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The Wire, Season Two: Working-Class Sentiments

category international | anti-capitalism | opinion/analysis author Sunday March 28, 2010 05:14author by Keith Reidauthor email originalkeith at live dot ie Report this post to the editors

A compelling exploration of declining industry in contemporary America

Season two of The Wire, aired in 2003, explores working-class promises being broken in east-coast urban America. The series looks at the declining industry of Baltimore's docklands, and the implications for many working-class men, who are suffering the consequences of 21st capitalism.

Whoever has seen The Wire knows, without doubt, that this television series stands alone amongst some of America's drama-crime giants. The Wire's not just another American cop drama, where the battle between good and evil involves copious bullets and explosions, and in the end, good always triumphs. The Wire portrays, in great detail, the lived experiences of the citizens of Baltimore, Maryland, and the intricacies of inner-city urban life where poverty, drug abuse, and crime are rampant.

Season two of The Wire provides us with a sobering reminder of the complexities of 21st century capitalism, and the evils of postmodern neoliberalism. Season two focuses on the declining industry of Baltimore’s docks, where the local workers, called ‘stevedores’, are seeing less and less days employment, some seeing 72 days in the year. This is due to less cargo traffic; more and more ships are docking upriver at different ports, land in and around the port area is being sold off to private developers, and the local councils are letting the Baltimore docklands dilapidate and fall apart. As this deindustrialization is happening at a not-so-subtle rate, some of the stevedores are shown a video of Rotterdam port, by a private firm, where the latest technology in cargo transportation is being employed, with a result of “robots” replacing port workers. The company representative who shows the men this “horror movie” justifies the loss of jobs, by referring to the drop in numbers of on-the-job casualties. A nice short clip to boost stevedore morale.

Frank Sobatka, a stevedore who’s been working on Baltimore’s docks for many years, is acting as president of the port workers’ local union, part of the International Brotherhood of Stevedores. We see Frank throughout the series struggling desperately to keep Baltimore's docks alive, to provide his men with the work they need to survive. In order to carry out his aims, Frank needs to provide local politicians, and other individuals with connections, with some 'incentives', in the hope that improvements in Baltimore's docks will materialize soon.

In order to obtain these 'incentives', Frank, his son, Ziggy, his nephew, Nick, and some fellow stevedores, are dealing with a global criminal enterprise based in Baltimore’s docks. This criminal organization, headed by a man only known as “The Greek” (who we find out isn’t actually Greek), deals in activities such as smuggling, racketeering, and prostitution. Frank, with the help of his inner circle of fellow stevedores, ‘disappears’ ship containers that are of considerable interest to the Greek, where, in return, the Greek pays Frank for his 'contribution' to the business. Frank uses this money for carrying out the union's aims.

Here we see a vicious circle, where working-class men are forced into criminal activities, that only add to the disintegration of their city. You’ll see why when you watch the series (and you must watch it!), as things are a bit more complex than this article can elaborate on. The Greek and his organization are providing several Baltimore drug kingpins with illegal drugs, “right of the boat”.

We see in season two of The Wire working-class promises being broken. A job on the docks was once thought of as a 'job for life', a steady job that payed well. Not only do we see the ills of contemporary capitalism, but how these ills are intimately linked to other urban problems: gangs running wild, destroying the city with drugs; a struggling police department with limited resources and manpower to handle complex cases; and how privatization is a threat to civil democracy. Also, at the end of the first episode, you'll see something that’ll make you think twice about humanity.

The Wire doesn’t sugar-coat reality, it tells reality's story seen through the eyes of the people of Baltimore, and the America that got left behind while the other America prospered at the expense of the working-class. The Wire is essential viewing for anyone who holds a sympathetic outlook on humanity. Not only do we fall in love with "good police" (Baltimore lingo) and concerned citizens, but we fall in love with criminals, and it actually has an effect on us when something happens to these thugs. That’s how powerful The Wire really is; it doesn't make us think that there's two sides to every story, it presents us with a complex reality seen through more than two different subjective lenses.

Omar Little, Barack Obama’s favourite character, is a man worth checking out. Check all five seasons out, it’ll be money well spent.

author by Keith Reidpublication date Sun May 09, 2010 16:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for the good comments - just thought I'd write what I thought about The Wire and see what other people thought. Just after finishing my degree (anthropology + sociology actually) and I'm trying to make a career in writing/reporting.

author by Anthropologist.publication date Wed Apr 07, 2010 14:04author address author phone Report this post to the editors

All cities evolve and change .

Famously, upper class parts of London become the lower class areas in a few decades.

And vice versa.

"Donnybrook" is a word in the English language meaning a row among lower class rowdies in a lower class area.

Donnybrook Dublin 4 is now a posh address.

author by jimpublication date Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for the review.

I've just started watching the whole series lately. Pretty class.

author by Chrissiepublication date Wed Apr 07, 2010 09:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

We've lived without TV for years, but this review and other praise we've heard would tempt us to hire 'The Wire' on DVD.

author by tvjunkiepublication date Wed Apr 07, 2010 08:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for this review - it is a good read and offers an interesting analysis.

Shame its for a TV series that first aired seven years ago and has already been written about extensively...

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