“The Wire” is part of the (global) problem

the wireBy Johanna Bockman. I wrote a post for my own blog “Sociology in My Neighborhood: DC Ward 6” about the television show “The Wire.” While I mostly discuss American cities, the problems mentioned here appear in many other cities:

…”The Wire” presents a conventional narrative about the decline of the city, not necessarily conventional in television but conventional in cities today. Who is to blame for this decline? The show smartly posits that institutions like government, the media, unionized shipyards, schools, and the police play by their own corrupt rules, which in interaction have brought the decline of the American working class and of American cities. Who is not to blame for this decline? The supposed viewer of the show. Those who watch high-quality cable television are generally upmarket, well-educated, urban professionals, maybe also predominantly white and “unmarked” by any obvious ethnicity (unlike the Polish shipyard worker, for example).

…The problem is the perspective of “The Wire” then provides a way to see the city. When I talked with a Capitol Hill neighbor about the show, she declared that she lived in the ghetto just like the one portrayed in “The Wire.” People might think that they can use what they saw in “The Wire” to understand any city (and probably not suburbs or rural areas). The show can be used to (mis)understand what DC was really like in the past, what it is like to live in or nearby public housing today, and what threatens DC today. Yet, this is a television show with writers of fictional crime novels like George Pelicanos working within (and sometimes against) the conventions of crime drama that make “The Wire” appear real. As my literature colleague wrote me: “Not to excuse it, of course; genre structures how we think about real life.”

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