The Wire centres on ‘The Game’, which is the colloquial term for the drugs trade but in reality has a much wider scope as an overall set of rules used by drug dealer and politicians alike. Played by subtly different rules within each group, it’s all about social advancement and the pursuit of power, money and of being remembered. There are codes that everybody sticks to, unique in their line of business; the internal logic, no matter how disagreeable adheres to rules which reward blind loyalty but also demands a strong sense of self-preservation.
The disconnection of the people at the top end of politics who make the decisions, from the rest of the populace is palpable, the failing system does more harm than good yet voter indifference seems to perplex these people. On the side of the drug dealers, it is generally accepted that anybody in the game faces the consequences of their employment, mortality being high and emotion seen as a weakness to be exploited.
The futility of the drugs war – at least as it is fought now – allows institutions on all sides to treat it as nothing more than a contest. For example the interactions between street level dealers and police are viewed by both sides as ineffective but a routine in which the rules are adhered to blindly, (the inevitability of prison, parole, back to the street). it is expected despite no real conclusion forthcoming but as a form of going through the motions with little respect and no hope of a finish which makes it all the more tragic.
What The Wire does best is offer detachment, its lack of compromise or sentimentality allows the viewer to debate the morals of the players which are often conflicted but all too painfully real. The apathy of both sides on the front line is harrowing; especially in terms of the offhanded nature with which murder and overdose are greeted, which is now just accepted as an inescapable consequence of street life.
the tactics of a stunted and ineffectual drug war and the lack of police knowledge to help to more effectively combat crime and build ties with innocent citizens residing in areas controlled by the dealers is brought into focus when those in power try gambits outside the traditional and accepted rules. We often see them shut down or The Game takes to a lately introduced aspects, as the new ‘rules’ are then adapted to and a new sub Game begins afresh.
Even the desire to do good has revelations about the poor state of the fabric of society and the malaise beyond it. The words and actions and their subsequent consequences are all weighed perfectly in the show’s depictions and convey not only the deep-lying corruption pervasive at every level of society but also how one act can have significant and unforeseen ripples throughout the city of Baltimore.
To flip that thought though, The Wire is also about people just trying to survive in the situation they were brought up in and that they have little control over, apart from their own internal moral compass. It’s painful to watch at times but utterly rewarding to explore the lessons of those living with the particular hand they are dealt. The best and worst of humanity is depicted and the reasons behind both are explored in-depth and reminds the viewer that there is a lot more to the situation than the narrow view of the outsider has knowledge of.
So what does the wire change? Since its message has had plenty of time to get out there (season five concluded the show in 2008) and resonate (as it should) with the masses. The real and sad answer is nothing, reform comes at a price and nobody is yet willing to pay. Those in it for the money and power don’t care, those who wish to make a difference to the people slowly become consumed by the need to look good and stay in power; to kid themselves that retaining office in a stagnant system with no room for movement, will eventually yield positive and effective reforms. It doesn’t, can’t and won’t change until those with the chance to effect improvements do so selflessly and that is the inherent problem. Until that time, when the good of the people is thought of first and personal profile is secondary the inexorable slide will continue.
That a television show would attempt to put such systemic failings squarely in the field of vision of the viewer is impressive in its ambition and another reason why you must watch this show. If I haven’t convinced you yet, then you will have to wait for my next post on another aspect of this sprawling epic.