New Criticals

The Wire and Philosophy: Part Two

The Individual and Society

"You got to keep the devil, way down in the hole." The refrain from the opening theme is an interesting mantra considering that The Wire is precisely about calling these "devils" out of their dark holes so that we may see and start to understand them, not only as individuals, but as products of a certain type of world. Who are these devils? Are they wholly evil and depraved? Or, once we start to see the "holes" from which they emerge, might we start to have some sympathy for these devils? What do Avon, Stringer, Omar, Bubbles, Sobotka, The Greek, Marlo have to say, not only about themselves, but about us and the social conditions that makes possible such "devils"? Let these devils come out their holes to speak—let us listen fully attuned.

There are two ways that we must "listen" and "understand" the devil: 1) as an individual, 2) as a product of the social, economic, political, and historical environment that preceded them and surround them. Though all individuals must be understood as being dual-sided in this way, the criminal is perhaps more interesting and important because he represents most explicitly the ways in which the many "sides" of a person—individual and social, independent and dependent, past, present, and future—collide, fissure, break down entirely. Crime does not only reveal a psychology but a sociology, and the criminal is a refraction whereby we best "see" the spectrum of influences that constitute an "individual" as such.