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The Wire

Sherryl Vint

Publication Year: 2013

Frequently described by creator David Simon as a novel for television, The Wire redefined the police serial format by unfolding its narrative across many episodes, constructing themes for each of its seasons, and refusing to portray individual crimes outside of their social context. While it never achieved spectacular ratings or won an Emmy during its 2002-2008 run on HBO, the show was honored with several awards and has been described by critics as the best show on television. In this volume, author Sherryl Vint takes a close look at several episodes of The Wire to argue that the series challenges our understanding of the relationship between entertainment and social critique. Informed by recent work on race, poverty, and the transformation of the American inner city through neoliberalism, Vint provides a compelling analysis of The Wire in four chapters. First, she examines the season 1 episode "The Buys" as an example of the ways in which The Wire diverges from the police procedural format. She continues by considering season 2's "All's Prologue" and season 3's "Middle Ground" to explore in more detail The Wire's critique of the exclusions of the capitalist economy. In the final two chapters, she looks at "Final Grades," the fourth season finale, to highlight the problems with institutional inertia and show both the need for and barriers to reform, and uses the season 5 episode "Clarifications" to consider the failure of the media to adequately reflect the social issues depicted in The Wire. One of the landmark series of recent television history, The Wire is ripe for research and discussion. Fans of the series and those interested in social commentary and the media will appreciate Vint's new analysis in this volume.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: TV Milestones Series


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pp. C-C


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pp. i-ii


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pp. iii-iii


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pp. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: “It’s America, Man”

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pp. 1-8

Although HBO’s The Wire (2002–8) never achieved spectacular ratings or won an Emmy, journalists and critics frequently describe it as the best show that has appeared on television. It won a number of awards, the most prestigious of which was a 2004 Peabody Award. Walter Benn Michaels, ...

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1. Situating The Wire

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pp. 9-30

The Wire’s critical acclaim is based on its social realism. For example, Jacob Weisberg proclaims,
No other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature....

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2. The Parallel Economy

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pp. 31-62

The conclusion to season one demonstrates that The Wire works against the grain of traditional police drama in its refusal to allow the closing of the case to suggest victory: although some members of the Barksdale organization go to jail, business continues. Season two marks a more radical departure ...

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3. The System Is Broken

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pp. 63-82

The pursuit of profits over people, and of career advancement over substantive results, is one of the series’ themes, and its effect is traced across a number of parallel institutions: the police department, the drug-trafficking organization, political governance structures, the school system, and the media. ...

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4. Media, Social Justice, Community

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pp. 83-104

The Wire’s claim to significance is based on its commitment to social realism and its willingness to tell a “truth” about crime and justice that is obscured by both other popular culture and mainstream discourses about crime. In this final chapter, I want to consider The Wire’s relationship to its audience and the question of whether its nuanced depiction of the drug culture...


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pp. 105-110


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pp. 111-116


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pp. 117-125


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pp. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780814335932
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814335901

Page Count: 136
Illustrations: 20
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: TV Milestones Series
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OCLC Number: 847609583
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Wire

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Subject Headings

  • Wire (Television program).
  • Neoliberalism -- United States -- 21st century.
  • United States -- Social conditions -- 21st century.
  • United States -- Economic conditions -- 21st century.
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