Others have already pointed out that The Wire isn’t as realistic as it seems. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), for instance, is the hero of the American Monomyth. Here’s how the latter is summarized in the link above:

A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity.

The Wire revises the myth thus: a community in hell (Bubbles – Andre Royo: “it’s a thin line between heaven and here.”) is threatened by some of hell’s inhabitants; normal institutions, paralyzed by red tape, political agendas, and business as usual, fail to contend with this threat; a self-aggrandizing supercop emerges to be afflicted by temptations and fails to carry out the redemptive task; bumping his head against the system the supercop recedes into obscurity.

That’s quite good. It revises the myth until it lies there, almost unrecognizable. Here’s my version though: in its mythology of being the only possible system (in the best of all possible worlds as Pangloss would say; at the end of history as Fukuyama would add), and in its sanctification of profit (the market will provide), global capitalism transferred labor to developing countries where the wages are low (Walden Bello):

The extreme international mobility of corporate capital coupled with the largely self-imposed national limits on labor organizing by the Northern labor unions (except when this served Washington’s Cold War political objectives) was a deadly formula that brought organized labor to its knees as corporate capital, virtually unopposed, transferred manufacturing jobs from the North to cheap-labor sites in the Third World.

Under these conditions a parallel economy thrives (mimicking the mainstream economy with its power struggles, cut-throat wars and iron clad hierarchies); those who are unprepared and uneducated, the poor, have no other option than to go underground; everything becomes simulacra in order to keep up appearances.

Hostage to the worlds of finance and economics politics is reduced to being a sport (I love the scene in which Carcetti campaigns in an elderly home: we can hear the crickets chirping because the seniors in there couldn’t care less for this kind of sport); the police are a political tool; the education system is a dead end (and the students know it – Howard “Bunny” Colvin – Robert Wisdom: “I mean, they’re not fools these kids. [...] [T]hey see right through us.”). That’s why Marcia Donnelly (Tootsie Duvall), the Assistant Principal of Edward J. Tilghman Middle School says to Bubbles that Sherrod (Rashad Orange) is going to be “socially promoted” after missing school for three years. In the end, everybody knows that it doesn’t matter (those who do matter aren’t in that kind of school). Everybody has some reason to pretend that it does though. I’ll give the last word to David Simon:

Baltimore’s dying port unions, is a meditation on the death of work and the betrayal of the American working class, it is a deliberate argument that unencumbered capitalism is not a substitute for social policy, that on its own, without a social compact, raw capitalism is destined to serve the few at the expense of the many.

My problem with this statement is that David Simon should be saying it about the series as a whole. Why just season two? I hope that there isn’t a hint somewhere suggesting that, given the chance, black people would still prefer the world of the corners instead of being part of the mainstream economy.

Another instance where the creators of the series juggle dangerously with cliché is in season four (my favorite, pardon the personal note). The aforementioned season includes a kind of Teacher Movie. It’s true that, again, the writers do a good job of transcending the pernicious genre (the teacher, Roland “Mr. Prezbo” Pryzbylewski – Jim True-Frost – doesn’t win the trust of his most difficult students completely alone). But he also conveys what I call the flawed Sesame Street Syndrome (or SSS). That is, students can learn while playing. In the link above, the reporter, Nicholas Buglione, wrote:

Dr. Robert Helfenbein, an education professor at Indiana University who specializes in urban education issues, believes these films trivialize the learning process and present an erroneously simple solution to what’s really a far more complex problem: Closing the achievement gap in inner-city schools.

That goal can’t be achieved by any superhero teacher or caped crusader. It can only be achieved by closing the parallel gap between the wealthy and the poor.

The image above shows Bubbles pushing his peripatetic business. The original is a print on a t-shirt. I chose it because it is semiotically fascinating. On one end it’s the perfect symbol of the parallel economy I talked about above. On the other end it shows the absolute base of the social pyramid, the junkie that is everybody’s victim (I’m aware that Bubbles is a fictional character, mind). And yet… it’s in a t-shirt… for sale! Grammar mistakes and all!… Capitalism appropriates everything by selling everything.

What’s missing above is the real one.

In conclusion, the use of parallel montage gives the impression of a kaleidoscopic and complex view of the city. That’s not untrue, but it just gives us the street level (in today’s world of virtual politics, even the temples of infotainment and city hall are at street level). What really affects these people’s lives is happening elsewhere.

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