The Wire Final Season

Week 5: An Obit for Hungry Man
Talking television.
Feb. 4 2008 3:30 PM

The Wire Final Season

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Dear Jeff,

That's disappointing about Marlo's phone. I was hoping they would use the number for opportunistic Wire marketing, selling ringtones from Anwan "Slim Charles" Glover's Backyard Band and vintage copies of the Baltimore Sun, from back when David Simon was still working there.

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Gus and Alma's exchange about Joseph Stewart was wonderful. In fact, it may have been even better than either of us noticed. Reader Joshua Levine writes in an e-mail that "one of the other four (?) names [Alma] cited was 'Hungerford,' who she said was found in some building off an alleyway (or something like that). That had to be Hungry Man, so Alma et al. were missing out on more than just who Prop Joe was." (Levine isn't certain about the exact line, and I don't have my DVD at the office to check the quote, so I hope some reader will write in with the correct dialogue.)

This is a random train of thought: Over the past five seasons, The Wire has shown us schools, drug dealers, politicians, unions, cops, and a newspaper. But it occurs to me, as we near its finish, that it has never really shown us young black men at work. It has brilliantly captured the no-choice lives of the young street dealers and the way in which the smartest and most ruthless of them make a career from drugs. But The Wire has never presented the alternative path. Many young black men in Baltimore (or Washington, or Chicago, or wherever) end up in crime, for lack of education, skills, and opportunity. But most of them don't. The unemployment rate for teenage black males—The Wire demographic—is an appallingly high 40 percent, but that still means 60 percent of them are employed. Among the poorest black teenagers, some join the Army, some work fast food or retail, some learn trades, some go on to college and professional careers. (And a few make it as cops: Bunk and Bunny Colvin were ghetto kids who worked their way out through the department.) Ignoring the working world of black men means The Wire shorts a key and tragic point about American life. The lives of the dealers are grim, but the lives of the working poor may be sadder still. There's little glamour serving chicken on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift at Popeyes, and it's hard (though perhaps not impossible) to make a career selling sneakers at Foot Locker. The world shuts out the young men who choose to go straight, just as it shuts out those who choose to sling heroin.  Only once has The Wire watched a black man try to enter the noncriminal job market: In Season 3, Cutty finds under-the-table work as a landscaper; in Season 4, he briefly dabbles in the growth industry of truancy enforcement. I wish The Wire had given us a few more young men trying to make it outside of crime, and let us see the bleakness of their world, too.

David

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