The Wire and Philosophy: This America, Man (Popular Culture and Philosophy)
Seth Vannatta, David Bzdak, Joanna Crosby
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By many accounts, HBO’s The Wire was and remains the greatest and most important television drama of all time. Conceived by writers David Simon and ex-Baltimore homicide detective Ed Burns, this five-season, sixty-episode tour de force has raised the bar for compelling, intelligent television production. With each season addressing a different arena of life in the city of Baltimore, and each season’s narratives tapping into those from previous seasons, The Wire was able to reveal the overlapping, criss-crossing, and colliding realities that shape—if not control—the people, institutions, and culture of the modern American city.
The Wire and Philosophy celebrates this show’s realism as well as its intellectual and philosophical clarity. Selected philosophers who are fans of The Wire tap into these conflicts and interconnections to expose the underlying philosophical issues and assumptions and pursue questions, such as, Can cops really tell whether they are smarter than their perps? Or do they fall victim to intellectual vanity? Do individuals really have free will to resist the temptations—of gangs, of drugs, or corruption—that surround them? Is David Simon a modern-day Marx who sees capitalism leading ultimately to its own collapse, or is Baltimore’s story uniquely its own?
spends time teaching her two terriers the finer points of “front and follow.” SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a visiting professor at a number of uppity American Universities. Žižek is most known for his work on psychoanalysis, political theory, and film theory. He absolutely disregards the distinction between high and low culture, referencing Home Alone 2 in an essay on Friedrich Schelling and quoting the Lion King in his
between parents and their children can overcome reason, leading them to do things they shouldn’t, things that wouldn’t be for the overall good of the Republic. Such a view recognizes the bonds of friends and family but not their moral relevance. In other words, Plato recognized that people naturally would be partial, but sought ways to prevent it in the name of the greater good. Few modern defenders of impartiality would go so far (and, in fairness, it’s not clear that Plato himself was actually
Haynes notes when he confronts his boss, managing editor Thomas Klebanow, about reporter Scott Templeton: HAYNES: We cannot run this shit. KLEBANOW: Are you suggesting that Scott made any of this up? HAYNES: You ever notice the guys who do that—the Blairs, the Glasses, the Kelleys—they always start with somethin’ small. You know, just a little quote that they clean up, and then it’s a whole anecdote, and pretty soon they’re saying some amazing shit. They’re the lucky ones who just happen to be
say. However, that can’t be what’s going on. While the characters in The Wire are complex people who can be counted on to do some bad things, they’re all pretty savvy (with exceptions like Snot Boogie proving the rule). Another way we might resolve the conflict is to remember that The Wire is just a fiction and impossible things happen in fiction. That might have been a reasonable thing to say if I had offered up Game of Thrones as a counter-example to Kant’s claim. However, David Simon is
and surviving long enough to transcend his station (“The Buys”). An unspoken question lingers over this scene. If even the kingpin is only another piece on the chessboard, then who or what moves the pieces? The Wire spends five seasons unfolding the answer: each character’s trajectory is shaped by large-scale forces that are inscrutable, capricious, and nearly impossible to resist. Heraclitus felt similar forces at work over 2,500 years ago, and he personified them with the image of a child-king