Back in September 2009, The Wire finished being broadcast on terrestrial TV in the UK. I was finally free of Spoiler Fear and went on a post-series-internet-search-binge. Here are some of the interesting things I found, which I’ve been meaning to post here for months:
Plus these two videos:
In the Vice magazine interview I mentioned above, I liked this section:
Now, the thing that has been exalted and the thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution. How many frickin’ times are we gonna watch a story where somebody—
Rises up against the odds?
“You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t.” “I’ll show you, see?” And in the end he’s recognized as just a goodhearted rebel with right on his side, and eventually the town realizes that dancing’s not so bad. I can make up a million of ’em. That’s the story we want to be told over and over again. And you know why? Because in our heart of hearts what we know about the 21st century is that every day we’re going to be worth less and less, not more and more.
Worth less and less as people, you mean?
As human beings. Some of us are going to get more money and be worth more. There are some people who are destined for celebrity or wealth or power, but by and large, the average American, the average person in the world on planet earth, is worth less and less. That’s the triumph of capital, and that is the problem. You look at that, and you think that’s what we’ve come to and that’s where we’re going and it’s like, “Can you tell me another bedtime story about how people are special and every one of us matters? Can you tell me that shit?”
“Tell me again about that boxer who came out of the ghetto and became the champ.”
“And what about that musician whose genius was never recognized? What about him? And, oh yeah, somebody else overcame addiction. That’s great. Tell me that one again.” Listen, I don’t mind a victory if it’s earned. But if all you do is victory, if that’s your whole dramatic construct and that’s 90 percent of American television—
It goes back to how you didn’t want to put characters like McNulty and Kima through the same framework again and again. But that’s what this big tradition of storytelling is nowadays. It’s just a tired retread. I found it kind of ironic that in season 5 there are a few really great scenes where you’re mocking the editors of newspapers who are asking for a Dickensian vibe, and then a lot of critics and writers compared The Wire to Dickens.
It was fun goofing on the Dickens comparison because I understood what they meant by Dickensian when they said it. You get this sort of scope of society through the classes, the way Dickens would play with that in his novels. But that’s true of Tolstoy’s Moscow. That’s true of Balzac’s Paris. It’s been done a lot in a lot of different places by a lot of writers. And I’m not the one doing the comparing. I’m just saying if you use those tropes you can go to a lot of places other than Dickens. The thing that made me laugh about it with Dickens was that Dickens is famous for being passionate about showing you the fault lines of industrial England and where money and power route themselves away from the poor. He would make the case for a much better social compact than existed in Victorian England, but then his verdict would always be, “But thank God a nice old uncle or this heroic lawyer is going to make things better.” In the end, the guy would punk out.
Now that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great writer and they’re not great stories. They are. But The Wire was actually making a different argument than Dickens, and the comparison, while flattering, sort of fell badly on us.
So there was a little bit of tongue-in-cheek satire on the show directed at people who were using Dickens to praise us.