Breaking Down The Wire

Lost Children
Talking television.
Sept. 25 2006 3:02 PM

Breaking Down The Wire

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Steve:

I'm with you on the school stuff, but I'll get to that in a minute. You mentioned Carcetti's visit to the funeral, and his refusal afterward to participate in the photo op. Therein lies The Wire's brilliance: its unpredictability. Along with Carcetti, we've been growing increasingly cynical about the political process (though I suspect many of us were already there), and then, out of nowhere, his conscience gets him, even if just for a moment and even if it's tied up in the fact that he knows talking to reporters outside a funeral isn't the most politically savvy thing to do. Carcetti actually looked moved and unsettled after viewing the body. Could it be that he really cares?

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You're right, though, what separates this season from the others is that now we've entered an inner-city school. (Politics. Police. The Streets. And now school. The Wire is hitting on all cylinders the fissures of urban life.) I'm waiting for Prez to let it be known to the kids that he was a cop—that he's not easily messed with. But as you point out, he's not a cop's cop, and those kids I suspect will get that, and maybe even disrespect him even more. A kind of payback in their minds, I suppose. Well, we'll see what lies ahead.

Watching Michael get dissed by a drug dealer for caring about school, I couldn't help but think of Ron Suskind's book A Hope in the Unseen. Suskind (yes, the Suskind of more recent Bush-watching fame) followed a boy, Cedric Jennings, from inner-city Washington, D.C., who excelled in school and as a result was an outcast. He was seen as acting white, of sucking up to the Man. In the school Jennings attends, those who excel academically get their names listed on The Wall of Honor at the school, but many beg the principal not to put their names up there out of fear they're going to be ridiculed or, worse yet, assaulted by their classmates. You hit it on the nose: For some it's become hip to not care about school. But I've got to say one other thing on this point. You walk into a classroom in any inner-city school, and it immediately hits you that these kids are outsiders, or at least feel that way. They're dancing along the cliff's edge. And then you look harder, and you realize that within that group there are those who already have a foot off that precipice. Some have been seduced by the streets. Then there are those who—as in any classroom—just don't fit in socially. Those who have trouble making friends. Those who seem quirky. Or flighty. Or just different somehow. And so I was taken by the end of the episode when that girl who has a distant look about her (at some point, we've got to talk about the acting of these young kids, which is dead on) is endlessly ridiculed by one of the cool girls, and the fight—a rather one-sided one—ensues. I felt for both of them. The Wire manages to achieve the difficult feat of empathy from all perspectives. Hell, I even feel for Omar, who's so damn cocky about his stickup abilities he doesn't even feel the need to run from his heists. A leisurely walk does him just fine. Great storytelling is all about achieving empathy, even with the unsympathetic. Think of In Cold Blood. Or your second film, Stevie.

See you next week.

Alex

Alex Kotlowitz is author of There Are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River.

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