As the creator of the argument that tragedy is the highest form of drama, Aristotle certainly would have been a fan of The Wire. Although there are some light hearted moments between the characters, a show about the social reality of life on the Baltimore streets is tragic for just that– its realism. Sadly, that level of realism makes for a difficult show to watch. Sitting down to watch an episode of The Wire is not an opportunity for escapism, not a chance to dive into a world of vampires or cute and happy high schoolers, but instead a call to face some of the most heavy issues of contemporary urban life.
The world of The Wire is tragic because there are no answers, no easy solutions. I have never seen the first three seasons but after watching only a few episodes of the fourth, I was frustrated for everyone– the kids who would never escape the lives of the fathers who ended up killed or imprisoned, the same kids who had to endure home lives with heroine junkies and living environments scarier than the streets themselves. I was frustrated for the police that actually wanted to make a difference, feeling that despite their efforts, this was a world they could never fix, one so deeply embedded in gang hierarchies, violence, and drugs that no amount of policing could make a dent. I was frustrated by the corrupt politicians who kept the underclass at the bottom with false promises to help and those in the political system, like Carcetti, who once had ideals but could barely hold onto them.
The characters on the show are incredibly complex and not easy to pinpoint as “good” or “bad.” I was most fascinated by Carcetti, who I went back and forth with in terms of sympathy. He is negative, cynical, and immature in the fist episode, yet by the second, I gained respect for him as a leader fighting against an ineffective political system, calling for an end to corruption and crime. The kids on the street were also easy to sympathize with, especially after seeing their home lives, despite the bad choices they often make. I wondered though if the other seasons focus at all on the young girls in the neighborhood. It seemed unbalanced that we would only get a glimpse of boys growing up in Baltimore, even if they are more involved in the drug trade and gang rivalry.
I also found the issues surrounding the school interesting. I went to a high school in Los Angeles that had a lot of the same problems, although the one in the show is much worse. When these kids are just trying to survive on the streets and make enough money to support their families, homework becomes of secondary importance, yet teachers still must struggle to provide them with a basic education.
The last scene of the second episode was also very well done, showing the Carcetti’s speech in all the different sub groups of the show, uniting everyone, reminding us that as different as they are, all of them live in the same city. The most compelling aspect of the scene was that most of the poorest, underprivileged members of the city simply shut off the show or changed the channel. The episode ends with the kid with the pony tail (can’t remember his name, so many characters ahh) turning off the debate to play a violent video game. Although the message is a little heavy handed, it works wonders to give us a glimpse into the effect of the political world on the rest of society.