The Wire As A Window To Understanding Jesus

I’m a huge fan of the HBO show The Wire.  The themes, the plots and the character development are great.  For those who don’t know, The Wire was filmed over five seasons covering themes such as inner city drug culture, the war on drugs, policing, post-industrial union struggles, political culture, education and, of course, the corruption involved in all of these things.  In The Wire, there really aren’t any happy endings, at least not according to the normal cop shows and movies put out by Hollywood.  In fact, there’s no strong sense of resolution, things just carry on as usual with new people doing the same old things.  The great part of the show is that the dualism of good guys versus bad guys isn’t really apllicable as it displays the real life complexities of the various characters.  For instance, there’s a fine line, if any, between the elites and the leaders of the drug gangs.  Similarly, the police are often breaking the law in order to enforce the law.  One character, Omar, goes so far as to tell a defense attorney (while in court) that they do the same: rob drug dealers.  One has a gun and the other has a brief case.

The creator of The Wire, David Simon, has said that the show has been a great hit amongst the rank and file police and workers in government. Interestingly enough, he has also noted that the higher ups in the said institutions hate the show.  In large part it’s because it shows that those in the higher echelons of power are more often than not concerned more about their careers and how they look rather than the people they serve.  What we witness is a sort of corrosive force at work on persons who in some instances began their journey with good intentions of helping but nonetheless get swept away.  This becomes quite apparent in the character, Tommy Carcetti, who rises to power as Mayor of Baltimore.

David Simon shared that they drew upon Greek works of tragedy when they were creating the Wire.  Instead of the characters being beholden to the whims of the gods (as is the case in Greek tragedy), they are instead beholden to the whims of the “system.”  The system keeps going devouring and building up whoever is in its sights.  It is too big to fail, it must work, it is bureaucratic dehumanization and it disposes of anyone who gets in its ways.  But it rewards those who play by its rules.  It’s about people, it’s about numbers, about looks, about manipulation and currying favor.  Honesty and humility are not valued traits.  What’s more, it continually eats its own.  One witnesses with characters like Tommy Carcetti a man losing his soul to the system as he climber higher and higher.  Always under the auspices that if he gets higher he’ll be able to make a bigger difference.  Unfortunately, the higher (he) they go the more favors they need and therefore the more favors that must be returned.  Sounds like those in Washington and those who run for high offices like the presidency.  Beholden to donors and lobbyists.

The Wire seems to confirm Jesus’ words that he who would save his life will lose and he who would lose his life will save it.  What’s even more apparent is that it would seem to confirm Jesus’ words that greatness will not come from climbing the social ladder but rather by going down that very ladder.  To climb the ladder is to lose one’s soul, is to scandalize as Jesus warns his disciples of in the gospel of Luke (ch. 17).  While those at the bottom may seem inconsequential their souls and their humanity remains intact.  I suppose this is what Jesus was getting at when he said that the last shall be first and first shall be last or that the humbled shall be exalted and the exalted humbled.

 

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