Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

This Is America

Detective Jimmy McNulty talks to a black teenager on a suburban balcony in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. The topic is a young boy, Omar Isaiah “Snot Boogie” Betts, who was recently murdered. While observing the coroners examining the young man’s corpse, two people from different social backgrounds hang out not far from the crime scene. Snot Boogie used to play craps in the neighborhood; one day, he saw piles of cash scattered on the streets.

He decided to steal it; the other players would catch the boy and beat him up. The young black man told McNulty that there were bored people. They made the quick decision to shoot him. McNulty asked why he let him play here if Snot Boogie was always stealing money. The black youth immediately said that this was America. The young man spoke with style as if his words had answered all questions.

It is the premise of David Simon’s The Wire series about real problems on the streets always being an integral part and colossal systemic problem. Initially receiving little appreciation, the series aired on HBO from 2002 to 2008. Gradually, praise and acclaim began to arrive, peaking in 2021 and at the time of Michael K. Williams’ death, played Omar Little in the series.

Primary Themes of The Wire

The BBC announced the results of a poll that concluded 60 episodes of The Wire to be the best series of the 21st century. In conclusion, the BBC gathered more than 200 film industry players, television experts, and critics from more than 40 countries. The Wire topped the list of the 100 best series of the century, ahead of more popular series such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and The Office.

In short, The Wire reveals another reality of the police and its bureaucracy. It tells of down-to-earth police characters, the police’s position in the power structure, the police’s relationship with other law enforcement institutions, and the complex bureaucracy. Oddly, the storyline in each season is continuous and shows challenge after challenge that each character faces in different contexts.

The Wire has five seasons with different primary themes. Most of the subjects show the problems each character’s complications must face such as drug wars and drug trafficking, the economic system and corruption in ports, the city government, educational paradoxes and dilemmas, and the media’s framing. The series creator chose to produce The Wire in Baltimore precisely because of his familiarity with the city.

David Simon and The Baltimore Sun

Simon was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun for 12 years. Homicide and The Corner are his two books that chronicle the city’s street life, adapted into a series for HBO in 2000. By breaking genre norms on many levels, The Wire surpasses even the best police procedurals. It set out to create a provocative panorama. According to Simon, the series tells a story about the current condition of society.

It is we who grapple with the contradictions of the world and our immediate fundamental reality. Simon presents political and social arguments, turning them into dramas about economics, sociology, and macropolitics. Generally, Simon involves community leaders from Maryland and Baltimore as actors and guest stars while using a cast line that we don’t know. Regardless of framing the series as a crime drama, it depicts the typical life of a metropolitan city in America and how political and social relations emerge.

By showing how the government agencies’ performance impacts the lives of individual citizens, in the end, the series shows how journalists, lawyers, judges, politicians, narcotics dealers, harbor workers, police officers, and drug users compromise and surrender to the system that shackles them.

The Wrong Poverty

In essence, The Wire is different from other series. It shows the complexities of city life as it is. By working on a police drama series resembling a semi-documentary film, Simon narrates urban life in America from various points of view. Significantly, Simon said neither came from Hollywood where studios and soundstages are not their home. Many things that come out of Hollywood are bullshit.

Endlessly, America’s entertainment industry gets the wrong poverty. The poor are the salt of the earth, playing a part in elevating us with their steadfastness and self-woven in rising. The writers take the credibility that, according to Ed Burns (co-author of The Corner and a former cop in the narcotics and homicide division of the Baltimore Police), we must know the world. Otherwise, it becomes medical bullshit and police bullshit.

It is necessary to reflect the world as it is, to make The Wire not some kind of proletarian revolution. Drug dealers and dock workers have embraced storytelling. However, it is as close as in a post-industrial city to telling the story itself. Writers acquire impressive TV drama production skills despite their distance from the dominant television industry.

Rampaging Capitalism

From shooting to writing, they honed it all to show the world. The practice of directing that remains broad in terms of visual composition forms the construction of images in showing the spatial boundaries that constrain life. They describe how its relationship with the larger environment that surrounds it. Against the backdrop of the city, the series and its characters fill the majestic landscape.

Luxurious condos overlooking the harbor and executive offices fill the nuances of the series. We also see the dingy empty houses where heroin addicts live and the windowless office cellars where the police monitor wiretapping; beauty and open space in sections of the population contrast with the claustrophobia and ugliness that limit others. Indeed, The Wire becomes an untethered exploration of rampaging capitalism.

It’s also about how money and power orient themselves in postmodern urban America. In the end, the series also discusses why society, as bystanders, can no longer heal or solve society’s problems. In excess, it becomes a series of capitalism, reduced to acts of bad apples. Most progressive Americans think in terms of corporations rather than capital. There is the one whose responsible people are in charge; there is the other whose faceless social power and controls only by running his business superficially.

Representing Capitalism

Simon took the easy way out by not worrying about capital. Thus, The Wire does not openly show how capitalism is the culprit. In the second season, The Greek sits in the foreground and is silent at the cafe table. The subordinates run the business on their behalf. According to Simon, he represents capitalism in its purest form. He only becomes a visible actor when his interests immediately threaten; in the final montage of season fifth, he reappears briefly and sits in a cafe but is still barely visible.

In a nutshell, The Wire presents capitalism as the only viable economic engine in the environment. There is no other path to wealth. Those who are excluded from making a living through the dominant system create their alternatives. The drug culture also provides a very enduring and foundational wealth-generating structure. According to Burns and Simon, we can legitimately call it a social agreement.

The low-educated and unskilled underclass swirls in a circle between the war on drugs and the drug economy. The series condenses decades of drug trafficking in Baltimore into its five seasons, using the industry to tell stories about capitalism. It compares valid accumulation modes with unauthorized ones. For example, McNulty observes how everything in America is being sold without people shooting each other behind it.

Russell “Stringer” Bell

The irony is implicit in legitimate capitalism. The violence of the economic system remains largely hidden. However, it is only in the primitive accumulation of the drug economy that violence is so visible. In such a process, characters with more power have incentives to reduce open violence, discipline, and launder money. Everything is more effective to accumulate further. A key figure in the transformation trajectory from primitive to more advanced accumulation was Russell “Stringer” Bell.

He serves as the second in command of the Barksdale empire. When McNulty followed him, the detectives discovered that Stringer’s destination was Baltimore City Community College. It’s where the drug lord took a macroeconomics course. We see Stringer explicitly applying his lessons to the drug trade as he advances; in his trial, he tightens his control over the empire. He conceptualized the process of group capital accumulation at a level that street vendors cannot access in the first place.

Under Stringer’s leadership, we see the organization progress from making in-person decisions in the backroom of a strip club to holding formal meetings in funeral parlors to forming a cartel that meets in an upscale hotel conference facility as a corporate boardroom. Stringer realized that the traditional goal of conquering territory was meaningless if the group distributed an inferior product.

The Wealth of Nations

On the other hand, territorial struggles that bring corpses force traders off the streets, affecting profits and productivity. Finally, he uses illegal profits to buy legal property. He also tried to mingle with the movers and shakers of the owned class, bribed politicians, raised capital, and integrated into the dominant system. As the police entered the upscale apartment, the camera stopped on a book that McNulty had off the shelf.

It is a book called The Wealth of Nations written by Adam Smith. At the end of the third season, hubris overthrew Stringer. Regardless of or because of his education, he fails to see the true nature of the system that confronts him. He even took his lessons in economics for granted. As a result, the corrupt state senator, R. Clayton “Clay” Davis, conned him out of millions of dollars. Simultaneously, Avon Barksdale betrays Stringer after his release from prison.

Avon stands for a more traditional criminal subculture. Unlike Stringer, he serves as a community leader by serving food at cookouts and funding boxing clubs. At such a moment, he betrayed Stringer for “loyalty” reasons. The successor to the Barksdale empire, Marlo Stanfield, is reaping the rewards of Stringer’s business education.

Jimmy McNulty: Responsible of Society

He takes the best of both worlds, understanding that the body carries the police. Instead of eradicating violence, he hid bodies and made violence invisible. Marlo achieved everything Stringer wanted in the end. However, he didn’t know where to go. When meeting with the city’s forces at a reception in a high-rise office block, Marlo looks across the city they control in a different light.

In all his frequent indifference, Stringer believed he could “tame” the system. Marlo stood on the verge of going into the inner circle; his extreme cruelty seems to mark him as one of them. Simon took inspiration from the series from Ed Burns’ real experience when sophisticated wiretapping technology began to appear in investigating criminal cases involving violence. Burns’ desperation to face the intricacies of the bureaucracy amid the violent acts of drug traffickers illustrates McNulty’s character.

Simon presents us with down-to-earth police characters like McNulty as police who always feel responsible to society. However, various problems undermined his personality. He drowned in alcohol addiction; his home life was a mess. He is frustrated with the police bureaucracy, which always treats everything as business as usual. In essence, McNulty is an intelligent cop. He solves various complicated cases precisely and quickly.

Spectrum of the System

However, bureaucratic constraints and system pressure made him the enemy of the system. In the fifth season, when McNulty reverses police procedures to get the attention of superiors, the plot is ruined due to mass media framing. His colleagues initially sympathized with him and eventually allowed him to be isolated. Even though he was ostracized and even fired from the police force, his reputation and name make it difficult for him to just be forgotten.

His various weaknesses do not make him lose focus on the task. He is both admired and despised because he can distinguish which police procedures lead to a sense of justice and which procedures are a waste of time. In conclusion, The Wire does not talk about the heroism of the police and other law enforcement officers. It shows the whole spectrum down to the roots. The series illustrates that there is a system that operates wherever we are assigned and for whomever, we work.

In reality, all parties must comply with the system and the rules of the game respectively. In a montage of brief shots, the elements in the overall frame grotesquely yet contradictory visually reconstruct Detective Ray Cole. On a billiard table covered with police flags is a photo of the dead officer in uniform, a rosary bead hanging in one corner.

The Context and the Perception

Cross of St. Brigid lay in front of him with a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey which he held in his left hand. The corpse cuts quickly to a close-up of a wedding ring. Shots of ties, cigars, and cufflinks followed in quick succession before settling briefly in the police shield. Contradictory yet chaotic, Cole became the symbol of the police force thus established, a perception Jay Landsman’s observations reinforce that he is not even the worst cop.

Simon replicates such elements of an anomaly even more strongly in the warning the police put in place for McNulty when he leaves the force. Symbolically, he dies and leaves the fraternity. The articulate yet pedantic Landsman was momentarily at a loss for words. In the end, he had to admit his grudging respect for the scapegoat detective. When meeting with McNulty, Landsman stated that if his own body was found lying dead in the street, there was no one he would rather be standing over him to investigate the case than McNulty.

In season five, journalists also find themselves inhabiting the dark corners of the American experiment. They find themselves cut off from the city they must report to. As well as choosing the fast track for prizes and even promotions, they also downplay the process of building long-term knowledge of long-term situations by better understanding the context in which they operate.


According to Simon, Wall Street’s indifferent logic has poisoned the relationship between the city and its newspapers. As represented in The Wire, the management of the Baltimore Sun is always busy with winning the Pulitzer Prize. Newspaper formulas play a role in surrounding simple anger, overreporting it, claiming credit for breaking it, and making sure we find the criminal. Finally, it claims we made changes as a result of our coverage.

Compared to Simon’s taking bold notes, journalism has always focused on the symptoms rather than the disease. In newspaper storylines, conflict isn’t just about stories that journalists get wrong for one reason or another. However, it’s about the fact that they failed to get at all the main story. It dominates the drama. Things that viewers but not journalists understand, according to Simon, become big elephants in the newsroom of people’s myths.

In short, journalists don’t reveal news about playing with education statistics and even crime. Nor do they reveal that city halls and mayors are pushing it to return to the practices we pledged to reform. For example, the death of Proposition Joe, a major East Baltimore drug player, was relegated to the inner pages. On the other hand, Omar Little’s death, a semi-mythical figure in West Baltimore, was knocked out of the newspapers altogether.

Lack of Political Change

Simon’s experience prompted the Baltimore Sun’s coverage of the world of print journalism. It gives the impression of social decline following its transformation over the last decade. The Wire has become more diagnostic than descriptive, despite Simon saying that he intends to make the series a political provocation. According to him, what people do with the story is up to him, admitting, at the time, he was more pessimistic about the possibility of political change because he found the political infrastructure bought out.

On the other hand, the lower class is drugged, the middle class is crushed, and journalism is annihilated. Being courageous in despair, according to Simon, shows that politicians lack the courage to face real problems. Ultimately, Simon saw the problem as rooted in systemic failure, basing The Wire‘s storyline on the belief that social exclusion and corruption do not exist regardless of the system.

However, such skepticism about reform stems from the recognition that substantive social change does not occur within modern political structures. Enter Omar Little, the only one who can state how the system destroyed America’s declining empire. In a reality where the players play inside the system and cheat the system, the notorious Baltimore stickup man, sawed-off shotgun, Wild West feather duster, menacing facial scars, and a righteous line symbol of a deadly Robin Hood named Omar appears.

Omar Little

In short, he provides a surprising and fresh storyline in an important series that still has the usual tropes of robber and cop fare. He became an inarticulate symbol of anger, characterizing Simon’s journalistic depiction of downtown Baltimore during the height of the crack epidemic. Sticking to his principles in the naked street scene that motivated a higher cause, He always referred to himself in the third person, living in a series of plank squats with the rule that a man must have a code, a code of ethics that William “Bunk” Moreland influenced.

In his own words and the whistling myth of the existence of The Pogues’ Body of an American, he does not scare, play, or be played with but never points his gun at anyone who is not in the system. Omar doesn’t know about cards. According to him, he knows about money. According to Omar, money has no owner and is only a spender. When he testifies against his rival in court, wearing a white floral tie he made into an ascot, defense attorneys try to cast him down as a predator who makes a living off the scourge of drugs.

Omar tilted his back to his chair with a bang and told him that he had gotten his shotgun.

The Myth of Omar

The guy gets his suitcase but that’s all in the game. Brandon Wright, his boyfriend, also Omar’s partner in crime fraud, is seen at a pinball arcade as a gangbanger. He died in a pose on the hood of a car in a back alley with stab wounds and cigarette burns all over his body. Omar’s anguished animal cries fill the empty morgue, sparking a war of revenge that helped propel the series (as well as influencing most of the rebel characters such as Michael Lee who, in the final season, becomes the next Omar) to begin with.

At the final moment, Omar achieves thug nirvana and is completely out of the game. He plots a big score, flees with the money, and finds a new life on the ocean near San Juan with a Puerto Rican boy named Renaldo. Only to return to the streets of Baltimore to avenge the torture and death of Butchie, a blind bar owner who is Omar’s banker, father figure, and only true friend. However, Omar’s unique moral code of conduct, like that of all tragic figures in the series, will, in the end, be his undoing.

A boy named Kenard, who also greatly worships the mythical Omar, shoots Omar in the head.

Crawling in the Trap

The myth of Omar in the series moves to its conclusion where various scenes evoke the beginning. Judge Daniel Phelan and Detective Leander Sydnor meet in the last episode.. As McNulty did in the first episode, detectives go to a crime scene in the lowlands. They find a body in the shadow of the same statue where the body of a witness who was killed in season one was found.

The closing scene of the final montage shows that the police department, the drug trade, the school system, newspapers, and town hall all operate in much the same way. It doesn’t matter what character goes down, up, or even dies. The cycle will continue and the system will continue to survive. In Baltimore’s most backward and impoverished neighborhoods, we are still subject to bureaucracy and the rules of the game.

Whether as a drug dealer or law enforcer, The Wire demonstrates the dysfunctional structures of drug dealer gangs, media, trade unions, education, politics, and law enforcement. In each case, the series delivers storylines that explain how the upright systems serve the strong. While undermining the interests of weak people who are unjustly or accidentally caught in its trap, a leader’s indifference, barren bureaucracy, and systemic racism entrap people’s lives within the system.


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