I love talking about HBO’s The Wire. Some spoilers!
Is the Wire a Conservative or Liberal show? Jonah Goldberg makes a case that it belongs to the Right:
But look at it through the eyes of a conservative. This is a Democratic city, run almost uniformly by liberals. While many of the problems most prominently on display can certainly be traced back to racism, racism itself is not a central issue in The Wire (nor is racism an inherently or historically conservative phenomena). These drug gangs and the poor souls in their orbit, are not trapped by racism so much as by a dysfunctional culture. That’s certainly the lesson of much of season four. The stoop kids do okay. The Corner Boys are destined for a life of misery. For every main character who is a murderer or dope dealer (but I repeat myself), there’s a representative of the black middle class who rejects the criminal culture of the street.
To be picky, the stoop kids we meet all end up with terrible fates – murderers (Michael), drug addicts (Dukie) and wannabe thugs (Randy). The Corner Boy (Namond) is the only one who ends up with a fantastic life once he is rescued from the hyperghetto for a new start in the suburbs. On a general note, one of the brilliant points of the show is the pervasiveness of the “criminal culture.” That’s why taking the show to the docks the second season was so brilliant – it shows that criminality is everywhere in the 21st Century. There’s no isolated middle-class to escape to, and even if there was their consumer goods would be shipped in the same cargo as coke and dead hookers.
I like that the show doesn’t offer easy answers, platitudes or agitprop. One note I would like to make on how the show places in our current political landscape (that I saw get developed in comments here, a great essay on character in The Wire) – the show does place a great deal on Doing the Job Right.
We are often lead to believe that if only the right people, the good people, got their shot to do their jobs without the bullshit, everything would be much better off. What if McNulty got his own team? If Daniels ran the department? Bunny the War on Drugs? If that dude whose name I forgot ran the newspaper? If Prez could teach whatever he wanted? This meme goes to both conservatives (who hate the bureaucracy and love Heroic individuals) and liberals (who love good policy, especially good urban policy, and working institutions).
This attitude blocks out a lot. I noticed a lot of talking about Prez and the testing and the fatigued and indifferent school administration, and whether or not we need school choice or less testing or whatever. I saw, and this was in Season 4 when everyone started blogging the show, little talk about the more Marxist vision of how the School is a training ground for the Prison.
Someone sneaks a razor in and slashes another person, and Prez has to work to take control. The disruptive students are put in solitary in the basement. They are color-coordinated by section, the hustlers and the suckups all take their spots, etc. The school doesn’t fail their students at all; it prepares the students for their future of rules and arbitrary violence as locked-up surplus labor. I have no idea if Simon means this or not, yet the attitude of many watchers is to think innovative teaching or busting the teacher’s unions are going to make the difference in these kids lives betrays their trust in the underlining power structures.
Not that their is anything wrong with that – I’d like to see Prez teach off the test too. (And maybe that point was brought up all the time and I missed it.) But that does block out more radical readings of the show, both of the leftist and libertarian varieties.