I just finished watching my DVD set of The Wire. Even in the United States it received less attention from the public than it deserved; in Australia, it seems to have aired (very) late at night occasionally, but to my knowledge it hasn’t been shown regularly or marketed in any way. My discovery of the show came from reading overwhelmingly positive comments online, after which I downloaded a few episodes and resolved to buy it as soon as the DVD set (holy cow – 64% off at the moment!) was available.
Anyone who is interested in discussions of how and why modern institutions and governments fail their people should watch this show. Now.
I am certainly not the first person to compare David Simon’s show to Dickens. The fifth and final season of the show itself invites the comparison – as the (fictional, but inspired by the real paper that Simon worked for) Baltimore Sun’s editors strive to capture the “Dickensian aspect” of some social ill in their quest for a Pulitzer, the irony is that the show itself successfully does so. Across its five-year run, the show captures the everyday lives of police officers, drug addicts, drug dealers, the working poor, public officials, school teachers, troubled kids, reformed criminals and journalists. While telling compelling stories about interesting characters (with some superb acting, writing and staging), The Wire examines the problems and failures of American society – many of which can be seen in Australia, as well.
(SPOILER ALERT – this may be obvious, but if you follow the hyperlinks you’ll encounter some discussion of events that take place in the show.)
It is a sign of the value of the show as social commentary that so many news and political outlets continue to discuss The Wire. This CNN commentary by John Blake shows a West Baltimore native’s evaluation of the show’s realism. The political themes of the show have also been discussed by both liberals and conservatives. In my view, The Wire doesn’t endorse one particular political ideology, and it doesn’t try to ram a particular solution down the viewer’s throat. It examines where American society stands now – warts and all. That is the real authenticity of the show – it is not so much about whether the details of Baltimore are done exactly right, but that the society Simon et al. created faces the same challenges that real people in these everyday situations would face. In my opinion, this is also why the final season is weaker than the previous four (although it is still better than just about anything else on TV) – the problems and the dilemmas seem more contrived, and appear to have been designed to highlight a specific agenda that was in the creators’ minds.
It is probably obvious from my choice of pseudonym that I am a great fan of The West Wing. Where that show is an idealistic depiction of how government can serve society, The Wire is its realistic counterpart. Anyone with an interest in politics and social change should watch the show – I suspect you will both study and enjoy it.