It’s been said that we’re living through a golden age of television. The rise of cable and the DVD has freed the medium from age-old network constraints and catapulted it into a new world of creative possibility. If that’s true, then The Wire is the crown jewel.
The series wraps up this Sunday, and many people are already predicting that it will go down as a defining moment of American culture, pop or otherwise. I agree. The show succeeds wildly on so many different levels – which is a quite a thing to say, considering its staggering ambitions. Over its five years on HBO, The Wire has touched on EVERYTHING: crime, education, money, race, family, politics, relationships, America, the list goes on. Though they’ve spared us any explicit commentary on religion, if you read between the lines, that’s there too. The intractability of the human condition has never been rendered so comprehensively on the small screen. Period.
There’s much, much more to say but for now, hear this: if you haven’t watched The Wire, you really should. You may not be a fan of police dramas, but that doesn’t matter (neither am I). True, it’s not for the faint of heart – those with an aversion to violence, drugs, vulgarity, etc should probably stay away – but know that you are missing something important, not to mention very entertaining. And should you decide to get on board, do yourself a favor and start from the beginning.
Here are some quotes from the man behind the curtain, David Simon:
“The Wire made the argument, from its first season, that the modern world is becoming increasingly indifferent to individual catharsis and individual dignity, and human beings are worth less. Every day, human beings are worth less.”
“In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millennium, so to speak.”
Interviewer: You have been pessimistic in public comments you’ve made about the possibility of political and social change. Do you think change is possible?
Simon: No, I don’t.
Interviewer: Would you describe The Wire as a cynical show?
Simon: It’s cynical about institutions, and about their capacity for serving the needs of the individual. But in its treatment of the actual characters, be they longshoremen or mid-level drug dealers or police detectives, I don’t think it’s cynical at all. I think there’s a great deal of humanist affection.
“Well, here’s a secret that I learned with Homicide and have held to: if you write something that is so credible that the insider will stay with you, then the outsider will follow as well.
Most smart people cannot watch most TV, because it has generally been a condescending medium, explaining everything immediately, offering no ambiguities, and using dialogue that simplifies and mitigates against the idiosyncratic ways in which people in different worlds actually communicate. It eventually requires that characters from different places talk the same way as the viewer. This, of course, sucks.”