TV Review: The Wire


Raked over in newspapers since the fifth and final series made its way on to TnaG, it's hard to write anything new about the Wire. It's a portrait of America through Baltimore and the cop show vehicle; of failing school systems and crumbling communities, where drugs gangs and cops act in similar flurries of selfish brutality.
It leaps from the personal to the institutional, in blinding flashes of how power - legal and illegal - affects us. Empathy for characters is pummelled into you, before they’re cruelly disposed of on society's scrapheap. And that's not me reading too much into it.

The chief writer, David Simon articulates the trickle down effect of capitalism on the small screen. Of how post-industrial society leaves communities ransacked of employment, forcing kids onto the drugs corner, with the ethics of the system seeping down to street level, in a dog eat dog game of survival. Young drug foot soldiers, map their lives on a chess board, knowing sorely, that pawns never become kings.

An underlying bleakness makes it a surprising choice for radicals to fawn on. The space for collective solutions is dramatically closed and only Thomas Carcetti, a young white Mayor, holds a candle to political optimism.

And that's rooted in a cynicism that shimmies between idealism and the crude o p p o r t u n i s m you'd expect of the political ladder. In an entertainment industry, where tough realities are wedged into easy redemptions, even that hope is popped. With Simon aiming to bring audiences to the recognition "that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right."

An admission along those lines from TV is a rare thing. So too are the similarities sketched between organised crime in the projects, and the wrangling of downtown property developers and politicians. As a scumbag lawyer is told in one scene: "you just rob people with your suit case."

Shards of light do break through, as characters mount epic battles against drug addiction and neglect. With the decline of traditional class organisation passionately evoked with the dockers union in series two, it's clear that a systematic challenge to American capitalism requires an awesome task of movement re-building, as churches are often seen as the only social response to poverty.

So, don't jump straight in and ruin The Wire if it's new to you. Pirate or buy the previous four series and curl into the best thing on the box right now. And when you're finished, don't stare into the cracked mirror of a broken society with the perversion of pessimism The Wire feeds on. Start asking how we can go about fixing it - together.

Season Five of the Wire is on TG4, Mondays at 1030pm with repeats on Saturdays at 11.25pm.

Issue 105 of Workers Solidarity Sept/Oct 2008

[PDF of southern edition of WS 105] [PDF of northern edition of WS 105]