The Wire

I recently finished watching the fifth and final season of The Wire, my favorite TV show ever.  It presents a vivid and believable world of Baltimore drugs, police, politics, etc.  Some suggest producer David Simon’s "political passions ultimately trump his commitment to accuracy or evenhandedness."  But I find The Wire‘s world unusually consistent with everything I know.  It seems real overall, though Simon tells a less realistic good vs. evil tale about newsrooms, his old stomping ground.

The overall moral of the story seems to me largely libertarian.  A renegade cop effectively legalizing drugs in one area works out great, and the show’s writers have a Time oped supporting drug law jury nullification.  Dire consequences follow from child labor and prostitution being illegal.  The police, courts, prisons, schools, and city hall are unrelentingly corrupt and dysfunctional, because voters don’t much care.  In the background of the story, industries managed mainly by private enterprise, such as stores, hotels, shipping, and cars, seem to mostly function well.  Private newspapers look bad, but mainly because readers don’t much care. 

Apparently, however, many see The Wired as calling for more government.  At a Harvard symposium on The Wired, many panelists said the answer was more funding.  Simon was there: 

The wire is about a world in which people are worth less. … We depicted a world in which market forces always have their say and in which capitalism has triumphed, and marginalized labor – it makes labor cheap. … What we have here is a market-based [world]; capitalism has been the God.  To even suggest that there should be some social compact along with the capitalistic forces, to mitigate any of that, over the last twenty-five years, has been political suicide. … We are only getting the American that we’ve paid for, no more, and God damn it, we deserve it. 

When asked if government wasn’t the problem rather than the solution:

Baltimore has had the benefit of your free market for the last twenty five years.  You can’t tell me you’ve constructed a viable economic model that has nothing to do with government when one out of every two adult black males is without work in my city. … The government has been utterly laissez faire, they’ve let the jobs go to the pacific rim, they are gone, and we’ve eviscerated the manufacturing class. … We’ve had the trickle down, it didn’t trickle down, sorry. … There are … an awful lot of moneyed people that are arrayed in such a manner as to avoid addressing these problems, because there’s no profit involved in addressing these problems. …  From the industrial revolution on, when capital is allowed to speak its mind, and achieve its goals without hindrance from any other social framework, what you are going to get is a society where people are worth less not more, because labor will need to be cheap. 

This is somewhat stunning to me, as I just don’t see how this picture fits at all with the world I see depicted in the show.  It seems pretty hard to imagine a new episode staying in character while depicting more funding for a government program making things lots better.  In The Wire‘s world, it seems to me that money would be diverted for political purposes, stats would be "juked", brown-nosers would be promoted, and people really trying to help would be marginalized or fired. 

While I see little connection between Simon’s abstract political beliefs and his concrete beliefs about people and processes in Baltimore, I worry: how I can reasonably disagree with my favorite TV show’s producer about what would happen in his world?  One last interesting Simon quote:

If anybody in here has been a news reporter in a major newsroom for more than eight or ten years, you will be able to tell stories about two or three guys in the newsroom who are cooking it.  And they were often exalted beyond the actual journalists. … It has been a circumstance throughout journalism, and it will become more of a circumstance because the pond is shrinking. 

Added: Bill Mill notes Conor Friedersdorf had a similar reaction:

The Wire is a show that one can throw on after a politically mixed party, confident that Republicans, Democrats, and libertarians nursing nightcaps will all find scenes that seem to them to confirm their worldviews. … The Wire is brutal in its critiques, as any viewer knows. Its most thorough dissections, however, concern the least capitalistic institutions in Baltimore.

More added: If Simon can have that large a disconnect between his powerful concrete insights and his abstract political beliefs, how confident can I be that my abstract beliefs connect to my concrete insights?  I might posit that Simon (like most docs) is especially bad at abstract reasoning, but is that just a desperate excuse?

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  • I also just finished watching the last episode of The Wire. Three days ago, to be precise. Like you (and many others) I think it’s easiest the best piece of TV I’ve ever watched. It also ranks highly against many of the great novels I’ve read.

    You raise some interesting points regarding Simon’s political views. However, I think Simon is more of a liberal than a libertarian. While he strongly suggests that harsh drug laws are bad I think, as seen in the quotes you use, he would rather see laws reformed to create a functional government that addresses issues of social justice rather than diminish its influence. He also places emphasis on well-intentioned (but sometimes personally flawed) individuals struggling against failing institutions. To me, this also suggests he hopes for renewal of those institutions rather than their destruction. Of course, he has a strong realist — some might say pessimistic — sensibilities so he leaves us with a mixture of reform successes and failures at the end of the show.

    Interestingly, the example you used of the area where drugs were effectively legalised can be viewed as supporting Simon’s views regarding the ills of laissez faire governance taken to extreme. There is a harrowing scene towards the end of that season that depicts as hellish the area where police avert their attention.

  • Mark, can you imagine the new episode I ask for in any detail? Who would propose the text of this bill for “functional government”? Who would support it? Who would administer this new program?

  • Aaron

    I think what makes The Wire such a great show is it’s attention to the characters and the real world that they live in. With cop dramas out there like the countless CSI and Law and Order spin-offs, it’s refreshing to see a show that tries to get it right, showing the problems on all sides. So I think you can disagree with Simon, because it’s not entirely his world; it’s his personal take on Baltimore. You both have an external point of reference, and much like the real city, you can both disagree about the meaning of what is going on.

  • Radley Balko, a writer for Reason, is a big fan of the wire too: ; he also intervied Ed Burns for the magazine: .

  • Advocates of particular political or economic positions characteristically do not say that their favored system would NOT work in any given problematic situation. EVER. Nor do they think such.

    Instead, the existence of a problem is perceived as an opportunity to praise the favored system and state how well it would address the problem — regardless of whether a rational case can be made for the system being useful.

    Advocates of increased government authority look at The Wire and see it as a vindication of their beliefs. Advocates of decreased government authority look at The Wire and see it as a vindication of their beliefs. Which position, if either, is valid? Each individual must evaluate that themselves, because no advocate is likely to be willing or capable to determine that.

  • One of the strongest recurring themes in that show is that the real heroes tend to lie hidden in the rank and file, and don’t ascend to the top of any of the power structures. Now, whether you want to improve how the heroes may achieve power or simply eradicate the whole power structure seems mostly left up to the viewer.

    I don’t see any particular highlighting of the merits (or demerits) of private business however. Not sure what you are referencing there. In fact, I would take the relative absence of any private corporation displayed as direct counterpoint to be evidence against any kind of libertarian mindset for Simon.

  • Grant

    There seems to be a large divide in how educated libertarians and liberals view government. The former often see political failure and say: “See? Politics has failed to solve our problems, or has only made them worse. We need less government.” The latter often see the same failure and say: “See? Party X has failed to solve our problems, or has only made them worse. We need party Y.” I see both liberals and libertarians often agreeing on why government is bad, but not agreeing on how to fix it.

    In my experience, libertarians often take the “outside view”, while liberals take the “inside view”. The later viewpoint is often blind to the public choice criticisms that have always been central to classical liberalism.

    I’ve never succeeded in getting a liberal to take the outside view. I’m guessing the reason for that is to them, politics is not about results, but rather their “team” versus the other. Or perhaps this is disingenuous of me to assume, and I am simply rooting for my team over theirs?

  • Bill, good link.

    Grant, interesting point about inside vs. outside views.

  • I’ve just finished Season 3 (the season where the open air drug market is sanctioned), but I don’t think there’s anything vastly incompatible with your Simon quote and the show. They’re constantly battling a lack of funding in the show, either for social programs or for the BPD or witness protection or whatever. Political corruption aside, which of course is a huge issue, there’s still an inordinate lack of funding to actually *do* anything.

    Re: There is a harrowing scene towards the end of that season that depicts as hellish the area where police avert their attention.

    They follow this up in later episodes with public health academics providing resources to the people in that area, and one of the public health people in fact explicitly says towards the end of the season that it’s actually a *good thing* from a public health perspective because people who are normally impossible to contact and help are suddenly out in the open and some even receptive to the help being provided.

  • Aron, I’m not talking about the producer’s mindset, but about the world he describes.

    Seinberg, what do you think would happen in an episode where funding went up, if that episode stayed in the character of other episodes?

  • steven

    Apparently people haven’t yet assimilated Eliezer’s points about fictional evidence.

  • NotATeacherAnymore

    I once went to live in Baltimore, where I taught briefly at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

    At that time it was a city of deep contrast: lovely lady novelists in their fine houses near Johns Hopkins pouring the most exquisite Persian peach tea in front of carved highboys gleaming with bellflowers and satinwood inlays, against the most noxious crack hells.

    The bien-pensant of Baltimore wrung their hands and went about their business to the extent that they could as the situation worsened. It was like watching a frog being boiled alive, the slow acceleration of the heat.

    But the situation had so deteriorated that finally the African-American mayor Kurt Schmoke just told truth to power and caused a national scandal by calling for drug legalization. Thus The Wire always seemed completely true in essence to my experience of Baltimore. I found it so painful I had to stop watching.

    This brings me to Grant’s point about liberals. For surely the bien-pensant in Baltimore were and are the most well-meaning liberals. It is not that they are interested only in their team. Nor, as Robin says, is it because they don’t “care.”

    Rather it seemed to me at the time something more pernicious: the soft bigotry of low expectations for the “underclass.” This of course is “good racism,” where we do not have to actually engage that underclass ourselves, but rather just shovel government at them because we “care about” – that is, pity – them. And when it doesn’t work, we can only shrug and say, “Of course; they are underprivileged! What else could we expect?”

    And because we have such low expectations for them, we may naturally underfund the services we supposedly provide them, to a level that meets our silent understanding.

    So Grant I would argue that you’re mistaken. It may be the velvet racism of affluent whites here, I might venture. Baltimore is in truth a majority African-American city, but the African-American middle class may perhaps share this attitude to the disadvantaged; this certainly has been a raging discussion in that community.

  • Venu

    I agree with Robin that there seems to be a large disconnect between the writers’ abstract beliefs and what they depict in the show. But I don’t see the show as that much of an endorsement of libertarianism, even though I personally lean libertarian. Colvin’s experiment in the third season is an exception (although even there the show’s writers don’t back down from showing how hellish such a free-drug zone could become).

    Robin says:
    “The police, courts, prisons, schools, and city hall are unrelentingly corrupt and dysfunctional, because voters don’t much care. Private newspapers look bad, but mainly because readers don’t much care.”

    I don’t think the Wire ever showed uncaring voters and uncaring readers as causing anything. The police and schools are shown as being bad because they are institutions beholden to numbers – crime rates/arrest rates in the case of police, test scores in the case of schools. Private newspapers are shown as being bad because they are beholden to Pulitzer prizes and profits. You can argue whether these causes are right or wrong, but none of this is especially libertarian. Another cause for the failure of all institutions is the flaws of the people that make up the institutions – the Scott Templetons, the Tommy Carcettis, the Clay Davises . While this is somewhat libertarian, private institutions are also seen as being limited by the flaws of the people who make them up (witness Scott Templeton), and driven purely by profits (hence the layoffs), and taking sneaky shortcuts for reputation (e.g. to win Pulitzer prizes) so they are never endorsed as such. Private real-estate developers (Andy Krawzcek) and private lawyers (Levy) are seen as profiteering and immoral, so neither are they endorsed. Other private enterprises, what Robin refers to as “the background of the story”, are rarely addressed, let alone endorsed, as Robin claims.

  • Robin, I would say that the primary tension I see between an abstract belief of yours and a concrete belief would be in the case of modesty, where – just as you would say of The Wire – I think your concrete practice wins. Though I would be expected to say that, as I resolved the tension in my own case by adopting an abstract stance against modesty.

    Accusations of hypocrisy are in some sense much less interesting than situations like this. So I would like to pose the same question to anyone else who cares to answer it in my own case:

    Where do you see a conflict between my abstract beliefs and my concrete practice, in a case where you see the concrete practice winning?

  • Venu

    Just to clarify myself from the previous comment, I didn’t see the Wire as endorsing any particular ideology – and this is why I agree with Robin that there is a disconnect between the writers’ abstract beliefs and the show, and disagree with him that the show is “largely libertarian”.

  • There was an interesting “concrete practice” described here:

    …where some parents in Harlem are being taught to tell their kids positive things and, essentially, to stop hitting them, and to read to them. And it seems they are doing quite well in school, better than they “should” be doing for the neighborhoods they live in. Maybe our economic arguments – socialism vs capitalism, more or less government – are all wrong because they are addressing the wrong problem. Maybe we just need to learn how to be kind to our kids, and each other. Perhaps self sufficiency and altruism work together best in healthy people.

    If it works, and if it could be reproduced on a massive scale, the inner cities could disappear as we know them in one or two generations. Can you imagine spending on the level of the bailout or the wars in the Gulf on something so simple and humane?

    Anyway its a great story, highly recommended.

  • I profoundly disagree with the two of the ideas you’re putting forward:

    First, that Simon’s ideology is incompatible with the one on the show.

    The thesis of The Wire is that The System has been underfunded, neglected and abused to the point that it’s inherently dysfunctional. This doesn’t parse as the libertarian “all government must be destroyed,” necessarily: a well-funded system that is staffed by motivated, involved people (a liberal view) works just as well.

    In the fifth season alone, police underfunding is a CRUCIAL plot point. Why are they underfunded? Because the money is being diverted to schools. If there was more funding for schools, the police would not be underfunded; there’s no legs to your theory that in your personal fictional Wire universe that money would be frittered away or misallocated. In your “hypothetical episode” scenario, Carver would send a group of motivated police officers out on patrol instead of having to deal with a squad room of officers worried about their pay.

    I don’t see where you’re making the leap to an assumption that more funding would have somehow been eaten by elves. Granted, there’s lots of demonstrable graft and corruption in the series, but the reason for the underfunding is evident, the players are largely well-intentioned, and the lack of money is a visceral fact.

    The cutting of Bunny Colvin’s program to help corner kids at the end of S4 is another easy example of where more funding would have led to a happy ending: the program was cut due to lack of funds. Period. “If schools were better funded and better staffed, the needs of kids like those corner kids would be better met” is a liberal view that fits perfectly with the dynamic of the show. Arguing against this falls back to the “magic money hole” issue that doesn’t hold to the series’ actual events as presented.

    Second, the idea that the only way to PROVE that Simon’s politics match the program is to create a hypothetical episode of the show is… well, that’s weird. It’s like if the creators of Battlestar Galactica said “the show is about how we shouldn’t build killer robots that look like humans” and your response is “yes but imagine an episode of Battlestar Galactica without killer robots that look like humans! What are all these people doing flying around in space? It’s madness!!!”

    The Wire chronicles people at the shit end of a very long stick that’s been having shit drizzling down it for a very long time. The “liberal” idea that a long-term infusion of better funding, more attention and intelligent management might have prevented this — and that this is required to keep things from getting worse — is a long-term idea. To make your hypothetical Wire episode would require a Life on Mars crossover where things are better managed starting in 1973, and then the current Wire episode would feature motivated police officers, happy teachers, and a thriving community generally getting along okay, which would actually make for sort of boring television.

    If you INSIST on hypothetical episodes, I refer you to the two examples above: a S5 episode where Carver addresses a room full of reasonably content, reasonably motivated cops instead of a squad room on the brink of revolt, or a S4 ending where Bunny Colvin is allowed to keep working with a group of 10-12 kids that he is literally saving from death by meeting their needs in a system that’s never allowed that before.

  • Re-reading, that seems a bit harsh: I did enjoy your analysis of the series and your thoughts on it, I just think that your takeaway that it’s a libertarian ideology behind it is based on immediacy, and the view that there’s a liberal view is based more on viewing the series as a snapshot of a problem that’s been building for decades.

  • Cyan

    Robin Hanson,

    Just out of curiosity, does Omar fit into your picture of The Wire as a libertarian critique, and if so, how?

  • NotATeacherAnymore

    @Matt Shepherd

    “The thesis of The Wire is that The System has been underfunded, neglected and abused to the point that it’s inherently dysfunctional.”

    Your post is interesting, but begs the question of why the people of Baltimore underfund and abuse themselves. Why do they allow themselves this dysfunction?

    Contemporary Baltimore is a vibrant, gentrifying and well-to-do city. Well, half of it anyway. The other half is pure Wire.

    Baltimore should be as pleasant as San Diego, with whom it shares important measures. As an overwhelmingly a liberal town, the fine burghers of Charm City could easily raise their own taxes to fund lots of programs properly.

    But they do not – Baltimore’s infrastructure still lags badly, for example. Why not? What’s the real issue? Isn’t this the point of Robin’s work: to get at what people really want as opposed to what they say they want?

  • Caledonian

    If it works, and if it could be reproduced on a massive scale, the inner cities could disappear as we know them in one or two generations.


    Here, let me adjust your statement to reflect the underlying realities:

    If one improbable thing is true, and another unlikely thing is true, then an implausible ideal could be realized in a ridiculously short period of time.

  • I wasn’t surprised that Simon is a liberal, but I did find it odd that he said his show depicted the effects of untrammeled capitalism when (legal) businesses get so little attention in the show. The closest to an exception is the second season, and even there it is the dockworker’s union that receives focus (as dysfunctional and involved in the drug business) while their employer hardly gets any screen-time.

    Perhaps “liberal” not the correct word. I forget if it was Simon or Burns, but I read an interview with one of them in which they described themselves as “radical”. It’s not merely some more funding that will fix things, but a fundamental restructuring of the system.

  • rcriii

    Robin, you ask:

    If Simon can have that large a disconnect between his powerful concrete insights and his abstract political beliefs, how confident can I be that my abstract beliefs connect to my concrete insights? I might posit that Simon (like most docs) is especially bad at abstract reasoning, but is that just a desperate excuse?

    Is there some reason that the Simon’s disconnect has particular relevance to your beliefs? Why isn’t it just one more point of data concerning overall human bias? Surely you should retain some uncertainty about your beliefs and your interpretation of evidence for or against them, but given the sheer number of people who likely disagree with you, why should Simon’s disagreement be of particular significance?

    To be fair, I stand somewhere in the middle between ou and Simon on the question of what The Wire tells us, so maybe I’m just constructing a story to allow me to ignore you both?

  • NotAWriter

    Well, there was the plot line about the city’s school districts ~52 million dollar deficit. Norman is always telling him he should have hit up Annapolis for the money, while his white adviser tells him it’s good that he didn’t because he could never have been elected governor otherwise. They definitely portrayed Norman as more of a good guy than his white counterpart, who is seen as more of a political operator. Carcetti finds it best to reject the governor’s money and simply try to (drastically) scale back spending instead, which, of course, sends the city into ruins.

  • The Wire is about dysfunctional institutions, government and otherwise. The sharp distinction between government institutions and privately-held ones is dear to libertarians, but probably not to Simon. The fifth season makes this explicit, since the police and the newspaper are undergoing almost identical failure modes (lack of funding and inept or corrupt managers leading to dispirited workers who resort to making stuff up).

  • steven, I’ve been discussing what is true in this fictional world, not in reality.

    Venu, government institutions are beholden to numbers because voters don’t care enough to look at anything else. Papers are beholden to awards because readers don’t care enough about other things. I didn’t claim the show endorsed an ideology.

    Eliezer, if what I do and what I say do not match, that doesn’t mean what I do is more right.

    rciriii, Simon is disproportionate data since he is, and I hope to be, exceptionally insightful.

    Matt, Colvin’s school program was destined to be cut as soon as outside funding ended – it just didn’t fit in. Funding levels do not obviously cause institution dysfunction; when I imagine a 10% funding increase, I see it quickly being eaten up with more teachers, police, etc, who then try just as hard to “juke the stats.” A few more corner boys would be jailed, and so dealers would have to search a little wider for new corner boys. Schools would have a few more texts, that would be stolen and sold by school workers for private profit. A better analogy would be saying Battlestar shows we need to get over our hate and be the first to accept others; I’d say imagine in episode three Galactica revealed itself and said “let’s all just be friends”.

  • Eliezer, if what I do and what I say do not match, that doesn’t mean what I do is more right.

    Indeed not, though you usually say that what you do is more revealing of what you ‘want’ (I might define ‘want’ a bit differently). It just so happens that in this case I happen to agree with what I believe to be your actions.

    But usually, people go around accusing each other of hypocrisy – of advocating right things with their lips, and doing otherwise with their actions. “You’re saying the wrong thing but doing the right thing” is a fascinating inversion, well worthy of special attention.

    (One commenter responded via email to my request, by saying that although I inveigh against long chains of inference and conjunction fallacies, it seems to him that I regularly use them, and moreover he sides with my practice rather than my theory.)

  • ad

    I am shocked, shocked, to discover that even TV producers can engage in doublethink!

    Who would have thought it?

  • John Maxwell

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    Isn’t this just what you would expect given confirmation bias?

    Anyway, if you ever get a chance to talk to David Simon, ask him to describe an episode where the government moves in the direction he’d like it to move. Then point out the parts of his description that don’t seem to fit with the feel of the series.

  • Robin, I find it difficult to imagine the new episode you describe for a couple of reasons.

    Firstly, I don’t believe a single “functional government” bill would do it. A functional Baltimore government, if its possible at all, would require many modifications across many institutions over a long period of time — much longer than a single episode could portray. It is made abundantly clear in The Wire that good intentions and decisions made at one level of one institution may be thwarted by others in the same institution or by tensions across them. Even the institutions with the least regulation, the drug cartels, faced the same problem.

    Secondly, and aesthetically, I cannot imagine an episode where things get a lot better, regardless of the means. First and foremost, The Wire is a drama, and without tension, conflict, and resolution there is not much of a story to be told. Furthermore, part of what gives The Wire its credibility is its realism. Any portrayal of a rosy, wonderful Baltimore of the near future would be incredible for the reasons in my first point.

    I think what Simon succeeded at beautifully was showing us a complex world of human interaction. It is not clear to me that any single, abstract, unwavering political belief applied consistently would work to fix such a concrete world. The very definition of what constitutes “fixed” is tied up in the abstract belief to begin with.

    Upon reflection, I concede that I was too quick to assume what kind of political changes Simon would want. It could be that he is simply rallying against what he sees to be the unchecked application of a single set of beliefs — capitalism — to a complex situation.

  • steven

    Robin, you mentioned a libertarian moral; what good is a moral if it isn’t supposed to apply to reality?

  • Mark, yes, it might take an whole season to play out a story where things get a lot better. Even so, such a season is rather hard to imagine, while retaining the style and character of previous seasons.

  • Maybe the reason for the discrepancy between your (Robin Hanson’s) and Simon’s conclusions and worldviews stems from the fact that the show is so realistic? Presumably you also witness the same real world and find justification and vindication for your different beliefs in the same factual events? If Simon has strived more for a realistic than an ideological show, this might explain that.

  • Douglas Knight

    Could it be that he is trying to send the message that his disagreement about policy is not about disagreement about facts? Can anyone name a work that you are sure does this?

    (I suppose Candide is a related example, where Voltaire pretends to explore Leibniz’s model of the world.)

  • David J. Balan

    I really don’t see the contradiction here. It’s perfectly possible to believe that our government and society are badly distorted because of the malign influence of a bunch of rich plutocrats, and at the same time to believe that handing over more money to a corrupt city government is not a good way to solve the problem.

  • David, it seems that Simon does support “handing over more money to a corrupt city government”.

  • David J. Balan

    Robin, based only on the quotes above, it’s somewhat ambiguous but it seems to me like he’s not, or not mostly, talking about the Baltimore city government. For example, he says “Baltimore has had the benefit of your free market for the last twenty five years. You can’t tell me you’ve constructed a viable economic model that has nothing to do with government when one out of every two adult black males is without work in my city.” Is the “government” here the Baltimore city government? It’s not clear, but it seems like it’s not when he goes on to say “The government has been utterly laissez faire, they’ve let the jobs go to the pacific rim, they are gone, and we’ve eviscerated the manufacturing class. …” It doesn’t seem likely that he thinks that the Baltimore city government did those things.

    BTW, does does he really think that the actual Baltimore government is as bad as the one in The Wire (which I’ve never seen)?

  • Oolon_Colluphid_Dem

    Seinberg, what do you think would happen in an episode where funding went up, if that episode stayed in the character of other episodes?

    Just watch seasons 3 and four. In three a new education program created by liberal academics is having success in transforming inner city youths until the republican governor cuts funding for baltimore. In four, McNulty creates a scenario by which he is able to increase funding for the police department and as funding increases so does the wellbeing of the city.

    The wire is good drama, especially in that it can create a world so natural that everyone reads in their own political message.

  • Tushar


    That was terribly dishonest of you. In Season 3, the Republican governor of Maryland did not “cut any funding.” The schools were shown as having thrown tens of millions of dollars down the hole, and the newly elected Mayor had to find some way to plug this hole… so he goes to Annapolis to beg the Republican Governor for money. We dont see what happens in this interaction, until Season 4 when Mayor Carcetti’s aide tells him he should have taken the money from the Governor, instead of thinking about his chances of running for Governor of Maryland next year. Sorry you lose this one.

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  • “Vivid?” Sure. But “believeable?”

    Two words:

    Omar Little.

    I mean, c’mon. The most compelling character in the series rivals Baron von Munchhausen for sheer *un*-believability.

    *The Wire* is lefty romanticism masquerading as gritty realism. It’s great fun, but if you take it for anything more than that, you’re only making a fool of yourself.

    • dirk

      Steve Burton must have flamed out in a lot of cocktail parties after trying his “Two Words: Omar Little” line.

  • John M

    You know Omar Little is based on a real person, right?

  • Damon Pourtahmaseb-Sasi


    You’re correct to say that the Republican governor hadn’t cut funding in Season 3, but the reason the schools were in the hole is because their funding had been cut for so long by that governor: it only came to a head for Carcetti because he inherited the problem that Royce had been ignoring for so long, letting it get worse and worse. Since Carcetti made promises to the teachers in his campaign, he had to find a way to deal with the budget crisis.)

    I think the overall message of the show is more that In general, corruption is apolitical, and the real villain. The Republicans in the show are mostly names and legacies that the Democrats decry the evils of, but corruption comes from the Democrats AND the Republicans. It’s that simple. The real evil in the show time after time is not Republicans, or Democrats, or even “Government,” but rather corruption in everything from juking stats for promotions, to bending rules for Pulitzers.

    Additionally, it depicts a system broken in part because people never fix the problems around them because they refuse to admit to uncomfortable truths, which is also apolitical, but is usually a Liberal claim in everything from the environment to affirmative action to educational reform. Take the depiction of standardized testing in public schools: ineffective, counter productive, biased. This is a Liberal argument; I can’t remember the last time I saw a Republican talking about the school systems other than to say that “Intelligent Design” should be taught in them too.

    Let’s go through the list of assertions from each season after the first:
    -Unions are corrupt: Conservative, but the sympathy is clearly with them anyway because they need to be corrupt to survive.
    -Politics are corrupt: Apolitical.
    -Public schools and police departments need more funding; Liberal. Conservatives are just as likely to cut funding to police departments as they are to public schools, under the umbrella of “less government spending.”
    -Media is insincere; Apolitical.

    The overall message of the show though?
    -The Drug War is a failure; Liberal/Libertarian. Not all Democrats would say this, but many have gone on record as for the decriminalization of drugs, and the only Republicans that dare espouse this view on national television are the ones that are more Libertarian than Conservative.

    In answer to the question of what another season might be to show the Liberal views of the creators more clearly, it seems pretty straightforward to me: the privatization of prisons and by extension the corruption of the justice system. It’s hard to make a series that’s focusing on a single city really encompass the “conservative evils” of big businesses using their monetary clout to influence laws and deregulate health and safety measures, but they could do something with that on a smaller scale in terms of pollution and monopolizing.

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