Why I will miss The WirePosted: April 6, 2008
Some of you have heard of The Wire, a crime show that ran for 5 seasons on HBO and recently came to a close. Actually if you are a regular reader you probably have heard of it. I tend to run in those kinds of circles.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the link above will cover all the details if you are interested. In short though, it is a show that primarily operates from the point of view of the police and criminals in the city of Baltimore, Maryland and then uses that point of view to examine the cracks in the American dream in its inner cities and former industrial towns in a manner that is nothing short of remarkable. Personally I believe it is one of the best written television shows I have ever seen.
What makes this show great in my eyes, and most likely one of the same things that prevented it from achieving the kind of mass acclaim it deserves, is the way it has continually avoided overly simple and neat explanations of problems in favour of the kind of nuanced view that is rarely see in either real life or fiction.
In their world, there are multiple instances when the question of who is good, who is evil and what actions are appropriate is left to the audience instead of being explicitly spelled out for them to an accompanying soundtrack. Even more impressive though, social problems aren’t solved by 30 second simple fixes that involve one person’s removal or miraculous change of character. Instead we are shown the overlapping circles of dysfunction in the police, the media, the political system, local businesses, the school system and the streets themselves and how each enables and reenforces the other. Most of the people we spend time around are hemmed in my these systems and forced to choose between a series of very limited options, each with its own set of consequences. Some choose well, most choose badly, although again the question of which is the right choice is left to the judgement of the viewer a majority of the time.
For the most part, people who talk about this stuff tend to assume that their audience lacks the attention span necessary to digest a multifaceted view of life and therefore are only capable of dealing in terms of overly simplistic narratives with all the lines clearly sketched in for them and there is no hint of complexity, underlying issues, overlapping causes or anything else that might actually require them to assume the people they are being told about live lives every bit as complicated as theirs, if not more so.
In a lot of ways, The Wire’s insistance on a nuanced look at a world usually dominated by simplistic narratives and a complete lack of empathy reminded me a lot of the larger conversation about Africa. A lot of the time instead of a proper look at the mix of factors that cause things to be the way they are in my part of the world, a simple narrative of ‘vampire states’ or something equally inane to cover a much wider range of issues.
Anyway, that minor rant aside, I’m going to miss this show. It was 5 seasons of memorable characters and the kind of writing that draws you in regardless of whether or not you want to be drawn in.