What is THE WIRE all about?

The Wire is a TV series by David Simon -and others.

I’m posting this because I don’t think enough has been said about The Wire.
Sure, it’s easy to see it’s praises being sung everywhere, but I’ve spoken with many people who have seen/read this praise and jumped in, often unable to make it halfway through the first series without throwing in the towel.

Maybe, I think, it’s because people have become weary of the kind of traditional tales that are set in “this environment” via the traditional media. Who needs more woe-begotten, hopeless stories with small sparks of over-gushing sentimentality? Not me.
Or maybe it’s because people see it as being “about a world I have no interest or involvement in”?
That’s possible.

Thankfully, the Wire is about much more than that, if you allow it to take you through its story.

So what is it? What is THE WIRE all about?

I’d like to make some attempt at explaining why people should stick with it (if they have a difficulty) and to put a finger on exactly what it is all about -or at least give a general no-spoiler overview so as to enable you to decide if it’s something you might wish to devote your precious time to…

It’s not easy to describe what The Wire is really like because it’s one of the few series or films or anything else released by mainstream media (HBO even) that doesn’t have a succinct “pitch”.

It’s about more than what you see in episode to episode. There’s a bigger picture being formed that is hard to relate -nor should it be diluted to a curt soundbite since this bigger picture is carefully unfurled over 5 intelligent, funny, thought-provoking, unsentimental, non-derivative, non-traditionally-prepackaged series.

OK, as an exercise, I’ll attempt to pitch “The Wire”…


Imagine a story set in a city dump where rats fight with raccoons, foxes, wolves, seagulls, spiders, human scavengers even. None of these are “baddies” as such. They are survivors of the environment. Sure they often do terrible things, but this is The world.
What would you do if you were born into such a world? How long would your traditional view of morals and propriety last?

Now in come “the good guys”: The Sanitation Department. A traditional show has these guys sweeping up the detritus, moving it along out of harm’s way so good respectable people can walk down the path unmolested by stench.


However this story shows how the sanitation department is implicit in the creation and the maintenance of the dump. Of course within the department many, many decent workers see the problem and know the problem, but are helpless to fix it because each one’s job is to shovel a small mountain from here to there, then back again, scattering the scavengers as they go, without actually affecting anything in the grand scheme of things. If they can uncover a few cans of toxic waste as they do so, GREAT -this will give the department the right kind of publicity -showing them to be discovering and cleaning up a tangible, fingerpointable mess.

But the overall situation is unaffected. Someone else is dumping toxic waste in another area -perhaps even the same cans that are leaving through the frontdoor with a flurry of spectacle and publicity are coming in the backdoor twenty minutes later. The rats see it and smile. The sanitation workers on the ground shrug and get on with their shovelling.

Meanwhile the bosses have their own problems. City hall wants to flatten the dump because it costs too much -or is an eyesore. The bosses (who generally worked their way up through the dump) need to show how each worker is shovelling bigger garbage mountains than ever before to prove their worth. It doesn’t matter if the shovelling is helping or hindering or having any effect.

The Boss’s World is no walk in the park either. He has to take it from his boss and feed it to the workers. He is part of a greater world too, one that is made up of bosses like him. If he rocks this boat he is summarily removed to allow the not-so-smooth-but-it’s-the-world-we-know sailing of the old, hole-ridden, rusty contraption.


…And so on along the chain, through media, through government, through schools. Nobody is responsible. Everybody is responsible. The System is responsible. The Structures in place are responsible. Individuals often do the right thing within the confines of what he or she can do.

Nobody can envision a world beyond his or her immediate vicinity. Everyone believes the world they live in is the centre of everything…”If only money and time and more attention was given to this area (my area) all the problems could be solved!” …if they give it any thought at all.

The smart ones know their place and play by the rules passed down to them. They never try to see beyond the fence of their world. That way lies madness and trouble.  Each world also has actual humans however -real people who can’t live within these social confines, who try to make a real difference and try to make the world a better place. They don’t always succeed. Sometimes they do.

It’s not all doom and gloom of course. Within each ‘world’ there are human stories of every kind -just not the kind normally spoonfed through the media.

= = =

…In a way, this “pitch” is unfair to The Wire, because AS WELL AS being a great show about this big picture, it is ALSO a great show about the smaller stories within each world. Three-dimensional characters abound -people you come to care about no matter how you might have considered them (or not) before.
Good guys do bad things for the right reasons, “bad guys” do good things for the right reasons -and in between every shade of gray for every reason under the sun.


If you haven’t already, you’ll love it.

If you have already and didn’t love it -go back. You missed something.

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