Realism of Institutions In “The Wire”


“The Wire” an American Crime drama that is often cited for its realistic portrayal of urban life in Baltimore Maryland has never made it with mass audiences, nor has it won any noteworthy television awards, however it is hailed by many critics as one of the best series to have ever been produced. Broaching themes such as race, stereotypes, and corruption, “The Wire” makes a strong social commentary on sociopolitical themes and dysfunction communities/institutions. Throughout the fourth season, the viewers witness the visual narration of institutions including- the governmental, police, and drug trafficking operations. By juxtaposing these three social establishments we come to find that they are more similar than they are different despite their roles as the “good” or “evil” forces within society.
In the first four episodes of season four we see how the drug “food-chain” operates in Baltimore. From dealers, to cops, to politicians, everyone’s job and lifestyle seems to be dependent upon the sale, or control of drugs. All three institutions are driven by capital, at any moral expense and those working within each system become enslaved to its immorality. However we also see that no matter how dedicated one may be to their institution, betrayal by the institution one serves is inevitable. For this reason, the desires and morality of the individual is often compromised by the opposing views of the group. We see this when McNulty refuses to accept a promotion for field work, and when Randy Wagstaff is forced to relay a message that results in the murder of one of the drug dealers.
The compromised morality these institutions impose upon their members is also punctuated by the strategic use of realism within the series. The characters, the setting, and the process of each institution is well depicted and creates an immersive viewing experience for the audience. In episode one of season four, we are initially exposed to Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who is a lethal member of Marlo’s crew. Her demeanor and slang in the opening scene almost throw you back a bit when you first hear her speak. Besides not being able to understand a word she is saying, the viewer feels as through this character is not ad will not compromise who she is even when she is out of her element. This opening scene really sets the tone for the rest of the season and lets the viewer know that they are not getting themselves into the classic over-played crime drama.

The Baltimore City Paper did a great piece on the “Ghetto Tourism”  that realistic shows such as “The Wire” are breeding.


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