The central theme of “The Wire” is a pretty bleak one: our institutions are dysfunctional and/or corrupt, and America’s cities were beyond salvation. So can you buy that basic premise of the show and be an Obama supporter? We asked that way back in February back when our beloved show was ending, and it’s a question that’s still worth kicking around. Obama’s message of hope and change was deeply at odds with the show’s argument that reformers become co-opted or are purged, that institutions grind people under to perpetuate themselves.
But it’s obvious now that you think you can or maybe even should; the Wire’s audience almost perfectly mirrors the demographics who make up the Obama coalition. (And, tellingly, it’s Obama’s favorite show.)
Case in point: last week, shani-o and I attended a discussion at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School about “The Wire” and urban crime. The panelists were David Simon, the show’s creator, and Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia. Simon launched into one of his trademark seething rants, lamenting (celebrating?) the end of American empire, blasting the War on Drugs and the systemic dehumanization of the people who live in America’s inner cities. (A deadpan Nutter: “Thanks, David. I met the [Phillies] at the airport. Just got a new hat. I was really having a bang-up day.”)
Then Simon got all weird. “That said, it would be nice if things got better,” he said to a hall full of chuckles. When he got back to Maryland, he said, he was gonna go door to door doing GOTV for the Obama campaign. Huh.
Nutter called the show the greatest show in the history of television (and, I know I belabor the point on this, but he’s sorta right); he screened the final episode in City Hall. He was decidedly more upbeat than Simon was — which obviously isn’t much of a challenge — even while agreeing on all the central points and flashing some indignation of his own. Nutter told the story of a man in Philly whose wife recently found him lying on the floor in the bedroom as he got ready to work, killed by a stray bullet that whizzed through the window. “If you are not safe in the second-floor befroom of you home, what kind of country is this?” he asked. “Yet we will spend 10 billion a month to chase some people who had nothing to do with the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.”
Unsurprisingly, that line went over really well. It was definitely an Obama crowd,* comprised of college students and a not-insubstantial smattering of people of color. (shani-o may correct me here, but I think it skewed pretty female, as well.) They both rolled their eyes at the criticism directed at city dwellers from the Republican presidential ticket (“Fuck small town values!” Simon spat), and pointed out that most Americans live in the orbit of large urban centers.
Afterward, I asked Mayor Nutter what, if anything, an Obama administration augured for America’s cities given Obama’s urban political pedigree. Nutter was optimistic. “It’ll be a good thing.”
Kinda vague. “I hadn’t heard him speak too directly to urban issues on the trail,” I said.
“Well,” Nutter countered, “He is trying to win.”
*Nutter endorsed and campaigned for HRC in the primary. “But things happen in politics, you make your piece with it and do what you can for the party,” he said.