Season 4: Education and Networks

In the first four episodes of season four we are exposed to a group of children struggling in the poorly funded and horribly run Baltimore city school system. The group of kids are mixed up in drug dealing and various other crimes, while dealing with poverty and going to school in an environment as unsafe as their homes. Cutty’s gym continues to strive to help these types of children as he endeavors to better the community. Carcetti’s campaign pushes forward as he combats Royce by appearing to the public as genuine and tries to visit the parts of Baltimore that need the most help. Whether his intentions behind these visits are honest or tied up in political gaming is yet to be apparent. Marlo continues to run his corners with confidence and keep a tight ship with little to no slip-ups. Omar boldly and somewhat unknowingly starts a beef with Marlo after a stickup Prop Joe helps set up.

Season 4 casts Prez in a new role as a middle school teacher at a severely underfunded Baltimore public school. The school itself is a reflection of the problems we have seen occurring all over West Baltimore throughout the series so far, such as violence and drug trade. Previous episodes have introduced us to young characters (such as Wallace) who as teenagers and even children are already part of “the game.” When all of these young people are compiled in one place, conflict naturally arises and teachers having to deal with their poor behavior often takes precedence over learning. In the first episode of season four, Prez attends a seminar run by school administration aiming to inform the teachers of ways they should talk to their students in order to better reach them and create an environment conducive to learning. However, the speaker leading the session is cut off by frustrated teachers who ask her how her principles for classroom rhetoric will prevent students from committing serious acts of disruption in the classroom, such as throwing a whole stack of textbooks through a classroom window. The teachers’ frustration implies that these patterns of behavior are engrained in the lives of young people based on the environment they grow up in, making their attempts to quell unruly behavior through changing classroom rhetoric ineffective and insufficient. In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article “If I Were a Black Kid…”, he speaks of his own experience in Baltimore city public schools and the rhetoric teachers used in hopes of discouraging violence and poor behavior in schools. Coates discusses how teachers stressed that success would help them avoid a violence-related death or jail time. However, Coates argues that changing the rhetoric used in classrooms can help students to “own their education” and allow them to see a new world outside of West Baltimore (or North Philadelphia, or South Atlanta, or wherever, really) that the confines of their environment do not expose them to. Season four allows us as viewers to consider the pressing question of whether the public school system is truly an instrument for advancement and success for everyone, or solely for those who have been afforded the opportunity to attend a thriving and sufficiently funded public school. From this, we can also consider whether or not the principle of universal public education allots for everyone the achievement of the American Dream. Coates’ article stresses that education provides a window to the world and escape from the boundaries of a disadvantaged urban life. However, the broken education system shown thus far on The Wire challenges that notion and emphasizes the bleak reality faced by urban public institutions.

In Patrick Jagoda’s Article “Wired” the idea of networks in The Wire are discussed. He mentions politics, the system of drug dealers, money, and technology. In these four episodes we see Tommy Carcetti aspiring to climb the hierarchy of politics while Royce defends his position. We also see Bodie realize that remaining on the Barksdale package will get him no where considering Avon is now in jail, Stringer is dead, and they are getting little to no business, so he chooses to join with Marlo and try to advance his climb in the drug network. We also see a network of wiretaps and technology lead a money trail back to Senator Clay Davis. All of these networks consistently run through each individual subplot of the show and intertwine them all into one massive web. Pagoda addresses how these networks do not stop purely at these definite political, economic, or workplace situations, but they also apply to the social networks in the show. For instance, Prez is tied in with Cutty and Bubbles in the school each for different reasons.

– Hayden Webster and Jake MacDonnell



Making Drugs Legal and Barksdale’s Betrayal

At the conclusion of season 3, we witness the end of Bunny Colvin’s “Hamsterdam” project, the project which either legalized drugs or cleaned up the most crime-ridden corners of the 1st district, depending on which side you’re on. However, now the location has been destroyed, Colvin disgraced, and the majority of dealers arrested. The project raised a number of moral implications, many of which we hope to discuss in class next week. And while there have been no real Hamsterdams in the United States, for the time being I’d like divulge into the history of places like Amsterdam which is, according to Herc, “one of those countries where drugs are legal”. In Amsterdam (a city), drugs are classified as either “soft” or “hard”, soft drugs being primarily marijuana and variations of psychedelic mushrooms, and hard drugs being meth, cocaine, heroin, etc. All hard drugs are still illegal, and the idea of Amsterdam being a legal drug zone is exaggerated. What are classified as soft drugs are legal, though highly regulated (no selling to minors, 5 gram maximum transaction, no advertisement of drugs, etc.) and can be ordered in your average coffee shop. This, in addition to Amsterdam’s “red light district”, a popular tourist attraction where prostitution is legal, have given Amsterdam such a reputation as to be compared to The Wire’s Hamsterdam. This is in spite of the little-known fact that Portugal had decriminalized all drugs, which has had little effect on drug use, but dramatically decreased the amount of STD’s actively being contracted by the use of shared needles. In Hamsterdam, crack cocaine was sold on a small scale and separated from the general population of the 1st district. Another historical case similar to Amsterdam was the Kowloon Walled City in China. Kowloon became a haven for drugs, gambling, and prostitution after World War 2 ended and refugees poured in. There was no government enforcement in Kowloon. This hands-off attitude led to the city being ruled by the rising organized crime syndicates known as triads. This was until 1959 when the Hong Kong government was ruled to have jurisdiction to enforce the law. Police raids throughout the district then began and increased until the city was demolished in 1994 and redesigned as a park, bearing a similar fate as Hamsterdam. My criticism of Hamsterdam was that it wasn’t well planned out and was rash in the moment. While Bunny took initiative and gave a solution which reduced crime in his district by 14 percent, the project ended in the brutal arrest of dealers who were promised immunity, with Rawls blasting the ”Ride of the Valkyries” song from Apocalypse Now as police began tackling, punching, and finally arresting the dealers and prostitutes. This was reminiscent of the American soldiers’ treatment of the Vietnamese as portrayed in films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Oliver Stone’s Platoon. In these films Americans treat all of the Vietnamese as the enemy, and their fear of the different, non-english speaking farmers and poor countrymen was manifested in mistreatment of those people and massacres such as My Lai.

One of the most intense scenes at the conclusion of season 3 was the killing of Stringer Bell by Omar and Brother Mouzone. Stringer’s actions as leader in A’von’s absence demonstrated unyielding loyalty to A’von. Yet in episode 9 he relays the details of A’von’s new weapons cache to Bunny Colvin in order to have A’von arrested, while at the same time, A’von had betrayed Stringer to Brother Mouzone. So what causes two lifelong friends to suddenly turn on each other? In this case it was A’von’s ignorance on the subject of how to deal with Marlo. He refused to compromise and see things Stringer or Prop Joe’s way, and instead prepares for war. We believe Stringer and A’von’s actions in these episodes made an excellent statement on A’von’s character. It will be interesting to see how he will act and in return be treated in prison when he has little to return to at the end of his sentence.

-Ryan C. and Joe L.

Related links

Amsterdam’s Drug Policy here-

History of Kowloon Walled City

Portugal’s Drug Policy

My Lai Massacre

Soldiers Clearing a Village in Platoon

Scene from Apocalypse Now

Additional Links for Your Enjoyment


  • Example of a postmodern style commercial for the cosmopolitan hotel in las Vegas


  • Video + article on development in Baltimore

Start 2.20

“Decades ago, city politicians spent billions to sweep away Baltimore’s crumbling industrial-age infrastructure, replacing it with office towers, popular chain restaurants, museums, and an aquarium, all of which attracts millions of tourists, year after year”

  • Article from the Washington post about vacant homes in Baltimore

— “All of Baltimore’s social, economic and political issues are encapsulated by the vacant houses,” said Jeff Singer, an adjunct professor of social work at the University of Maryland. “They’re vacant because of economic and political forces.”

  • Cole’s Wake

  • Book about contrast between blacks and whites in literature.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992. Print.

  • Past politics of Baltimore

Since 1987 there have been 5 majors, 4 have been black

  • African Americans in power in Baltimore

“ Far from a rarity, black leadership in Baltimore is a given that even extends to the police. Throughout the 1980s, the city worked to bring black Americans on to the force and promote them up through the ranks. As writer Stacia Brown notes for the New Republic, “The city believed the presence of black people in politics and law enforcement could foster greater trust and more open communication between black citizens and their government.”

The Politics Surrounding Baltimore

The first four episodes of season 3 are rife with political turmoil: in the police station, on the streets, and down in city hall. We are introduced to Thomas “Tommy” Carcetti, an ambitious Baltimore City Councilman whose intentions to run for Mayor of Baltimore and his gathering of allies to accomplish this task serve as the central focus for the first four episodes of this season. We get introduced to Mayor Royce as well, and find out how he runs business when he constantly asks Burrell to take responsibility for all of the Mayor’s mistakes. The towers are demolished to create space to build new housing projects, so the Barksdale organization is now having to jockey for corners in the city streets. They seem to be doing well, as Stringer starts to take full control of the organization and run it more like a business, but they run into a problem when they have to go corner to corner with a violent up-and-comer in the drug trade named Marlo Stanfield. The demolition of the towers leads to an escalation in drug violence, and as the bodies pile up, Rawls and Burrell desperately attempt to get their majors to bring the crime stats down, by any means necessary. This is where we are introduced to Major Colvin’s attempts to create an “Amsterdam” of sorts, where drugs are “legal”, in west Baltimore.

The story thread following Tommy Carcetti is one of the most intriguing because he is literally against the wall. He is a young white man in a city that, since 1987, has elected an African American representative for mayor 4 of the last 5 times. It is even said in the show by his friends when they are at the bar that he wouldn’t stand a chance because he was white. In order to even compete, he needs all the help he can get. His ways of getting help have been shady at best so far. In order to obtain Burrell’s support, he blasts him in the council meetings, all of which are swarming with media cameras in order to let the people know what was happening. Either Burrell has to put up with the constant image assault, or he could help Carcetti. This is one showing if shady dealings in politics in Baltimore during the first four episodes, as another involves Rawls and Burrell telling their Majors that they could falsify the crime stats in order to bring down their numbers, in effect putting up the mirage that they are performing well to the public. These events show just how deceptive politics are and how some people will go to almost criminal lengths to get what they want, which is a common theme in the show. The politics continue even on the streets, with the Barksdale organization attempts to parley with the Stansfield organization, which does not end up going as well as Stringer hopes when Marlo refuses to acknowledge Bodie, and attacks the Barksdale crew when they don’t leave his territory.

In Stuart Hall’s article, The Whites of Their Eyes, he talks about how the media has the ability to create, articulate, and transform ideologies. He also mentions that “The most naturalized ideology is the one of Race” (Hall 20). The show acknowledges this ideology, and takes on the ideology by presenting contradictions to the claims. In a town where Black mayors are common, David Simon creates a scenario where a white man is running for office. In a world where TV shows show criminals are shown as one-dimensional and unintelligent individuals, David Simon creates Stringer Bell, a drug dealer one step from the kingpin position, who also desires to be an honest businessman who is in the process of trying to change the drug trade from a violent industry to one with more class. These are just a few of the examples in this show of David Simon attempting to challenge our ideologies. As Hall states, “Ideologies are changed when their elements are articulated differently” (Hall 21). This is exactly what David Simon is attempting to do with the wire: articulate the elements of our ideological assumptions of race differently in an attempt to change our ideology.

Finally, we read the final 3 chapters of Television Criticism, which are centered on how we criticize television shows and postmodernism. As stated in the book, “Postmodernism is about the stylistic and aesthetic changes in the arts and culture (TV crit, 177).” The book also gives an example for postmodernism. The book declares that “a television program or commercial that is nonlinear, playful, and assembled in various other forms, including modernism, and constructs an eclectic pastiche can be considered postmodernism” (TV crit, 177). The Wire fits this mold because it definitely has stylistic changes from most cop dramas, for example the idea that all crimes must be concluded in a single episode, unless they have an arc with a common villain. The idea of postmodernism is always viewed as a breath of fresh air and is valuable to critics, but is also dangerous because unless you can back it up with a strong show, it will lose to the common ideology of what a TV show has to be, which relates back to Stuart Hall’s article

In conclusion, the first four episodes in season 3 of The Wire bring our focus to the dark and shady politics that surround the city of Baltimore, whether on the streets in the drug trade, in the police department, or finally all the way down at city hall.

  • Kubi Jacisin and Chandler Tempest



Simpson–that would be me–misunderstood the terms of our midterm. Since you have a number of days to complete the take-home midterm, we will be meeting on Wednesday.  We apologize for the snafu, but you know how the saying goes, “miscommunication happens.”

See you Wednesday,



scattershot leftovers from Sept. 30

Hi all,

I left class yesterday with a huge number of issues and questions and ideas still busying my mind, and I wanted to share them with you.

1) I’m not sure we investigated Nate’s question about unions very deeply. He was trying (correct me if I’m wrong Nate) to help us understand reasons and examples where other forms of unification can help workers negotiate. Maybe someone could explore this in a paper later on.

2) Take notes when guest lecturers visit. I’m not sure anyone knows more than he does about race, urban policy, and the history of Richmond. Moeser’s visit–his research–is worth our time and attention and his words are worth remembering.

3) We talk a lot about individual characters in The Wire “being stuck” and unable to move up or out, but we should talk more about the institutions (the individuals, committees, boards) that confine them. In mid-century Richmond and all over America, Moeser pointed out, the lending industry and the real estate industry worked hard to secure segregation through “urban renewal” and redlining. During the Great Recession of 2008, banks again targeted low income minorities with unreasonable loan offers, then blamed homeowners for defaulting. (for example Wells Fargo). Is this a fair fight? How can an individual “overcome” policies designed to keep them in their place? Think about what he said about public housing–much of it was built to house people displaced by the interstate project, which they did not want.

4) I would have loved to ask Dr. Moeser a question about RJ Reynolds (now Altria), a tobacco giant and major employer in Richmond.  I wonder how its leadership and interests played into the construction of I-95, and other urban renewal projects such as the biotechnology park? Someone should research this later.

5) When I asked Moeser how he deals with those “shock” moments and how he manages his position as a white man who sits on the privileged side of Richmond history, he gave a number of answers I want to paraphrase here. He said he keeps working on these issues because his scholarship legitimizes the historical experiences of minority groups and gives them license to tell their stories. He said he works closely with African Americans in his projects and has worked successfully to earn their trust. Obviously, he reads and reads and reads and he obviously listens. He has bonded with African American Richmonders through his church, and he believes in the power of forgiveness and redemption through acts.