Video Virgil: The Wire 2
David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun reporter who created the powerful HBO series The Wire, has strong political views. For example, he told Reason magazine that he regards the war on drugs as pointless:
A guy said, "Well, what is the solution? Give me the paragraph; give me the lede. What’s the solution, if not drug prohibition?" I very painstakingly said: "Look. For 35 years, you’ve systematically deindustrialized these cities. You’ve rendered them inhospitable to the working class, economically. You have marginalized a certain percentage of your population, most of them minority, and placed them in a situation where the only viable economic engine in their hypersegregated neighborhoods is the drug trade. Then you’ve alienated them further by fighting this draconian war in their neighborhoods, and not being able to distinguish between friend or foe and between that which is truly dangerous or that which is just illegal. And you want to sit across the table from me and say ‘What’s the solution?’ and get it in a paragraph? The solution is to undo the last 35 years, brick by brick. How long is that going to take? I don’t know, but until you start it’s only going to get worse." And the guy looked at me and went, "But what’s the solution?"
Yet at the same time, Simon made it clear that he did not intend The Wire to be protest art:
The Wire will have an effect on the way a certain number of thoughtful people look at the drug war. It will not have the slightest effect on the way the nation as a whole does business. Nor is that my intent in doing the show. My intent is to tell a good story that matters to myself and the other writers -- to tell the best story we can about what it feels like to live in the American city.
And indeed, the entire first season unfolds without a single reference to the loss of jobs in America's inner cities. Instead, it dramatizes how disconnected the residents of West Baltimore housing projects are from the rest of society. The only man with a job is a janitor who, having turned state's witness, is shot to death in the first episode.
It's disappointing, therefore, to encounter a bunch of political speeches in the second season of The Wire. This time, the police are investigating links between a Greek crime syndicate and the stevedores' union, whose Polish-American boss, Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer) needs cash not to line his pocket but to grease the palms of politicians willing to vote for improvements in the city's dying port.
Like the drug kingpins in the projects, Frank is a vivid and convincing character. And here, too, the economic plight of the city is made abundantly clear through the unfolding of a well designed plot. So it's a real flaw to have Frank spend so much time on his proletarian soapbox. This sort of thing rang hollow back in the 1930s, and today it rings both hollow and weirdly antique. The point is, we get the point!