“The Wire” @ Harvard

bubblesDavid Simon once called his HBO series, The Wire, “a polit­i­cal tract mas­querad­ing as a cop show.” Think of it as a five sea­son, 3600 minute, artis­tic depic­tion of the esca­lat­ing break­down of urban soci­ety. The show is art. But it is also life in the biggest sense. And it’s why some thinkers have likened the epic series to (or even ele­vat­ed it above) Tol­stoy’s War & Peace. Now comes this… Accord­ing to The Har­vard Crim­son, William J. Wil­son, a Har­vard soci­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sor, will teach a new course that uses The Wire as “a case study for pover­ty in Amer­i­ca,” say­ing that “The Wire has done more to enhance our under­stand­ing of the sys­temic urban inequal­i­ty that con­strains the lives of the poor than any pub­lished study.” If you haven’t seen this series, and if this whets your appetite, you can find a nice deal on Ama­zon. The full series now goes for $125.00, 50% off the list price.

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Hanoch says:

    “enhance our under­stand­ing of the sys­temic urban inequal­i­ty that con­strains the lives of the poor”? Is this real­ly dif­fi­cult to under­stand? Work hard and act moral­ly and you’ll have plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty to improve your sit­u­a­tion. I’m sure near­ly all of the col­lege stu­dents who will attend this course had ances­tors that did just that when they came to the US.

    • dave10 says:

      Hanoch — your obser­va­tion is iron­ic to the point that I ini­tial­ly thought you were being sar­cas­tic. You have defined, unwit­ting­ly, one of the themes that David Simon so con­vinc­ing­ly presents — name­ly, that those who “work hard and act moral­ly” often have zero oppor­tu­ni­ty to improve their “sit­u­a­tion.” If you grow up in the wrong part of town, on the wrong side of the socio-eco­nom­ic divide, by the time you reach junior high school you will have learned well that the only avenues of escape from the con­crete hedgerows of your blight­ed urban neigh­bor­hoods — to “improve your sit­u­a­tion,” as you put it in lan­guage right out Dick­ens — lie with the drug sup­pli­ers, the union thugs in the ship­yard, the 12-year-old drug deal­ers hawk­ing dime bags on street cor­ners, and the junkies who strip cop­per pipe from rat-infest­ed slums to try and raise enough mon­ey for just one more hit of heav­en cour­tesy of a nee­dle and a spoon.

      Seri­ous­ly, have you watched The Wire?

      • Hanoch says:

        The prob­lem with your sug­ges­tion of “zero oppor­tu­ni­ty” is that it is not sup­port­ed by fact. If you look at immi­grant groups in the US over his­to­ry up through today, you will see that near­ly all start­ed “in the wrong part of town” and “on the wrong side of the socio-eco­nom­ic divide”. In addi­tion to abject pover­ty, most of them had to deal with addi­tion­al bur­dens of dis­crim­i­na­tion from a far more racist soci­ety than exists today and lan­guage bar­ri­ers. Yet over a gen­er­a­tion or two, these groups over­whelm­ing­ly grad­u­at­ed to the mid­dle class and beyond. Thus, the notion that “the only avenues of escape” from pover­ty are crim­i­nal ones is patent­ly untrue. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, these myths are per­pet­u­at­ed for a num­ber of rea­sons that have lit­tle or noth­ing to do with a real con­cern for the wel­fare of the poor.

        • Evan says:

          It’s not that there is “zero oppor­tu­ni­ty.” It’s more like, oppor­tu­ni­ty is scarce. Plus, the moral dri­ves and moti­va­tion in the ghet­to are prob­a­bly not some­thing you can prop­er­ly com­pre­hend because you are com­plete­ly igno­rant of their cul­ture.

          They call it “liv­ing on the mar­gins” for a rea­son. The peo­ple who are clas­si­fied as the mar­gin are con­sid­ered worth­less to soci­ety. Their deep­er cul­tur­al val­ues are shaky so, why give them an oppor­tu­ni­ty when they’re almost guar­an­teed to fail.

          At the end of the day every­body has to eat. Either you can: work like a slave at a fast food joint and get paid scratch; slang dope on the street and climb the social chain of the hood to bet­ter cars/cred/women; or you can break away from the cul­ture and climb out of the hood only to find out that you just jumped from a big fish in a small pond to a very small fish in a huge pond.

          Obvi­ous­ly, there’s a way out of the hood. It’s evi­dent in the fact that most white peo­ple from the sub­urbs have the “I have a black friend” card up their sleeve nowa­days when they’re hit with the “race” card. :)

          There’s just so much room for improve­ment and untapped poten­tial in these peo­ple that is being lost. Our nation’s cul­ture has immense resources and oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able to all. Suc­cess sto­ries across even the mar­gin­al social cir­cles should be the norm not the excep­tion.

          Unfor­tu­nate­ly, for the intel­lec­tu­al elite, their sto­ry won’t be writ­ten in this gen­er­a­tion or maybe even the next (Native Son does­n’t count because it’s satire).

          The fact that a TV series pro­vides the source mate­r­i­al for an Ivy League school proves how far removed the gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties are detached from the real/raw side of our cul­ture that every­body turns a blind eye to.

          • dave10 says:

            Not want­i­ng to pile on, but Evan has made my point much more elo­quent­ly than I could have. There’s no doubt that assim­i­la­tion was tough, and that there were tremen­dous bar­ri­ers for each wave of immi­grants — Irish, Ital­ian, East­ern Euro­pean. We agree com­plete­ly about this, and so does (seem­ing­ly) David Simon, who makes this point repeat­ed­ly through­out the var­i­ous sea­sons of The Wire.

            What’s hap­pened, accord­ing to Simon, is that the insti­tu­tions that once made assim­i­la­tion pos­si­ble have bro­ken down to the point where crime real­ly is the only viable option for a huge num­ber poor young peo­ple liv­ing in inner cities. Each sea­son of the show takes a look at dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tions that had, until quite recent­ly, served to help pro­vide an avenue of escape: city hall, with its patron­age sys­tem; the schools; the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem; and, in a scathing final sea­son, the main­stream media.

            The result, as Simon put it in numer­ous inter­views, is that a whole sub­cul­ture became worth­less and invis­i­ble. As Evan points out, there are very legit­i­mate ways to climb out of the ghet­to, and plen­ty of incen­tives (thanks to the mon­ey from drugs) to stay in.

            The Wire is a remark­able show. I hope you’ll spend some time with it, main­ly because I think you’ll find agree­ment to many of the objec­tions you’re mak­ing along with an appre­ci­a­tion for the fact that we’re faced with com­plex, mul­ti-lay­ered prob­lems (many of them of our own mak­ing) with very few solu­tions. There are excep­tions to every rule, and dog­mat­ic stances are avoid­ed. The writ­ers — Simon, Ed Burns (for­mer cop and teacher), and nov­el­ists Den­nis Lehane, George Pel­i­canos, and Richard Price — know this ter­ri­to­ry so well that they have cre­at­ed a tes­ta­ment wor­thy of study at Har­vard.

            And hey, look at us! We’re dis­cussing ordi­nar­i­ly hot issues in a civ­il, intel­li­gent, and respect­ful man­ner on a Web forum. Maybe there’s hope for us yet!

            Thanks for shar­ing.…

        • dave10 says:

          Oops — see below Evan’s post. Sor­ry.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.