Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Wire

I recently became hooked on The Wire. I know I'm about five years behind the rest of the world, but then, if you know me, this isn't a surprise. The writing is fantastic - the characters are richly drawn, believable, full of the contradictions and foibles that make life interesting. No one is good or bad - every personality is textured and authentic.

The other draw of the show is that it creates a world so different from the ones I've lived in. The closest I've come to 'the urban crime environment' is Camden, New Jersey and I don't really think it counts since I was living in the cocoon of the Rutgers campus.

I did visit such a world once, briefly, when I spent a day with Youngest Brother (YB) at a construction site in a neighbourhood near Howard University in Washington, DC. YB spent two years in the Americorps program, building houses with Habitat for Humanity. The build near Howard was a bit of different for the program because they were renovating two row houses. Ordinarily, Habitat buys sites and builds from scratch.

One of the row houses was on the end of the row, with an alley running along its side. The local drug dealers often used this alley to stash their drugs, while they worked the corner about 50 yards up the street. I can't remember how long I was on the renovation site before I asked YB if that was really drug dealing going on. He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. It's apparently best if you don't notice too much.

I was fascinated by all of this. It was a regular neighbourhood, with kids playing on the street and neighbours sitting on their porches. But no one seemed to notice the there were drug deals happening right out in the open.

A few months later, YB told this story:

Two rich high school kids from one of the ritzier areas of Washington, somewhere like Georgetown, were sentenced with community service for a youthful indiscretion-type of misdemeanor. I think it was underage drinking or possession of a minute quantity of pot. So the Frat Boys show up at the Habitat site to put in their community service.

They were awful workers, skiving off and not taking anything seriously. They had an attitude of entitlement and acted like showing up was enough to meet the conditions of their community service. They were such bad workers, no one was really surprised when they called it a day and left the site early.

One of the drug dealers approached YB the next day and informed him that the Frat Boys had stolen their stash from the alley. YB apologised profusely, explaining that the Frat Boys were just some random volunteers who showed up to do some community service. YB didn't know them or anything about them.

The drug dealer was all calmness and reason. "Listen, I could take out what happened on y'all, mess up your houses or your people, but I'm not going to. I respect what you're doing, trying to help our community. But next time, man, you gotta be more careful about who you bring into our neighbourhood."


At 23 September 2008 at 09:32, Blogger Fence said...

I love The Wire. Just waiting on season 5 to arrive. Yay. But awww, cause its the last.
Great story though, those drug-dealing neighbourhood watch types, they're just so cute :)

At 23 September 2008 at 12:52, Blogger laurie said...

everyone i know says the wire is great. everyone. college professors. journalists. random people i meet on the street.

so we rented it from netflix. didn't make it through the first episode. it was so frickin' violent!!!! i can't watch that kind of violence.

we got about halfway through the show and doug said, "there's just too much ugliness in the world."

so we popped it out and are now happily watching "jonathan creek." we are such softies.

At 23 September 2008 at 19:20, Blogger wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

I just love this story. Even drug dealers have ethics! As for the Wire, I've read about it, but since it's on Sky I haven't watched it. I'm thinking of buying the DVDs though. It sounds like my kind of show. Oh, Laurie, Jonathan Creek! Really?

At 23 September 2008 at 21:20, Blogger -Ann said...

Fence - I've always loved YB's story.
As he said after he told me 'I love that this guy was basically telling me to keep the riff-raff out.'

Laurie - I think maybe you should give it another go. I hated the first episode and refused to watch the series when Peter continued on. But then since everyone kept going on about it (esp. Terry Gross, who is my authority for all things good in life), I figured I had to give it another try. If the violence is too much, you might just skip to season 5, which focuses on the newspaper industry.

WUASTC - I'd definitely recommend finding a way to watch The Wire. (Although keep in mind it can be an acquired taste.)

At 23 September 2008 at 21:36, Blogger Babaloo said...

What a good story! Drug dealers being robbed by frat boys. Hee hee.
I've never watched The Wire. Don't think I've even heard of it. Seems like I've got some catching up to do.

At 24 September 2008 at 01:18, Blogger Career Guy said...

That's hilarious--I don't think I ever heard that one. Drug dealers got standards!

Remember that goofy guy who worked in our office for a few years? He finally quit(yay) because he thought he was going to make it big on HBO. He had a single line on an episode of The Wire and that was the end of his career.

At 24 September 2008 at 03:23, Anonymous Amy P said...

We just started watching the first season and it's right up there with West Wing for us. However, it's not good when you watch two gripping episodes, go to bed, and a few hours later a picture falls off the wall in the living room and you liken the sound to gunfire or one of the Wire boys breaking into your crib. Note to self: one show per night will do. :-)

At 24 September 2008 at 12:57, Blogger Dave P. said...

Just to follow up on what Amy wrote, two sociologist friends of ours kept insisting that we watch The Wire. One was so serious that he sent us his extra DVD player (ours had broken) and wanted to send us his DVDs of all five seasons. That's a fan.

We're only eight episodes into season one, but we're totally hooked. I especially love how sociological the show is -- a hit series based on examining the effects of institutions on individuals, go figure.

It's not unusual for drug dealers to play a somewhat functional role in a neighborhood, even in middle-class neighborhoods (Mary Patillo's excellent "Black Picket Fences," an ethnography of a black MC neighborhood in Chicago, is a good example).

At 24 September 2008 at 15:59, Blogger -Ann said...

Babaloo - I'm not sure it's been shown on Irish television at all yet. I don't really own a television though, so don't take my word for it. :)

Dad - I sure do. Jonathan something. I've been meaning to ask you his full name so I can look him up on IMDB and see if I can recogise him.

Amy - I've been absolutely gorging on the show. I think I covered all of season 2 in a single weekend. Good thing I haven't heard any scare evening sounds, although out here, it's more likely to be cows breaking into your place.

Dave - I've been wondering what you'd make of the show. I find the attitudes of the police brass completely infuriating. Glad to hear that you and Amy are watching and enjoying it.

At 24 September 2008 at 17:10, Blogger Noelle said...

I just finished watching Season 3 last night, and all this Wire watching makes me wonder if I'm now a little too smart about "the game." Like in that last anecdote, I totally sympathized with the drug dealers.

At 27 September 2008 at 23:52, Blogger Sparx said...

This is a great post, I love the story and the way it's told - got here via black boxes.

At 2 October 2008 at 09:27, OpenID conortje said...

What a brilliant story - love it. And I am addicted to The Wire too. Now on series 4.


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