Authenticity on The Wire

by

Viewing The Wire was one of the more interesting experiences I’ve had with television in a very long time. I’ve become used to the notion that HBO’s original programming reaches a certain standard that makes it better than just good television. I had heard of the series forever but never watched before.

The introduction in the first episode of Season 4, “Boys of Summer” is one of the most jarring moments I have ever experienced on television. First, the moment Snoop enters the screen, it is unclear if the character is male or female. Second, the ease that exists in the conversation between Snoop and the salesman at the hardware store is something that seems like it shouldn’t be happening. We are faced with Snoop, a black woman who speaks with indecipherable, slurred language punctuated with curse words every once in a while, and the white store clerk who, for all intents and purposes, should probably be suspicious of such a person, if only for the way the conversation reveals itself as being about the use of a nail gun as a murder weapon. But the ease in their conversation comes from the perception of both people as common in their passion for power tools. Even when Snoop hands him a very large stack of cash, she urges him, “No, man, you go ahead and handle that for me, man…” The man accepts, even though he knows it’s incorrect of him to proceed that way.

I think what makes a moment like this so profound and jarring is how authentic it appears to be. I’ve never encountered a situation like this but that’s because it’s a situation I’m not likely to be either one of the two characters in, at any point in my life. Snoop is such a inaccessible character when we first see her appear on screen and from that point on it doesn’t necessarily get much easier to understand her. The way she speaks is so difficult to understand which, metaphorically and literally, represents the show, I think, in relation to a majority of its audience. In watching The Wire, it’s hard to understand the necessity of getting involved in gangs and drugs if we don’t feel like its our only financially viable option to become involved in those things.

When I listened to an NPR interview with Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, I realized that the actress and the character sound exactly alike and I found out that the character on the show is based off her real life persona (if only slightly). I think this is a perfect example of what makes The Wire such a brilliant show. Even without this information, there is just something about the show that feels inherently authentic, which is an incredible accomplishment.

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