La Comédie de Baltimore

Posted: 17 May 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

The Wire is quickly becoming the subject of college courses around the country. This is only appropriate, for what I consider to be the 21st-century equivalent of Honoré de Balzac’s masterpiece.

Right now, I’m in the middle of season 3. (OK, I’m a few years late. But, please, no laughing out there. Friends, especially YM, have been pushing me to view the series for years but I don’t get HBO and it took my going on sabbatical to find the time to watch it.) And I think it’s brilliant. It’s well written and beautifully crafted, from the opening credits through the story-line, and it’s as good a realist representation of the fall of U.S. society as I’ve ever seen (comparable, in this sense, to The Sopranos, although much wider in scope).

Much has already been written about The Wire, some of it even perceptive and thought-provoking (I especially recommend the essays by Helena Sheehan and Sheamous Sweeney, Julius Caesar Scaliger, and Erick Beck).

I just want to add one comment: David Simon has done an amazing job narrativizing the ravages of capitalism without depicting capital itself. Or perhaps better: capital is the abstract, ghostly presence of much of what transpires in the worlds of politics, drugs, policing, and international trade (through season 3). The capitalists themselves exist mostly just off-screen (except, perhaps, for short appearances by “The Greek”) but the logic of capital (its calculative rationality and homogenizing economistic project) can be felt throughout the various spheres of economic and social life that characterize life in Baltimore.

In this, The Wire is better than most of the publications of academic economists, sociologists, or cultural studies scholars in documenting and elaborating a critique of the world in which we live—and therefore exactly what should be studied in a college curriculum.

  1. here is another take on The Wire:
    though, the reader should be warned as the commentary may have some spoilers

  2. David Ruccio says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. C-Blok’s commentary—a critique of commodity fetishism and an analysis of the relations of production of the drug economy—is a welcome antidote both to the official “war on drugs” and to the usual liberal critiques.

    That said, I’m not convinced the drug economy portrayed in the series is as noncapitalist as C-Blok maintains. What I see throughout is the specter of capital—in the all the various spheres of politics, policing, and drugs. Omar, it seems to me, is one of the only “exceptions” to the logic of capital, which is what makes him so interesting.

  3. […] Wire has become the subject of a wide variety of college courses, as I noted back in May. Now it can be found at the top of academic food […]

  4. […] Foundation, when it decided to award two of this year’s “genius” grants to David Simon and Emmanuel […]

  5. […] with Bill Moyers: he sees David Simon as a modern-day Dickens whereas my preferred comparison is Balzac. No matter, his interview with Simon is well worth watching or reading in Guernica [ht: […]

  6. […] but for me the appropriate comparison was never Dickens but Balzac. Share […]

  7. […] wrote about The Wire back in 2010, when I was in the midst of season 3. I also recommend Ceren Özselçuk’s essay, […]

  8. […] in 2010, when I first watched The Wire, I was struck by the fact that David Simon had done an amazing job […]

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