom I worked in had four hundred and fifty people. Now it’s got three hundred. Management says, ‘We have to do more with less.’ That’s the bullshit of bean counters who care only about the bottom line. You do less with less.”
It’s almost like, you have this problem, but it’s self-contained in the inner cities, so the problem is just allowed grow and fester and come full circle, as long as it doesn’t spill out elsewhere, where it “matters”. Interventions, funding, etc…it’s there, but limited and often tainted with self-serving political intentions, and efforts are quite often half-hearted because no one has faith that their efforts will really make a difference anyway. The bureaucracy and the politics is quite literally mind-boggling.
Wallahi, I can’t tell you how disturbing some of these realizations were for me and how it really had an impact on my perspective. A TV show… the mind-numbing tube that we watch to not have to think (0r do anything) for the next hour, made me think, made me shed tears, even made me stay up nights thinking about someone else’s child, and my own. We think of poverty and woes, we think 3rd world countries, starving orphans in dirt huts, but we have our own version right in our own back yards. It’s made me think of what I’d like to do differently. It’s given me a visual perspective of things I’d only casually, and perhaps too quickly read about in the past. It’s easy to read an article…think “how unfortunate”, and then turn the page.
I think The Wire, like a few other events that I’ve come across as of late, have just (re)awakened my guilty side. The side that you should want for your brother what you want for yourself – want for other children, what your own children have. The side that makes you aware of social justice and social responsibility. I hope it sticks. I hope after a few months it doesn’t go away. I hope I can do something useful with this feeling. In the meantime, I’m off to watch Season 5. 🙂 Hope you’ll join me.