By Jaime Harker
I came late to The Wire, but when the series came out on DVD, I sat down to watch the first episode. A young man explained to a homicide detective why “Snot Boogie” lay dead in the street. Every week, Snot came to the craps game and tried to steal the pot. “Let me get this straight,” asked McNulty, the homicide detective, “Every week he snatched the pot and ran? Why did you let him in the game? Why did you let him play?” “Got to,” answered the witness. “It’s America, man.”
From that moment, I was hooked. In my binge watching of The Wire over the next few weeks, I was immersed in a world that usually gets only self- righteous buzzwords on the nightly news, a world populated by characters full of rage, buffeted by injustice, often exploding in frightening violence, but characters who were nevertheless brave, funny, resourceful, and deeply invested in a code of conduct that was invisible to the mainstream but meaningful to members of the community. The Wire insisted on the flawed yet glorious humanity of all its urban dwellers: drug dealers, crackheads, corrupt cops, sleazy politicians, and snitches. Though much of its terminology continues to inform my own speech—“juking the stats,” for example, remains a depressingly relevant concept no matter what one’s station of life—it is The Wire’s embrace of people usually dismissed in pejoratives that still resonates. This gripping, complex, often hilarious world emerged from the distinctive genius of our 2014-2015 Howorth Lecturer David Simon.
About David Simon:
David Simon is one of the most influential television writers of the last 20 years. Born in 1960, he began as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun, and later turned his experiences shadowing the Baltimore Homicide Department for a year into his first nonfiction book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, published in 1991. That book was the inspiration for Mr. Simon’s first foray into television, the acclaimed series Homicide: Life on the Streets. His cultural influence expanded exponentially, however, with his HBO series The Wire. Also set in Baltimore, The Wire explored street life, government corruption, and resilience in unforgettable dialogue and characterization. The show has been consistently described as “literary television” and “great modern literature,” a show that “must be considered alongside the best literature and filmmaking in the modern era.”
Known for taking on difficult issues of the day, “The Wire tackled the drug war in this country as it simultaneously explores race, poverty and ‘the death of the American working class,’ the failure of political systems to help the people they serve, and the tyranny of lost hope. Few series in the history of television have explored the plight of inner-city African Americans and none—not one—has done it as well” (Goodman, Tim September 6, 2006). “Yes, HBO’s Wire is challenging. It’s also a masterpiece.” San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 25, 2010.) “The Wire’s continued cultural resonance has been remarkable: books have been written about the series (like Adam M. Gershowitz’s The Wire: Crime, Law and Policy); entire college courses have been devoted to it; its pop culture references are ubiquitous; and just this winter, a digitally remastered version of The Wire was shown in a marathon on HBO. Mr. Simon’s ear for the rhythms of urban speech continues in his series Treme, which captures a New Orleans beyond the tourist haze of Bourbon street.
David Simon was selected as a MacArthur fellow in 2010 and an Utne Reader visionary in 2011.