12.24.08

Charm City Skeptic Asks, “Was ‘The Wire’ Too Bleak”?

Posted in non-sporting journalism, The World Of Entertainment at 12:12 pm by

Aside from, well, anyone who sat through the disappointing 5th season, it’s pretty hard to find a discouraging word written about HBO’s “The Wire”.  With the release of all 5 seasons as a DVD box set, however, CNN’s John Blake, a West Baltimore native, offers a rare voice of dissent.  “I love ‘The Wire’,” insists Blake.  “The dialogue crackles, the characters are rich and the minute ways it captures how Baltimoreans move and talk is uncanny. But the ‘Complete’ story isn’t the whole story.”

The Wire’s” most unsettling scene for me took place in season four. It involved a murder — of a gentle teenager’s spirit. The character’s name is Dukie, and he brought back memories of some people I knew.

Dukie is lost. He has no family, his public school is paralyzed by violence and he’s not tough enough to make it on the streets. He has a gift for computers but doesn’t know what to do with his ability.

Dukie looks one day for help from “Cutty,” an ex-con who runs a boxing gym in their neighborhood. Cutty tells Dukie that “the world is bigger” than the violent neighborhood both live in.

“How do I get from here to the rest of the world?” Dukie asks Cutty.

“I wish I knew,” Cutty sighs, and walks away.

Why did Cutty give Dukie such a hopeless answer? Maybe it’s because some people who never lived in a neighborhood like “The Wire” confuse hopelessness for authenticity. Yeah, I could shock you with stories of violence, but it’s so easy to slip from revelation to titillation. I start off telling you a story about how tough my school was, and soon I’m shooting it out with five drug dealers who want to steal my homework.

But I never remember West Baltimore being so hopeless. A man like Cutty wouldn’t tell a young man that he had no way out — adults rallied around kids with potential.

I even checked with some childhood friends — one who is now an undercover police officer who literally works a “wire” for the Baltimore Police Department — and we all agreed that “The Wire’s” bleakness was exaggerated.

“They made it seem like we grew up in Bosnia,” my friend, another “Wire” fan, told me.

My community was filled with what Barack Obama calls the “quiet heroes.” (Obama reportedly is a big fan of “The Wire.”) There was my high school tennis coach. The dignified deacons in my church. The retired steelworker who watched Orioles baseball games on his porch next door. Relatives, teachers, even summer job programs (one gave me my first exposure to journalism) — all inspired me.

Yet those quiet heroes seem fated to fail in “The Wire.” The show implies that only a fantastic few ever escape the streets.

3 Responses to “Charm City Skeptic Asks, “Was ‘The Wire’ Too Bleak”?”

  1. I remember that scene and thinking something similar. What Cutty had to offer (fight training) wasn’t going to help Dukie, and that lack of inventory was made the scene’s anchor. Yet Cutty himself had been helped out in establishing the gym by the church guy character (whose name escapes me now) so in continuity terms, it looks like a choice was made to accentuate bleakness by making Cutty forget his own story.

    All of which only leads to the truth that even realistic TV drama is still TV drama.

    What’s kind of interesting about David Simon and realism related to this is that I think his next TV work “Generation Kill” did more than the Wire in terms of de-emphasizing the entertainment aspects of what he was producing. GK was so realistic, it sucked as TV. That miniseries was filled with hateable jackasses, pointless action, dumb dialogue, gratuitous violence and an overriding sense of institutional vacuousness – exactly like the Iraq war.

    Possibly both instances speak against employing exhaustive realism when making timeless work.

  2. Frank Walker says:

    Yes. I remember the exact point. It felt like they had been building up to this point in the story line and like many others I’m sure, I felt saddened by the response of cutty. Let’s not forget when he decided to leave his criminal past behind, he made that conscious decision and searched high and low for a way out. I think it’s regrettable that he wasn’t able to use his experience to help and guide Dukie a little more.
    In my passed I was a Youth Worker and acutely understand the aim of this and other types of community based youth work i.e. informal education, to act as role models, to inform and enlighten etc. But we were involved in the work for a particular reason and we had formal/informal roles and responsibilities as I’m sure you community elders and quiet heroes did. You speak passionately about them.
    However let’s not lose sight of the fact that Cutty wasn’t necessarily expecting to find himself in that kind of a situation, fulfilling that kind of a role, and maybe he didn’t have all the answers.
    Does it in fact speak of the hopelessness of the situation. The point may well have been over emphasised but life in certain quarters is bleak, dank, smelly, squalid and bloody dangerous and maybe just maybe over emphasising the point did have a purpose and was his aim. To increase dialogue such as this and to make us sit up and take note.

  3. Al Cuffia says:

    Contrary to what this author writes, our community has had its share of “bleakness” types; they’re people that have learned the phenomenon called “learned helplessness”. Talk to them; they have no hope in themselves and they don’t believe anything can change, for anybody. Bleakness exaggerated? Only slightly.

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