Ever since Bill Simmons finally decided to stop being a dummy and watch The Wire and subsequently became one of those annoying people who doesn’t shut up about The Wire (I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t one of those people at times), I have a newfound sense of self-consciousness whenever I think of making a The Wire reference. On the one hand, it is a fantastic show that deserves to be quoted and discussed ad infinitum. On the other hand, over the years I have noticed that just about all of the things Bill Simmons holds dear tend to produce a metallic taste in my mouth. Now, in some cases, I don’t know whether I disliked the things Simmons likes before he made clear he likes them or if his liking them is a precondition for me disliking them — it is probably some dialectical interaction of the two.
Then, of course, there are the truly perverse lengths to which Jason Whitlock takes his fetishization of the show. With him, things have reached reached the point where someone needs to douse him in cold water and remind him that The Wire is, indeed, a work of fiction (albeit one with a strong social realist aesthetic) and that he is not Stringer Bell.
Making The Wire references used to be the way the city-dwelling, Chomsky-reading intellectual flaunted his cultural literacy. It was a way of signaling one’s membership in a certain “in-crowd”. But now that Bill “Teen Wolf” Simmons has watched the show and has given it his typical “the world began when I was born” Bill Simmons treatment, The Wire references feel as if they have been reduced to the level of mindless Anchorman one-liners. Any-goddamn-one can quote Omar Little out of the blue with no context, that’s no fun. What is fun for me is having a three hour conversation about how the socio-economic forces at work in West Baltimore parallel those that are at work more slowly on the docks, as shown in Season Two. What is fun for me (and kinda disturbing, actually) is reading about a drop in crime in the paper and cynically assuming that the numbers were fudged on orders from the Mayor. What is fun for me is noting that an unnamed city or state politician is “just like Clay Davis” and having people know exactly which politician you are talking about and agree with you. And on the occasion I did drop a stray quote here and there, at least I could do so without having to worry about sounding like Bill Simmons.
Still feeling somewhat unsure of exactly what I was trying to say, it was at this point that I had Our Fearless Leader Carson read a draft of this post. As usual, he offered some comments that helped me clarify my own feelings on the matter. So here’s the point: I recognize how absurd it is for me to try to claim ownership over a widely-lauded show that was on HBO for six years. And yet, as absurd and irrational as it is, having lived my whole life in a city just like Baltimore in which many of the same processes are at work, I do kinda feel a sense of ownership over The Wire because it depicts the very things I see and think about on a daily basis. Now that one of the biggest “sportswriters” in the country has showed up late to the party and has started doing exactly what we have been doing for years, I feel like a third-generation resident of a neighborhood that has just been deemed “hip” by the gentrifiers. I also feel gross because for once I find myself liking something that is also liked by someone with whom I disagree so fervently, and whose cultural palate is so vastly different from my own.
If anything, though, I think this yucky feeling I have from liking something that Bill Simmons and Jason Whitlock also like speaks to the strength of Simon and Burns’s creation as a work of art. Insofar as The Wire mimics life so closely, it also serves as a Rorschach test of sorts, with people reading their own meanings into it. This is why people of all (or most) political stripes, from all over the country, and from all socio-economic backgrounds can enjoy the show. It’s just really, really good.
With that said, I will close with a The Wire reference. The real reason for this post:
“I’m just a gangsta, I suppose.” — Juan Pierre
(h/t to NotGraph reader “Resolution” for the image via Sons of Steve Garvey.)