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by R. Asmerom

The Washington Post published a poetic and insightful piece by a doctoral student, Anmol Chaddha, and sociology professor William Julius Wilson, about the didactic value of  HBO’s landmark show “The Wire.” In a course on urban inequality, the teachers are using the show to examine and analyze the motives and institutions that fuel poverty and crime in the”inner city” cores of cities across America. The Wire successfully broke down the complexities of a fictionalized Baltimore and conveyed to its viewers how the proliferation of drug dealers is not isolated; indeed, it is connected to failing public schools, the  greed of politicians, and misguided policies, etc.

“A core theme of “The Wire” is that various institutions work together to limit opportunities for the urban poor. In its first season, the show focuses on the war on drugs, which it convincingly depicts as an ill-conceived undertaking whose outcome has been the mass jailing of nonviolent offenders. Cops such as Carver and Herc patrol the neighborhood and repeatedly arrest dealers on the corner; Wee-Bey, Avon and Cutty are in and out of prison throughout the series. But the community does not seem safer, and the drug trade has hardly been curtailed.”

Chaddha and Wilson contend that The Wire succeeds as a teaching source because “those  kinds of connections are very difficult to illustrate in academic works.” Indeed, The Wire, broke major ground in portraying the plight of so many who live in neighborhoods riddled with crime and although the show did not make it past 5 seasons, HBO’s commitment to supporting a program that did not command huge ratings but that which offered a rare level of quality African-American focused art is commendable. And, obviously, The Wire’s legacy will continue to live on as an important historical piece.

To read more about Harvard’s course, go to The Washington Post

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