Category Archives: Discussion Board

Grand Finale

In this season of The Wire, we saw recurring themes from throughout the series. A large recurring theme we see is corruption in politics. After learning the serial killer was a hoax, Carcetti quietly withholds the information from the public to help him achieve his goal of becoming governor. Carcetti knows that if the public finds out his chances of becoming governor wouldn’t happen. Additionally, Carcetti bashed the governor for neglecting the homeless, so if the public discovers that the homeless murders were a lie, then Carcetti looks even more uninformed and unfit for governor in the eyes of voters. With all of this weighing on his mind and a spot as governor on the line, Carcetti withholds the information from the public for his good. Fortunately for Carcetti, his actions get him elected governor. This situation brings to light the question of what moral lines individuals in politics will cross to climb the ranks and if those decisions are worth the risk. For people like Carcetti we observe their dishonorable actions pay off in the long run but for people like Burrell their choices to act immorally leave them with nothing.

We see that in today’s politics, deception. It is difficult to move up without doing something suspicious. However, this does not just pertain to politics. We saw this with the Barksdale clan in previous seasons. Stringer ordered a hit on D’Angelo while he was in prison to protect his spot as a higher up in a major drug organization. Without ordering the murder on D’Angelo, the whole clan could have been busted if D’Angelo decided to talk. This operation proved that things needed to get done to protect your place on the totem pole, no matter how suspicious the jobs can be. This is also shown more recently as the series comes to an end, after everyone gets locked up, Snoop tells Michael that he is needed for “serious business.” It is not until after Michael sees Snoop talking to the person he was supposed to kill that it was a set-up to kill him instead. Michael was the target because he was seen talking to the police, and they wanted him dead because they believed that he was the one that snitched despite Michael telling snoop that he wasn’t the one. Michael was smart enough and didn’t fall into the trap.

All in all, we consistently peeped drug circles and politicians do shady things to protect their position in their own organizations. David Simon uses to The Wire to continue to show how the world functions.

More With Less, Fake News, and Democracy

In the first three episodes of season five, we see a continuation of many of the storylines from prior seasons such as Michael holding down his corner and the results of Carcetti’s gutting of the Baltimore Police Department. We also bear witness to new events like McNulty falsifying a serial killer case, Chris and Snoop killing Blind Butchie for not divulging Omar’s location, and Marlo attempting to circumvent the co-op. Lastly, we are introduced to the staff of the Baltimore Sun and the world of urban journalism. Throughout these opening episodes, we see parallels between the police department and the Sun.

One of the major problems facing both institutions is the idea of “doing more with less,” as suggested by the title of the season’s opener. In being introduced to the Baltimore Sun, we learn the newspaper is under great stress due to the changing nature of media, with the rise of the Internet posing a huge threat to the traditional newspaper. Through the inclusion of this storyline, The Wire has touched on a very real phenomenon. According to the Washington Post, “in the U.S., weekday print circulation has shrunk from a high of nearly 60 million in 1994 to 35 million for combined print and digital circulation today — 24 years of decline. Advertising revenue has cratered, falling from $65 billion in 2000 to less than $19 billion in 2016. Newsroom employment fell nearly 40 percent between 1994 and 2014.” Thus, to reflect this phenomenon, in the world of The Wire, the Sun is facing major budget cuts brought on by their publisher, similar to how the Baltimore Police Department is facing major budget cuts brought on by Mayor Carcetti. In response, both the journalists and the police department attempt to cope with these budget cuts by “doing more with less.”

At the end of the second episode, McNulty attempts to “do more with less” by tampering with a crime scene. In the third episode, we learn that he did so in order to falsify a serial killer case in attempts to secure more funding for the police department so that the major crimes unit can take down Marlo once and for all. However, if Carcetti had not gutted the police department in order to fund the schools after refusing to take money from the governor, McNulty would not have been driven to falsify a case in order to secure funding. Yet, The Wire seems to deem this morally permissible, as when McNulty informs Freamon of his scheme, Freamon approves despite his typical role as the series’ moral compass.

In a way, the case falsified by McNulty is fake news, a phenomenon also among the staff of the Baltimore Sun. In the second episode, reporter Scott Templeton returns from an assignment to cover the Orioles’ game with a touching, yet questionable, story about a boy named EJ, who uses a wheelchair due to being shot on the streets of Baltimore and had skipped school in attempts to see the game. However, when Gus asserts the vague story is not up to the Sun’s standards, Whiting goes above his head and gives Scott his approval to continue with the story. In effect, Whiting gives his blessing to fake news, which has become an enormous problem for our country in the last couple of years. According to Forbes, multiple studies have demonstrated that fake news has run rampant and that many Americans are unable to even identify fake news articles.

The implications of the Sun’s lack of commitment to inform their readership with the whole truth are concerning, as journalism is often pictured as the fourth branch of American government since its very function is to give information to the masses. This belief in the sanctity of the press was a fundamental piece of America’s foundation, so the fact that we see the Sun struggling concerns our democracy. David Simon, himself a former journalist himself, uses The Wire to symbolize the growing despair that the industry is headed towards. He argued that as more and more newspapers are forced to focus on tasks that don’t pertain to the pertinent news, it will create “a halcyon era for local and state corruption.” We see this problem brewing in The Wire as more and more of the Sun’s issues become apparent.

Representation, the Classroom, and Mental Health

In this week’s episodes, we see more of Carcetti’s politicking, Omar’s release from prison, Walker’s harassment of the corner boys, Marlo’s crew taking out more of his potential enemies (including Little Kevin), Sherrod’s return to Bubbles, and the homicide detectives making headway on where Marlo’s crew hides their bodies. However, the most impactful storylines involved the students of Tilghman Middle.

While we see Prez making strides in connecting with the students and helping them learn, we do occasionally see roadblocks, such as when Michael is being unresponsive in class and refuses to talk to Prez about what is wrong. One reason why Prez may not always be able to reach the students is because he is not of the same race. Research has shown low-income black boys in particular are especially impacted in a positive manner by having a teacher who is of the same race and gender as them, likely due to how they are seen as being more relatable and how they may be able to present material in a culturally relevant manner. As we saw last week, Prez has struggled with this as he had to change the names and circumstances in his word problems in order to make them relevant to his students. Although Prez is making some headway in connecting with his students, he can only connect with them to a finite extent due to their differences in backgrounds.

Another issue we have seen in the classroom throughout this season is “not-learning,” a term coined by educator Herbert Kohl in his essay “I Won’t Learn from You.” In the essay, Kohl states “not-learning tends to take place when someone has to deal with unavoidable challenges to her or his personal and family loyalties, integrity, and identity… to agree to learn from a stranger who does not respect your integrity causes a major loss of self. The only alternative is to not-learn and reject the stranger’s world.” We see this to a great extent with the students who have been placed in Colvin’s special class, as the whole goal of the class is to socialize them so they may become more receptive to standard classroom knowledge. Colvin himself also references this phenomenon in episode 10 when he says “they’re not learning for our world, they’re learning for theirs… they don’t know our world, but they know their own.” The students refuse to learn for a world they do not see themselves as belonging to, which is why so many of them are shuttled through the system never having learned  much of anything all.

This week’s episodes also touched on the students’ mental health, as Ms. Duquette states she believes the children in the special class have a variety of mental health disorders including oppositional defiant disorder, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline psychosis. These mental health issues likely stem from the trauma these students have been subjected to, resulting in “significantly lower academic outcomes.” In episode 11, we see how these untreated traumas and mental health issues manifest in the classroom with regard to Albert, who after having done relatively well in the special class begins to act out one day. He later reveals that the previous day he had found his mother lying dead on the couch. While Ms. Duquette and Colvin show sympathy towards him, nothing is done to provide him with any sort of mental health treatment. This is true to reality, as one 2016 study found “black youth are about half as likely as their white counterparts to get mental health care despite having similar rates of mental health problems,” and the result tends to be higher rates of punishment in schools, including detentions, suspensions, and expulsions. This is likely due in part to the lack of mental health resources in schools, as “only 17.8% of school districts meet the American School Counselor Association’s recommended student-to-school counselor ratio,” with the ratios being worse in poorer districts and districts with high rates of students of color. Tilghman Middle fits both of those characteristics, and it is fitting that in The Wire we have seen no school counselors or psychologists, and have only heard students discuss a social worker who is a known alcoholic. The Wire makes it clear schools like Tilghman Middle lack the resources to properly attend to these students’ mental health needs.

Overall, this week’s episodes shed significant light on why these students behave the way they do and how they are underserved by the school they attend.

The Sad Future for Baltimore’s Youth

As the first half of season four kicks off, the tragedy that takes place with the Baltimore public school system has become increasingly evident. Simon uses a quartet of boys, Dukie, Randy, Namond, and Michael to demonstrate how this new generation of Baltimore youths are unable to break the cycle of joining “the game” because of the Baltimore public school system’s failure to support them. Some students only attend school once a month, and teachers generally do not have much control over their classrooms. This is demonstrated when Randy sneaks out of class during a commotion and is able to go sell his candy to other grades. The biggest failure of the Baltimore school system is their inability to keep the children in class and off the streets. A large factor of this problem is the lack of respect shown towards the teachers in the school system. The children show much more respect towards the dealers, or anyone in the game for that matter, than they do towards their teachers. There is increasing pressure from the dealers to quit school and join the game. For example, Namond shows more respect towards his father when he is shown listening to his advice on how to carry yourself in “the game” than he does to Prez, as he constantly messes around in class and doesn’t pay attention. This classroom behavior is prevalent in Baltimore 12 years on. In a study performed in 2017, only 13 percent of city students were considered proficient in fourth and eighth grade reading. In fourth grade math, only 14 percent were proficient and in eighth grade math, only 11 percent were proficient, putting Baltimore ahead of only Detroit and Cleveland. Nearly ninety percent of elementary and middle schools fell short of academic targets on state assessments.  Although the city is making efforts to improve the quality of schools in the city, they are still falling short. Only 15 of the 141 city schools met federally mandated progress goals in reading and math on the Maryland School Assessments.

Simon uses season four to display how the kids do not necessarily choose “the game” but rather are forced into it through a need for an income to support their respective families. The viewer can see this trend through Namond and Michael. Namond is pushed by his mother to join drug dealing because of a need for money when him and his mother are cut off from the former Barksdale cash flow. In a deliberately similar situation, Michael is pushed to street level dealing through his need to support his baby brother since his mom is an incompetent heroin addict. In both these cases, the viewer understands how going into “the game” for some kids is the only option.

As the first half of season four demonstrates, school is not a viable option as a substitute the Baltimore youth to stay of the street. Dennis Wise, as an ex convict and a former player in the Baltimore illegal drug trade, understands how the schools fail to keep the youth off the street. In order to combat this problem, he opens up a community boxing gym to serve as a safe space to healthily release young males’ anger that would be potentially used instead for street or gang level violence. We see Dennis’s boxing gym produce positive results with the character Michael. Even though Michael is already in the street corner dealing trade (because he was forced to), the viewer sees his resistance to join a high level of “the game” through his continuous rejection to join Marlo’s gang.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-ed-rr-student-test-scores-letter-20180410-story.html

Resistance to Change

As season 3 of the wire wrapped up, it gave us a unique perspective on how human beings are resistant to change.  Major Colvin had the controversial idea to create Hamsterdam and he tried to keep it very under the radar with only his unit having knowledge of this. In the current age of surveillance and rapid communication, nothing can stay hidden forever.  When Hamsterdam first hit the media, it was met with outrage and disbelief with people thinking that it couldn’t go on for a day longer. Most people able to ignore the 14% drop in crime and the clean corners because they couldn’t imagine such a drastic change working.  Psychology today says, “As creatures of habit, we often have difficulty incorporating new changes into our routines, no matter how beneficial they are for us, because we tend to do the things that make us feel good, secure and comfortable.”  The police force are targeting drugs the same way because it makes them feel secure and comfortable because they are not risking anything they currently have. Major Colvin took a huge risk and that resulted him losing his job and his pension. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201701/why-we-resist-change)  We also see the same attitude from Avon when he gets out of jail and meets up with Stringer.  Stringer took a step away from the streets and was working together with Prop Joe and others, while also increasing his profit.  Avon still wants his corners, is hunting down Marlo, and still taking bodies. In the tenth episode of season three, we see a conflict of interest between Avon and Stringer. Avon wants to continue “business as usual,” however Stringer is looking at the situation from a different perspective. Stringer sees a need for change that Avon is not willing to accept, and calls him out by saying, “Avon look at you, fucking shooting dope without a fucking needle right now man. Getting high on a power trip, playin’ fucking soldier. Yo, you gotta sit back man and think about our business.” Earlier in the season, Stringer told avon, “we could run this goddamn city,” to which Avon replied, “I’m just a gangsta and I suppose I want my corners.” Avon’s resistance to change in this situation could potentially cost him a lot of money. Where Stringer sees a chance for profit and expansion, Avon sees defeat. In the end, Stinger and Avon are unable to change their ways and work together.  This ends in Stringer dead and Avon possibly going to jail for life. That is a hard price to pay for a couple of contradicting mindsets.

Change takes time and it requires persistence.  For example, when Cutty gets out of jail he wants to be out of the “game” forever.  He tried landscaping and attempted to find multiple other jobs, but he kept falling back to his old lifestyle on the corner.  However, through persistent action, he was able to open up a gym and help the troubled youth. This gave him a sense of purpose.  Major Colvin was trying to do something new and innovative by “legalizing” drugs in Hamsterdam, but others weren’t ready for this change.  It takes a lot of effort to exert change and break a paradigm. Rob Bennett said, “Those Who Have Built Careers Around the Old Paradigm Resist Movement to the New One.” (https://www.valuewalk.com/2015/02/paradigm-change-hard/)  This is present in Avon and the Police department.  For example, the demonization of Marijuana started in the early 1900s and that paradigm is still being changed even though it was first used legally for medical purposes in 1978: 40 years ago.  People can see the benefits of legalization such as increased tax revenue, improved quality and safety, and decrease in gang violence, but people are still scared to change. (http://www.drugpolicy.org/blog/how-did-marijuana-become-illegal-first-place)  Throughout this part of season three, a major point is that change can be good and we should not be resistant to it, but rather persistant in attempting to change our lifestyles and other things we are passsionate about.  

All Due Respect- Baltimore Police Reality, Power, and Relationships

The Wire: BIG BROTHER Is Not Watching You in Body-More, Murdaland argued that The Wire was unable to gain popularity because it was to “real” compared to other reality shows of its time. When the Western Police district were abusing and moving drug dealers to Hamsterdam in police vans, one is immediately reminded of Freddy Grey. However, within the first six episodes of season 3, absurd and unrealistic events also have taken place: the children visiting the autopsy room and seeing a heart with a bullet wound, the Narcotics department celebrating the life of a fallen detective, while his corpse lays on the pool table, and, arguably, Hamsterdam. Television Criticism reminds us that a T.V. series is not the real world, but how accurately does The Wire portray Baltimore City Police?

The current Baltimore City Police Department Commissioner acknowledges the corruption in the police department. Two years after season three aired, two police officers were convicted of federal drug trafficking, robbery, and gun violations. They were sentenced to 139 and 305 years in jail. Around the same time, a whole special enforcement squad’s integrity was under scrutiny, jeopardizing dozens of cases. These are not isolated events that the BCPD has addressed and fixed. In February of 2018, it was revealed that the Baltimore City Police Gun Trace Task Force, formed in 2007 to supposedly remove guns from the streets, terrorized the city by planting evidence, raiding homes, and robbing people on the streets. In addition, they falsified their timesheets to receive double their salaries. Other officers and even supervisors helped the taskforce with the operation and over 1,000 non-trivial cases were corrupted. The BCPD used their power and faults in the department for monetary gain. This quick summary does an injustice to the gravity of the situation. It is sicking that the current Baltimore City Police goes above and beyond its reputation in The Wire.

Season 3 starts with the towers coming down, and Lieutenant Daniel’s unit unsuccessfully working to incarcerate Stringer alongside their new target, Prince K. The Barksdale group is trying to recover their statues after the loss of the towers, with the help of recently released Avon. The Mayor is pressuring the Police Department to close out the year with less than 275 deaths, and we see how the Western Police District tries to do this in an unconventional manner. Throughout these six episodes, there are many relationships plagued by conflict from power struggles.

In order for power struggles to exist, there has to be an unclear or disputed perception of who the person who in charge actually is – or whether there is a person in charge to begin with.  The amount of power that is exerted on someone depends on how much and the type of power that person has and the amount of power that the victim has. This applies to Freamon’s confrontation with McNulty and Kima about their continued efforts to capture Stringer despite Daniels giving them a new target. They do this because while Daniels has power over them, they still have power over people like Bubbles in the streets to keep their investigation going. This is contrasted in part by the Barksdale crew, with Bodie’s long awaited position of power on the streets and Stringer’s continual efforts to keep him in check during their meetings. Stringer is able to manage Bodie to a greater degree than Daniels to Kima and McNulty because unlike them, the people who Bodie is “in charge” of still report to Stringer – which intensifies the amount of power that Stringer is able to exert on him.

These power struggles often promote instances of corruption on The Wire, just like in real life with the Baltimore Police. If McNulty and Kima are willing to against their Lieutenant, how much farther are they willing to go in pursuit of Stringer? Are they really willing to risk their jobs in order to maintain their idea of power in the streets? Does power even matter when it comes to the greater good of Baltimore?

“How come they don’t fly?”

The second half of season 2 took us in some interesting directions. We saw Frank’s crusade for the canal dredge, Nick’s desire to provide for his family, Ziggy’s quest for respect, and Stringer’s fight to survive in the drug world. Frank’s story really takes shape in episode seven “Backwash” when he attends a seminar on robotic dock technology and becomes enraged by the fact that these machines would make stevedores obsolete. This scene and others, most notably in episode eleven with the line “You know what the trouble is Brucey? We used to make shit in this country, build shit, now we just put our hands in the next guys pocket” really demonstrate what Frank wants, which we will address later. Stringer’s storyline is centered around his struggle to maintain the towers, as a result, he turns to Proposition Joe for good product. Ziggy’s storyline is all about respect, he doesn’t care about money, everything he does is to feel like he means something. No one gives him this respect which eventually leads him to murder. This season asks some really important questions, what are we willing to do to get what we want? and what are we willing to do to protect what we have?

Frank is the embodiment of these questions. We’ve seen throughout the season and particularly in the second half of this season what Frank is all about. Frank does not care about himself, all he cares about is the union and his family and we’ve seen that through the season. When he finds out that the members of the state legislature that he had bribed were backing out, he responded with “so what so I’m dirty, the grain pier still the grain pier right? They ain’t voting for me Brucey it ain’t about me”. Frank just wants the union to survive and will do whatever it takes to make that the case but this is not a selfish goal. This is why he’s so infuriated by the prospect of automation, he wants to keep everyone else’s jobs intact. This also relates to Stringer and his need to keep the towers up. They worked hard to get those and they’re not about to lose them. This causes Stringer to turn to his main rival as a source for product, he has to keep this up. Both of these characters are losing what they have due to circumstances beyond their control, and do anything and everything within their power to keep that from happening.

Season Two of The Wire directly addresses this disillusionment with the American Dream that we see in modern times where one wants to live a good life while also ensuring success for their loved ones. One key scene that reflected this is in Episode Seven where Frank talks with Mr. DiBiago about their children’s futures. Mr. DiBiago’s son goes to Princeton and will have unlimited possibilities once he graduates, while Frank’s son and nephew will be forced to work as stevedores for the rest of their lives. This reflects the growing trend among White Americans where many feel that their children will not have the opportunity for social mobility or even better lives. The best metaphor for this is when Ziggy asks Mr. Diz, the duck owner, why they don’t simply fly away. Since the ducks’ wings are clipped, they lack the ability to fly away. In a similar sense, throughout Season 2 and the entirety of The Wire, David Simon argues that the working class is like the ducks. Capitalist institutions and declining opportunities in work and education are keeping the working class in a subjugated state that prevents social mobility and forces them to remain in their social class for their entire lives. This mindstate has been shown to affect how people in this predicament behave and act. In Simon’s world, the American Dream that was so fabled by older generations is no longer accessible or even imaginable for new and future generations. For example, owning a home was once seen as just a way to provide a happy life for your family. However, we see through Nick’s dilemma that a home is not just a material possession but also an investment, which he hopes he can keep in his family for their sake. Unfortunately, we see how difficult it is for him to afford a home without resorting to selling drugs, which could be seen as an additional barrier for Nick to move to a higher socioeconomic status. Overall, David Simon’s portrayal of the American Dream throughout The Wire reflects on how the American Dream is becoming increasingly unattainable by the lower and middle classes due to increasing institutional constraints and their effects.

Simon Has Not Abandoned Black Folks

Well, this is the first time I’ve seen students address this aspect of Season Two. I’m real proud of you guys. Most students just say, “I don’t like it as well as Season One.” But you are articulating why, and I like that. However, check it out: Don’t forget that Simon’s metanarrative is about race AND class. He wants to show how working class people are also struggling as entire industries are abandoned in favor of the profit motives of capitalists. Don’t worry, we’ll get closer on most of this, but if Simon is to remain true to his project–that our country has given itself over to rabid and destructive capitalism, he has to show how it matters for everyone.