February 28, 2008 1 Comment
The founder of Stuff White People Like mentions in this interview (HT: Steve Sailer) that the idea occurred to him as he and a friend were wondering why more white people don’t like The Wire and ‘wishing’ more white people did (‘wishing other white people liked X’ being a favorite ‘white people’ pastime, of course).
This threw me for a loop because my honest impression is that ‘white people’* love The Wire. Or at least they love talking about how much they love The Wire. They love to say things like “The Wire is the greatest television show in history” even if they are in their, like, 20s and cannot possibly be sufficiently familiar with a sufficient number of television shows to make that statement. If they have a blog, they love posting – repeatedly – sometimes more than once a day – with post subjects like “Wire-Blogging: ____” or some variation – about The Wire, how they love it, how it’s the greatest television show, what it proves about politics, what it proves about economics, what it proves about the universe, etc.
(cf. Matthew Yglesias)
You’d just think the author of Stuff White People Like would know that.
Because as we all know, and as the blog has so ably documented, ‘white people’ like proving that they aren’t racist, figuring out what’s best for poor people (and by implication black people), etc. The Wire embodies so many of these ‘white people’ aspirations in one tidy package: if you watch The Wire then you are automatically hip to the problems of the inner city, and have demonstrated that you are comfortable around black people (at least in TV-character form). I always assumed this was pretty much the only reason anyone would watch The Wire (which is a truly miserable, depressing, irredeemable show2) in the first place.
Speaking seriously for a moment though, the one thing I do wonder about The Wire is why it escapes being called racist. (Indeed, I even hear that actual black people like it – not that I would know.) This is a show in which the majority or at least plurality of characters are black criminals. Of those black criminals on the show who are not violent, the majority are addicted to drugs and essentially purposeless in life. A huge percentage of the black family life it portrays is dysfunctional. Conscience seems to be lacking even among characters we are meant to approve of, relatively speaking. Among the more successful black people we see, most of them are self-seeking if not corruptly swindling politicians.
Overall, in content The Wire resembles nothing so much as a horror show featuring ‘black people’ (as opposed to zombies or vampires) as the monsters. Transport a Klansman from the early 1900s and force him to view The Wire and he would surely see it as more than a vindication of all his worst nightmares and most racist thoughts. All defenses/apologia for the show seem to consist of solemnly declaring “But that’s reality, man. That’s the way things really are.” But doesn’t this only make it worse? Stepin Fetchit is considered a racist stereotype; what if, on top of that, everyone went around gaping at how “real” he was?
Yet ‘white people’ tune into this thing every week and pat themselves on the back for the racial awareness and progressivity it endows them with. How can this be? If this thing were produced & funded by David Duke it would be recognized as vicious propagandistic anti-black slander. So I suspect it escapes the racism charge because The Wire is made largely by ‘white people’, David Simon and HBO (rather than being made simply by white people). This would also explain why Simon insists on having black cameramen, etc.; he needs to demonstrate that it’s not made by white people.
But that’s just a working theory.
*‘white people’ here denotes the subgroup of people that is the implicit subject of the blog Stuff White People Like, not white people in general.
2I’ve seen every episode of The Wire through Season 4 and will probably dutifully watch Season 5 when it comes out on DVD, like all other ‘white people’.
UPDATE 3/12: I was right!