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Date Published: 1/20/2011
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors


'We like them bitches on the chessboard'

Tragedy, Politics and The Wire

Mark Chou

I feel old. I've been out there since I was thirteen. I ain't never fucked up a count, never stole off a package, never did some shit I wasn't told to do. I've been straight up. But what come back? ... They want me to stand with them, right? But where the fuck they're at when they supposed to be standing by us? ... This game is rigged, man. We like them bitches on the chessboard.
-- The Wire


When The Wire, HBO's police drama series, ended its five season run in 2008, it had left viewers with a distinctly un-American message: the political, economic and social constructs at the heart of the American dream are now inseparable from its current state of decay. [1] Set in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, the series casts a systematic gaze over this post-industrial metropolis known, like many of her sister cities across the United States, for its crumbling economy, political ineptitude, bureaucratic morass, widespread crime, and racial inequality. From the city's drug trade and political bureaucracy to its portside, education system and news media, The Wire dramatizes the whole of a city and all the inhabitants who call it home. [2] Yet the picture it paints of American life, from the corridors of political power to the violent and lawless street corners, is not strewn with the familiar hues of optimism and progress that one commonly sees in portraits of contemporary America. Rather, the vision it portrays is patently tragic, miring viewers in a pessimistic and fatalistic worldview largely at odds with what we in the West have come to take for granted; key amongst them being notions like agency, progress, freedom, hope, and equality.

The Wire, in this sense, is no modern-day fairy tale, but rather a pre-modern tragedy. The themes and predicaments it brings to screen seem almost foreign. No television series, in form or content, has quite captured reality in the same way. This is not to say, however, that The Wire is without antecedents. The Wire does not reflect nor does it reaffirm the mindset shared by many HBO viewers -- even those accustomed to its edgy and offbeat programming -- because it does not follow after the footsteps of contemporary dramatists. Instead, its main source of inspiration stems from an earlier generation of dramatists known collectively for the art form they gave rise to: Greek tragedy. Being the West's first great tragedians, it was left to them to remind the city's citizens of their limits and, indeed, of the limits of humankind. One of their main preoccupations was the key role that fate played in determining human existence. According to this view, the subject is stripped of agency and reduced to -- in a manner of speaking -- a pawn on a chessboard. The fact that our best efforts can come to naught, even despite all indications to the contrary, suggests that our aspirations need to be reappraised and the very worst of our solipsistic inclinations jettisoned. The Wire rouses its viewers to the realization that these attributes of Greek tragedy -- foreign though they may appear at first -- are not merely peculiarities of a different world or antique past, but that they are very much a part of the world in which we live.

In this essay, I will conduct an analysis of The Wire through the lens of Greek tragedy in order to draw out and explore one of the series' central concerns: the political, economic and social decay confronting America today. My analysis will proceed in two broad steps: in the first section, I will briefly draw together the popular literature linking The Wire with Greek tragedy that has emerged in such outlets as the New Yorker, The Atlantic and Time Magazine. Numerous commentators, even series creator David Simon himself, have acknowledged Greek tragedy as one of the core guiding inspirations behind the creation of The Wire. Despite this, no scholarly analyses have yet examined the nature of these claims in full. [3] Speaking to this oversight, I will read The Wire as a modern-day Greek tragedy in the essay's second section. I borrow from a framework established by UC San Diego classicist Page duBois in her seminal New Literary History article, "Toppling the Hero: Polyphony in the Tragic City". [4] The rationale for this choice is because her conception and analyses of Greek tragedy draw out its capacity to offer us "more than nostalgia for the private, individual subject of modernity, cherished or lamented by many readers precisely because it is receding in a world of postmodern globalization." [5] This being the case, it may be worth our while to reread and revive these ancient texts, perhaps as The Wire has done, given how aptly they seem to capture the latent mood of our own times.

Greek tragedy and HBO's The Wire

Before I read The Wire as a modern-day Greek tragedy, I want to first foreground the links that bridge these two art forms. To begin with, it is worth noting that characterizations of The Wire have frequently fallen flat because as a series it resists simple characterizations. What at first sight, or at least in the first season, appears to be nothing more than a remake of the classic cops 'n' robbers genre quickly exceeded existing categories. The Wire is a crime show to be sure, but it examines the activities of Baltimore's criminal underworld from no less than five distinct viewpoints. The series seems to imply that criminals and the crimes that they commit can never be isolated from determinants like racial inequality, economic decline, political corruption, a flailing education system, and the public's general disregard for truth. The Wire throws light on all these problems and introduces HBO's predominantly white, middle-upper class audience to an entire cast of characters on both sides of the law.

On numerous occasions, the series creator of The Wire, David Simon, has stated that the series can be understood as a modern-day rendition of an ancient Greek tragedy. [6] More than any other influence it is Greek tragedy that provided the crucial framework around which The Wire's five seasons are structured. [7] As Simon explains, even though "[w]e want to believe that we are in control of our lives ... . when we started looking at where America was headed politically and economically," the insights of "Greek tragedy started making a lot of sense." [8] "[W]e're all complicit in a more-with-less culture, but also all cheated by it", writes James Ponewozik [9] and The Wire articulates this idea more effectively than any other show on television.

The Wire's references to this ancient art, however, are never made explicit. They are, instead, woven into the very fabric of the plot structure and character development. Indeed, the only time a Greek tragedy is ever referred to by name is in The Wire's final season. There, one of the series' most prominent yet corrupt politicians, Senator Clay Davis, is called to account for his dubious financial dealings and racketeering. At the footsteps of the Baltimore courthouse, reporters clamouring before him for a sound bite, he invokes, anachronistically at best, Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound in an effort to portray himself as the arch tragic hero who, falls to ill fate despite his good deeds. With a translation of Prometheus Bound in hand, the Senator expounds with typical eloquence: "In the words of Uh-silly-us, 'No good deed goes unpunished.' I cannot tell you how much consolation I find in these slim pages." With these words, he reminds the crowd gathered that he, like Prometheus, is "a simple man, who was horrifically punished by the powers that be for the terrible crime of trying to bring light to the common people." With what viewers know of the Senator, no knowledge of Greek tragedy is needed to know that he is misrepresenting himself (and, most likely, the tragedy as well). Viewers know that the Senator is far from the man he claims to be, far from Promethean.

The point that the Senator tries to make is one that the series makes at length. Those individuals with conviction, a sense of right and the urgency to do right even if it is, ultimately, for the wrong reasons -- like a Jimmy McNulty, Lester Freamon, Cedric Daniels, or Avon Barksdale -- all fall and fall hard. This applies to both cops and robbers, both to statesmen and the enemies of state. That is the point of Greek tragedy. And that was the point of The Wire: the realization that "those with integrity who tried to improve the system -- Daniels, McNulty, Freamon, and honest reporter Alma Gutierrez (Michelle Paress) -- are shut out of their institutions where their commitment could (or should) have made a difference." [10] The Wire shows how the political, economic and social institutions which were created to represent and protect citizens, ultimately end up compromising individual ingenuity, freedom and dignity -- all of which become the accepted costs of doing business.

The Wire can thus be understood as "a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces." [11] Today, the police department, political bureaucracy, education system, and news media -- institutions of social control -- have assumed a status similar to that of the gods in antiquity. What the series shows to us is that people today are no more autonomous than they were in Aeschylus', Sophocles' and Euripides' day. We have no greater control over our lives and destinies; we have no greater agency now than before. Despite the unparalleled scientific advances we have given birth to even in our own generations, wisdom remains an almost unattainable commodity. Knowledge continues to be imperfectly unfurled over realms we have yet to grasp. Individual subjectivity and sovereignty are our modern myths; concepts which post-industrial institutions like the police department, drug trade, political bureaucracy, education system and macroeconomic forces have constructed and worked to naturalize. [12]

Ironically, then, it is these institutions of modern life -- which have replaced the Olympian forces of antiquity -- that now rob modern beings of our unique subjectivity and sovereignty. [13] "Every single moment on the planet, from here on out," Simon is famed for saying, "human beings are worthless." [14] That is the tragedy: in a world in which individual worth and potential are constantly reinforced and the official political discourse speaks of teleological development and rational understanding, the opposite is in fact true. The Wire dramatizes how postmodern institutions limit the autonomy of all individuals -- from the occupants of City Hall to the pushers and addicts on the city's street. Individuals who think they are in control of their destinies, thus, are unfortunately misguided.

Reading The Wire as a contemporary Greek tragedy: modern enslavement, the politics of mourning and the chorus of the city

Despite these allusions, though, there have been no sustained scholarly analyses of The Wire as a contemporary Greek tragedy. In an effort to redress this oversight, I want to offer a broad but systematic reading of the series that highlights just why and how commentators have so adamantly drawn links between this postmodern television series and a form of premodern drama lost to all but the specialists.

At the outset, it is worth noting that Greek tragedy is similar to The Wire in the sense that both confound sweeping generalizations and simplistic definitions. But that is not to say there are no defining features and characteristics that mark out the dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and HBO's The Wire. One in particular -- the one I want to emphasize in my subsequent reading of The Wire as a contemporary Greek tragedy -- is crucial: the capacity they both have to draw the city's attention to the lives and predicaments of those who, by design or default, have found themselves publically marginalized, silenced or forgotten. Greek tragedy is as much about the downfall of great heroes as it is about the rise to prominence of the city's lowly and outcast. When fortunes are reversed, for no apparent reason than that of the gods' pleasure, leaders of men stumble. Women, children and the city's slaves are left in the wake and they emerge as unlikely successors. The Wire, in this respect, is no different. Characters as Bubbles, D'Angelo Barksdale and Omar Little, characters who at first glance seem completely deserving of the monikers which society has labelled them with: addict, gangster and outlaw. However, The Wire offers each redemption, albeit in an atypical fashion. It also endows them with a distinctive voice, one that carries with it an uncommon wit, humour and clarity. Implicitly, the centrality of their place in the world of The Wire works to censure the profligacy of mainstream society.

Ultimately, Greek tragedy is based on "the dialectic between part and whole, between individual and collective" [15]; that is, it is the polyphony of the entire city that resounds in tragedy. As UC San Diego classicist Page duBois claims in, "Toppling the Hero: Polyphony in the Tragic City," Greek tragedy repeatedly diverts the audience's gaze from the city's heroic figures, who in their hubris are liable to destroy themselves, by foregrounding three things commonly marginalized in public consciousness. [16] The first of which is the haunting presence of the enslaved within the city-state: the anonymous underclass of outcasts whose lives have been made dispensable in order to preserve the city's grandeur. The civic presence of these individuals, who remain bound by the very institutions which enable others to be free, can disrupt the princely existence of those whose abundance has been wagered at their expense. The prominence that Greek tragedy gives to the slave can, therefore, help to raise crucial ethical questions which explicitly implicate the supposed superiority of the free. The second feature duBois points to is the place of mourning in the corpus of Greek tragedy. Collective, public mourning enacted by the civic body can rupture the political order as well as the supremacy proclaimed by the city, in part, because what is being mourned in tragedy is the very destruction, if not the fallacy, of that political order and the supremacy proclaimed by the city. What statesmen by nature attempt to discourage, for fear that it will infect the civic body, is entertained freely within these corrupting plays. Finally, the third characteristic that duBois identifies is the ability of tragedy to dramatize the predicaments of the tragic Chorus: the "collective, diverse, and heterogeneous" realities of those who defy the homogeneity and cohesion of the city. [17] Occupying a universe distinct to the city's statesmen, dignitaries, citizens, and soldiers, the Chorus captures the principles, dilemmas and predicaments which consume the collective, not just one single protagonist or citizen -- however heroic and important he or she may have been.

Using duBois' three traits as a framework of analysis -- the haunting presence of the enslaved, the politics of mourning, and the centrality of the Chorus?I will show how The Wire can be understood as a contemporary Greek tragedy. Central to my analysis lies the question: to what extent does The Wire say anything about the polyphony of the tragic city in which it is set? How does it topple the hero and bring to stage the polyphony of our own cities? By reading The Wire in light of the polyphony of the city, what we effectively tap into is Greek tragedy's enduring legacy: the "heterogeneous, unstable, polymorphous kind of reading that might well speak to Postmodernity, or a globalizing world of increasingly polarized power and powerlessness." [18] In tragedy, as duBois argues, we are offered the chance to uncover a myriad of other stories, characters and voices which now all matter in our world of postmodern globalization. In an article aimed at toppling the heroes of the ancient world in favor of the polyphony of the tragic city, duBois intimates to modern audiences that we too must do the same to our own heroic figures: the political elite, the nation-state, multinational corporations, and the vast array of international organizations in favor of those whose stories are drowned out by the incessant hum of "transnational corporate power." [19] This is why Greek tragedy remains an important source of insight even today and why it is interesting and important to draw out the links between The Wire and Greek tragedy.

Modern enslavement: the burial of Polyneices and Omar

According to duBois, there are three main characteristics of the ancient Greek institution of slavery: "the spectre of social death, anonymity, and ethnic difference." [20] As such, whether toiling in domestic homes, laboring on farms and in factories or just complying with their masters' orders, slaves assumed an essential, if invisible, role within the city-state. No city could survive without its entrenched slave economy, especially a democratic one. [21] And yet, as fundamental as they were to the effective running of a city, slaves were denied any civic rights and democratic privileges. For all intents and purposes they were categorized as barbarians and as social corpses, devoid of any individual subjectivity; in other words, they were the embodied Other. With their destinies always dictated for them by an external authority -- the citizen, the dignitary, the policymaker, or the soldier -- they lacked any distinct public identity. Greek tragedy, however, was notorious for bringing to stage not only heroic personas facing debilitating existential choices; it frequently also reminded the audiences gathered that all was not as it seemed.

Despite being lauded in contemporary popular culture as an age of equality and freedom, Athens was also a hotbed of xenophobia, patriarchy, imperialism, and of course, slavery. [22] For all its advances, in this respect, democracy had severe limits. Reflective of this was the fact that democracy extended only to the citizen, which at the time precluded women, youths, foreigners, and the slaves which sustained the city. [23] Such individuals, consequently, could not participate, vote or rule in the polis. A crucial function of tragedy was to give voice to these individuals and to the issues that mattered most to them. It offered a public voice and political personality to those who had none. It reminded the city's elite of those they had made subservient to them. In short, it gave center stage to those who were, at once, the city's slave and its savior.

For duBois, the slave brought the predicaments of the marginalized into starkest relief. Not only were these individuals not free, they had no social identity -- being thought of instead as a faceless collective. They were the lowest of the low: barbarians and foreigners. But through tragedy, their stories were dramatized before the citizenry. [24] Depending on the social and political context in which it was enacted, tragedy would champion, question or criticize the democratic polis. A friction would always be created to draw out, among other things, the relationships between democracy, patriotism, patriarchy, xenophobia, domination, imperialism, and slavery. It was in this context that Greek tragedy often enacted the heroism of marginal characters, such as those of the city's slaves, and the issues which occupied their existence.

The Wire, though not explicitly concerned with the institution of slavery, can nevertheless be viewed as a metaphor for modern enslavement. None of the series' more than 65 main characters could be said to be truly free. Instead, as Charlotte Higgins writes, "The Wire's characters tend to be powerless in all kinds of crucial ways, hampered from full freedom of will and action ... . They are trapped in their circumstances, and the narrative offers them little chance for redemption or escape." [25] Baltimore's power brokers -- those who populate the corridors of authority downtown, like Clarence Royce and Tommy Carcetti, the city's two Mayors -- are made to seem no freer than the city's predominantly black underclass. That is, neither the powerful nor the powerless are particularly free. Try as they might to emancipate themselves, individuals inevitably form part of a larger cycle that, The Wire claims, dooms us all to a mode of modern enslavement. [26] Insofar as they are either enslaved by power or by poverty, The Wire's characters are analogous to pre-modern slaves. Like slaves in ancient Greece, the city's homeless, black and drug-addicted citizens are also evocative of the spectre of social death, anonymity, and ethnic difference to those in City Hall. The reverse, however, is also true. In the eyes of a dockworker like Ziggy or a gangster like Marlo and even to the school kids who Colvin introduces to high society dining, the world of the 'white man' -- whether it be a downtown politician or policeman -- could not appear any more strange, decrepit or threatening.

The Wire suggests that the ancient Greek institution of slavery continues to this day. Whereas slavery then was intrinsically linked to the political economy of the city-state, today it is the insidious institutions and practices of neo-liberal capitalism which enslave. [27] "Capitalism", Simon makes clear, "is the ultimate god in The Wire. Capitalism is Zeus." [28] Far from altruistic, though, capitalism is portrayed as a cruel deity that remains indifferent to whom or what is rendered redundant in the process. In a speech he gave at a Liberty Hill Foundation award ceremony, Simon confirmed that "The Wire spoke to a world in which human beings -- individuals -- matter less, a world in which every day, the triumph of capital results in the diminution of human labor and human value." [29] In the post-industrial age, capital respects little else other than money, least of all those who labor. [30] In this respect, the tragic demise of Stringer Bell -- second in command to Avon Barksdale -- towards the end of season three speaks of his inability to win legitimacy in the capitalist economy despite his apparent ability to manipulate the means of production. [31] He is no less a pawn of the capitalist system than the soldiers of his drug empire are of the street corner.

Against this broad construct, The Wire demonstrates that life is not improving for the vast majority of Americans; it may in fact be getting worse. [32] It is not always individual people who are to blame. Like Frank Sobotka and his men, whose livelihoods have become yoked to a dying dockside economy, labor is what seems to keep us in our ruts. It is not so much any single individual but the system as a whole that has malfunctioned. [33] Drawn in and then spit out by a vicious systemic cycle of greed and exploitation, individuals are left with little to no alternative. The Wire's characters represent modern-day slaves: "America's 'lost' people -- its invisible, ignored, or internally displaced non-white urban populations" -- a term which Michael Harrington used in 1962 to refer to 'The Other America'. [34] Their presence continues to haunt HBO's predominantly white, middle-upper class American audience.

The spectre of social death, anonymity and ethnic difference represented by the slave is perhaps best shown in the series' final season, with the death of Omar Little. While he is arguably the most liberated of all The Wire's characters, his death is the most evocative in this regard. Indeed, it is the portrayal of his death that best captures the haunting presence of a modern slave. But for this example to make sense, a brief preface is required, which duBois offers in her discussion of Sophocles' Antigone. Quoting Robert Goheen, she writes: "the language of slavery in the play is linked to bestial imagery ... 'Antigone claims that Polyneices is entitled to burial precisely because he was not a slave.'" [35] Due to the fact that he was not a slave but heir to the Theban throne -- or so Antigone's reasoning goes -- he deserves burial: his rightful passage to the underworld. In other words, had he not been son of Oedipus and brother to Antigone, rather just a nameless slave, his fate -- to rot and be devoured by the birds of prey -- would have been entirely justified. Antigone would have had no just cause for her seditious actions because, ultimately, slaves deserve no better. At this interval, we can finally understand why, for duBois, the spectre of social death, anonymity and ethnic difference capture the slaves' predicament so well. Their deaths -- unburied and unmourned -- cement their afterlives as no different to the lives they led on earth. They remain faceless individuals with no unique political identity or rights.

In their astute analysis entitled 'Requiem for Snot Boogie', CW. Marshall and Tiffany Potter begin their discussion on the death of Omar Little vicariously through the life and death of Snot Boogie, a character who is found dead on the street, having been murdered for robbing a craps game. [36] Snot is a character that, to the viewing audience, has neither a history nor an identity. He is a nobody. Given this, all McNulty can do is speculate as to why he became known simply as Snot. All that is known for a fact is that Snot was murdered and that, in the absence of further evidence, he will likely become another of Baltimore's faceless homicide victims, just another murder statistic. It is strange, therefore, that the entire scene -- the opening sequence of the first ever episode of The Wire -- dwells on this seemingly inconsequential figure. The viewer only sees his face momentarily before a haze sets in and the opening credits roll.

The question then arises: why the focus on Snot? Why frame the very first scene of the entire series with his corpse? The answer, as Marshall and Potter argue, is revealed when McNulty lets slip in passing that Snot's real name is Omar Isaiah Betts. The name, of course, is meaningless to viewers at that point. Only later, as the series unfolds, will its true significance become clear. In this sense, there is both a meaning and meaninglessness to this scene. Meaninglessness because it depicts a body with which the viewer has no particular affinity; Snot is simply another unknown youth gunned down in the streets of West Baltimore. But meaning comes later: when the astute viewer either realizes or deduces that Snot Boogie effectively signifies, or is the prototype for, Omar Little, a figure central to the world of The Wire. Both have a name, a story and a legacy. And yet, both in the end are remembered only as a murder statistic, a body that is to remain unburied and unmourned. The Wire intimates that had it not dramatized the character of Omar Little as it did -- a character which U.S. President Barack Obama identified as his favourite character on television -- then his death may have been no different from that of Omar Isaiah Betts. [37] Had his story not been intimately chronicled, his would have merely been another body in the morgue. The point of this is to say that like Omar Little, Omar Isaiah Betts also has a story that is uniquely his own, a story that is worth telling and hearing. And so too do the countless bodies that lay dead or dying on the streets of Baltimore today.

However potent this message seems, though, the tragic dimensions of The Wire soon stop us short in our moment of reflection. Amidst the inversion and revelation, viewers are made to bear witness to the scene in which Omar Little is shot -- murdered by the young boy who in seasons past had idolized his Robin Hood heroics -- a scene which is devoid of all sentiment and meaning. His existence is simply erased -- like Omar Isaiah Betts -- from the world of The Wire with one gun shot to the head. As Marshall and Potter write,

When Omar [Little] is killed (5.08), the scene is harrowing because of its apparent emptiness for the larger meaning of the series ... . This loss is reinforced when the city paper declines to run the story of 'a thirty-four-year-old black male, shot dead in West Baltimore grocery.' The presumed interest of the broader Baltimore community is reflected in this decision, and so the news media further undermine the identities of residents of the projects. [38]

We are, therefore, reminded in this scene of the precariousness of life today: especially for those like Omar Isaiah Betts and Omar Little, individuals who in our eyes suffered a social death long before their physical deaths. Though we have lived through the eyes of the latter, Omar Little lives a life and dies a death that is no different from Omar Isaiah Betts. The Wire's creators thus suggest there are Omars everywhere, dead and dying, whom we could not care less about.

In one final scene, we see Omar's body in the city's morgue. It is his final resting place. All that identifies him now from the countless bodies there is a name tag, one which was initially misplaced on another body. His murder will remain unaccounted for. He, unlike a Polyneices or McNulty, is no white man and in possession of nothing that the society around him cherishes. He dies without ceremony, without burial; that is, he dies a slave's death, in the ancient Greek sense.

When the towers tell: the politics of public mourning

The second feature of Greek tragedy that duBois draws our attention to is the politics of mourning. Mourning, according to her, was considered a threat to the "homogenous civic community" because it could be disruptive of the polis' political cohesion and legitimacy. [39] As a result, public lamentation was typically discouraged or contained by those who ran the city. With no political vocabulary that could adequately cope with prolonged mourning, it had to be relocated to the private realm or meaningfully co-oped by the public discourse, if it was not to destroy the polis' collective belief in progress, strength and beauty. In this sense, unrestrained mourning was anti-political. And acts of mourning could call into question the proclaimed supremacy of the polis. It cast doubt in the citizens' mind, making them question the supposed importance of past and future military sacrifice, of the polis as a benevolent guardian and educator, and, most of all, it made them question whether civic obedience, order and unity were actually maintained for the good of all. [40] In short, left unmanaged, mourning could trigger a "culture of pain" quite capable of eroding the very foundations of political community. [41]

This being the case, it was strange that acts of public mourning were purposely encouraged and enacted by the Greek tragedians during occasions of immense political significance. [42] Specifically, tragic drama tended to dramatize the lamentation of private figures -- the women, slaves, youths, and foreigners of the city -- and to make that the basis for public reflection and debate. Not only that, but it asked its audience to pause and reflect on the mourning of those who had in the past been considered enemies. A particularly apt example of this is Aeschylus' Persians, which is the only surviving tragedy which deals explicitly with a historical event -- the Greek victory over Persia at the battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. As such, the play explicitly depicts the mourning of foreigners for a predominantly Greek audience. Set in the Persian Royal court in Susa, Persians provides a most complex rendering of the Persians' torment in the aftermath of defeat, the very emotions of glory and loss experienced by the Greeks in that same war. [43] The Greek audience, therefore, was invited to draw on its own memories of horror, loss and grief to understand, at least recognize, the horror, loss and grief of the defeated Persians. The fact that Aeschylus asked his Greek audience to show empathy for the defeated Persians is remarkable because the Persians, only years before, had been the Greeks' number one adversary.

Mourning, in short, was a disruptive force for the Greeks because it brought to the fore the prospect of mortality, downfall and pain -- realities which no political community can thrive on for long. Mourning ruptured what ancient city-states (as well as modern nation-states) depended upon: the belief in their own superiority, strength and sense of purpose. Accordingly, when collectively experienced, mourning can corrupt a sense of civic optimism and the belief that things are continuously improving for the better -- that one's way of life is both worthy and worth living. When not appropriately channelled to support the perpetuation of the state, mourning has the potential to become destructive of it.

The Wire, unlike almost all American television series today, makes its viewers mourn for the gradual, perhaps inevitable decay of America's social values and political institutions -- a trajectory whose origins it identifies as being inseparable from the origins of the American Dream itself. It makes viewers mourn for the decline of the American empire as a whole and for those whose existence is caught up in its demise -- not merely for the destruction and loss of life that many attribute to the events of 9/11. [44] For some, such a message was simply too bleak, causing viewers to unnecessarily miss the good that is taking hold in Baltimore, America and the world more generally. [45] The Wire, its critics argue, is just too pessimistic. Why focus only on pessimism when there is cause for optimism too? The answer: pessimism "is older and more original than optimism" according to the logic of Greek tragedy. [46] Focusing on pessimism is what can liberate us from existing political discourses because it transcends existing political discourses.

To examine the issue of mourning in The Wire, I will limit my focus to one particularly affecting example: the politics of mourning that materialized after the fall of the Franklin Terrace Towers in the season three opener. This narrative strand, I argue, best captures the complexity of lamentation and questioned the broader politics of mourning which had, by then, imbued the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 with a particular "metaphysical or national-political" meaning. [47] As this episode begins, we see Bodie, Poot and Puddin walk into scene, talking about the Franklin Terrace Towers. Having featured so prominently in the Barksdale's drug empire in season one, the Franklin Towers are finally set for demolition. Baltimore Mayor, Clarence Royce, announces to local residents that the Towers, "which sadly came to represent some of this city's most entrenched problems", will give way to a "new Baltimore." As Royce details what the development will mean for the city as a whole, Bodie and Poot reminisce about the past, something which for Poot, more than Bodie, the Towers seem to symbolize:

Poot: I dunno man, I mean I'm kinda sad. Them Towers be home to me.

Bodie: You gonna cry about a housing project now? Man, they shoulda blow them motherfuckers up a long time ago if you ask me.

Poot: Man, it ain't always been bad. I mean I seen some shit up in them Towers that still make me smile, yo.

Bodie: You talkin' steel and concrete man, steel and fuckin' concrete.

Poot: No, I'm talkin' about people, memories and shit.

Bodie: Ain't the same.

Shortly after the boys arrive, Royce keys the destruction. They, along with those who have gathered, fall silent. Before them, the Towers explode and then collapse, one after the other. Almost immediately, thick plumes of smoke and ash descend to street level, engulfing the spectators who have come to see the spectacle.

In her shrewd breakdown of this scene, Elizabeth Bonjean argues that "[a]s at-home viewers, we are voyeurs of this fictional event, yet instantly are transported back in time to 11 September 2001 when Americans -- and the world -- witnessed the collapsing World Trade Center Towers." [48] Though the terrorist aspect was absent from this scene, the crumbling infrastructure of the Barksdale drug empire was very much as its center -- the war on drugs in this sense becoming an analogy for the war on terror. Indeed, both the war on drugs in The Wire and the war on terror in reality are evoked by the falling Towers. The same smoke that descends from the Franklin Towers and engulfs the inhabitants of West Baltimore in The Wire had only just a few years back engulfed the residents of Manhattan, after the collapse of the World Trade Center. Though subtle, the allusions are nonetheless powerful. In fact, only days before this episode went to air on 19 September 2004, the governors of New York and New Jersey along with the Mayor of New York City had erected the cornerstone for the new Freedom Tower set to replace the World Trade Center at Ground Zero. A crucial feature of the design, it was agreed, was a memorial that would be erected to "honor and remember those who lost their lives" -- a place of mourning and remembrance for the physical devastation, the loss of life and, perhaps, even for the destruction of a world that had supposedly come to an end on 10 September 2001.

Both the Bush Administration and government officials at all levels were quick to mobilize mourning at a collective level, recognizing the ability of unrestrained mourning to infect an already grief-stricken and confused community. As a result, acts of public mourning were strongly encouraged, though within strict parameters, as was nostalgia for the past. Being so heavily managed, mourning and nostalgia were liable to transform a society's recollection of the past and manipulate its action in future -- something which the Bush Administration perhaps counted on. When we recall the collapse of the World Trade Center today, and the chain of events that followed in its aftermath, what is foremost in the minds of many is the world that was somehow altered, or destroyed even, on the morning of 11 September 2001. In the years that followed, mourning 9/11 became not just about remembering the senseless destruction of life, nor was it solely about acknowledging American vulnerability and valorizing its resolve. Rather, it was also about a state-imposed sense of nostalgia: for the certainty, security and decency which had either been lost on 9/11 or in the insidious global conflict that quickly took hold. As the world woke up on 11 September 2001, we were reminded time after time, that it awoke to a world which was inexplicably new, a world that, in the view of many, had little resemblance to the one they had lived in just the day before. The supposed exceptionalism of 9/11, both actual and manufactured, marked it as an unprecedented moment in world history, one which literally changed everything.. [49] Nostalgia for the world that had existed previously soon became entwined with the one that was as yet unravelling.

When the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center fell, in other words, government officials and the news media were quick to portray it as "an interruption of the deep rhythms of cultural time, a cataclysm simply erasing what was there rather than evolving from anything already in place." [50] In time, the effective physical and metaphorical erasure of the past -- in one short day -- caused many to long for that past. It caused them to conjure up mythologized and romanticized images of that past, which was someway better, more civilized and more ordered, than the shadowy and dangerous reality they now faced. The effect of all this, though, was to instil a sense of national unity and purpose in opposition to the perceived external threat. As 11 September 2001 became transformed into 9/11, an idealized image of a stolen past was fused with the nation's right to fight for its return. [51] Mourning was manipulated by the state in service of its national interest.

The Wire, similarly, makes viewers long for a lost past that was destroyed with the demise of the Barksdale empire and the rise to power of Marlo Stanfield, which is marked by the falling of the Towers. In a separate, though not unrelated, scene from season three, Bunk reminds us of just that. Like Poot, he too mourns for a mythologized halcyon era where a structure, a game and rules by which it was played existed, and mattered. Speaking to Omar, Bunk recalls:

I was a few years ahead of you at Edmondson, but I know you remember the neighborhood, how it was. We had some bad boys, for real ... . As rough as that neighborhood could be, we had us a community. Nobody, no victim, who didn't matter. And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherfuckers like you ... . Makes me sick, motherfucker, how far we done fell.

Echoed in Bunk and Poot is the sentiment that as vicious and violent as the past was, a sense of community, decency and justice nevertheless prevailed -- skewed as it sometimes could be. We should mourn its demise and, together, fight for its return.

Yet when Bodie slates the past, which Poot and Bunk speak of as nothing but "steel and concrete", he flags for the viewing audience a broader conception of mourning that we, in our own societies, have tended to overlook; a nostalgia which has little to do with what the fall of the World Trade Center came to represent, or was made to represent, as a singular event. In reminding us of this past, he effectively undoes the cohesion and purpose garnered in the aftermath of 9/11 and unleashes a socially corrosive form of mourning that was quickly discouraged by the Bush Administration. We get a glimpse of what Bodie means in a scene which sees him open up to McNulty:

I feel old. I've been out there since I was thirteen. I ain't never fucked up a count, never stole off a package, never did some shit I wasn't told to do. I've been straight up. But what come back? ... They want me to stand with them, right? But where the fuck they're at when they supposed to be standing by us? ... This game is rigged, man. We like them bitches on the chessboard.

This passage, unlike the previous two, reveals that what Bodie mourns most for is a loss of meaning, which took place long before the Towers fell. The sense of tragic nihilism he speaks of here has always existed, even before Avon Barksdale's day. In fact, if we recall, D'Angelo Barksdale -- a tragic figure who falls by his own words -- told him as much in The Wire's first season: "Look, the pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out early." And while Bodie may not have believed it then -- choosing instead to think that "Unless they some smart-ass pawns" -- he does now. Marlo Stanfield's new order makes overt what has always implicitly been there.

The only difference, therefore, between then and now is not one of quality but quantity. The decline of the Barksdale empire -- represented by the fall of the Franklin Towers -- merely quickened and intensified a nihilism that has long existed. In the new order epitomized by Marlo Stanfield, what was broken, unjust and hollow merely became more so. It is not a dichotomy that marks the pre- and post-Tower world but, rather a continuity, which is a notion central to The Wire's implicit commentary on the events of 9/11. Even when the series gestures at the domestic socio-political changes which set in, specifically as a consequence of the War in Iraq -- FBI reprioritizing from the war on drugs to the war on terror being amongst The Wire's most explicit and recurrent references -- it ultimately reaffirms a sense of sameness, or continuity. Analogies between Baltimore and Fallujah, made by policemen and politicians within the series, only further accentuate this point: war destroyed Fallujah; what destroyed Baltimore? This is all brought to bear in one particularly incisive scene in The Wire. As Helena Sheehan and Sheamus Sweeney recount in their analysis,

[i]n one instance, an INS agent points out a sign for the Department of Homeland Security [where previously a sign for Immigration and Naturalization Service had hung] and asks McNulty if he feels any different. McNulty admits that he didn't vote in the 2004 election, because neither Bush nor Kerry had any idea of what was going on where he works. [52]

In the Baltimore in which McNulty lives and works, the changes that are broadcast on the national news, by bureaucrats and in the corridors of power just miles away in Washington D.C. seem almost beside the point. Things have changed, only ostensibly. Everything else remains the same. Or, as Erika Johnson-Lewis comments in her critique of The Wire, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." [53] And that is the precisely the series' point.

Too much has been made of how 9/11 and the ensuing global struggle against terrorism has somehow hearkened in or is representative of the decline of the American empire. While it would be altogether fraught to claim that nothing has changed, it is also true that the world which existed before 11 September 2001 continues to exist still, both within the U.S. and elsewhere. For the vast majority of the world's population -- perhaps even for the vast majority of the population within the U.S. -- 9/11 was or merely became a blip on the screen. Yet this was something rarely publicized on the national news, by bureaucrats and in the corridors of power in the years following 11 September 2001.

When Simon said that The Wire is about the "decline of the American empire" he was not, as such, solely or even necessarily referring to the events of 9/11 and the war on terror. [54] The rot he was speaking of, which Bodie laments and viewers see on the streets of Baltimore, has its origins much deeper and much earlier. They are as entrenched and go as far back as James Truslow Adams' 1931 invocation of the American Dream; a moniker Omar has emblazoned across his t-shirt in one episode of season two. Adams writes, in The Epic of America, "of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement." [55] But that dream, as Immanuel Wallerstein claims in The Decline of American Power, "is not an exact representation of reality." [56] It never was. What 9/11 did, or at least should have done, was to shatter that fantasy, being itself a product of that fantasy. The American Dream, or rather the fallacy of the American Dream, for Wallerstein, is and has long been consonant with the limits of American military might, its economic imprudence, the dangers of American nationalism, the contradictions of its civil liberties tradition, and the global wave of anti-Americanism -- all of which predate the events that took place on 11 September 2001. [57] "The Wire", as Sheehan and Sweeney argue, "can be read as a realization that the U.S. must come to terms with the fact of its descent in the world. Neither the nation itself nor its individual citizens can go on pretending." [58] This descent was one of the causes of 9/11 and the insidious political milieu that followed, not the reverse. As Wallerstein wrote in 2003, "[t]his belief that the end of U.S. hegemony has already begun does not follow from the vulnerability that became apparent to all on September 11, 2001. [ ... ] It was merely one important event within a trajectory that began much earlier, and will go on for several more decades." [59]

Today, we cannot therefore forget the lives lost to 9/11 nor what the fall of the Twin Towers came to represent more broadly for world politics. As Poot and Bunk so rightly say, they are important and should be mourned. But what is also important -- though all too frequently forgotten -- is the need to mourn for the greater loss of meaning that marks our society, the origins of which occurred long before the Twin Towers fell. This is not easy to do and goes against a broader political construct that has, perhaps until recently, worked "hard to prevent us from looking soberly at what happened" for fear that we might stumble onto the source of the rot: that "[t]he economic, political, and military factors that contributed to U.S. hegemony are the same factors that will inexorably produce the coming U.S. decline." [60] This predicament existed prior to 9/11 and continues to exist after it. By reminding us that this is so, The Wire achieves something few public figures and media of popular entertainment did in the years proceeding 11 September 2001: to make us mourn for more than what was lost when the Twin Towers fell.

The chorus of the city: from the corner to the city

The third and final characteristic which duBois alludes to in her framework is the place of the Chorus within Greek tragedy. Tragic Choruses, she reminds us, captured individual, social and political diversity. They embodied "striking strangeness, inassimilability, and representations of difference" within the polis; that is, they were a composite of the city in its entirety. [61] They also offered, as Alvin Gouldner notes, a form of release from the rational, subjective and subdued self valued within certain quarters of Greek civilization. [62] The Choruses embodied individuals who had been marginalized, repressed, exploited, and then forgotten by mainstream society: the weak, old, alien, servile, and fallen. Through them, audiences could see what life was like from the perspectives of those they rarely came into contact with. The point of seeing such figures, and hearing their unheard voices, was to allow individual audience members the opportunity to invert their reality with the reality of someone else and to confront that inversion even with its manifest sense of unease. [63] It was through confrontations like these that authorized the "freedom of others' points of view [to] reveal themselves." [64]

By representing an experience different to the tragic hero's -- which would have already been familiar to many within the city -- tragic Choruses depicted the collective experience. [65] Often amorphous entities played by some 15 actors, Choruses conveyed a disparate assortment of fears, hopes and opinions of the polis as a whole. Indeed, the message expressed by the Chorus was not set and often oscillated throughout the tragedy as a counterweight to the perspective of the hero. The Chorus did not articulate a simple or clear message, but rather portrayed diverse and chaotic emotions. Tragedy instituted Choral lyric and dance to express what could not be definitively captured in prose; it expressed what logical reasoning could not.

In The Wire it is the city of Baltimore and its many inhabitants that come together as its Chorus. They are those who comprise its large and diverse ensemble cast, those who populate its numerous scenes and street corners. No single character is, in this sense, more prominent than the corner, the projects or the entire city where the plot narrative unfolded. As a consequence, The Wire is unique amongst contemporary television series for its capacity to "enact a plurality and multiplicity of voices." [66] Sophie Fuggle, in her analysis, even invokes the Bakhtinian notion of heteroglossia to encompass the "multiplicity of different voices, perspectives and discourses" conveyed through The Wire's more than 65 main characters; fictional representatives of a diversity of stories, characters and voices which, in reality, can be found both at the center and at the periphery of Baltimore's social, political and economic establishments. [67] The heterglossia which we hear in The Wire is the same heteroglossia represented by the tragic Choruses of antiquity.

In this vein, it is perhaps the sounds that emanate today from America's post-industrial cities which the series concentrates most on. That, and how its citizens -- diverse and disparate as they are -- struggle to live together. [68] For this reason, we can go so far as to name the entire city, that is to say, the composite of all its inhabitants, as The Wire's central character. Through the use of unusually wide camera shots, which capture the social and physical environment it seeks to portray, The Wire remains faithful to Simon's cinematic and political philosophy of "staying wide" and "showing the world." [69] In so doing, it throws the proximity of Baltimore's very distinct worlds into stark relief: from the street corners of West Baltimore to the ports that overlook Baltimore's harbour to the new luxury apartments that now overlook it all; from the Mayor's office downtown to the windowless basement and deserted factory buildings where Freamon, Prez and Daniels -- Baltimore police adamant on uncovering the city's rot -- set up their wiretaps. There is a beauty that can grow out of this decay. The one cannot survive without the other. [70]

Despite the specificity of The Wire's setting, there is a distinct sense that Baltimore could almost be any city, even a Beirut or Fallujah, as several of the series' characters suggest. When even Baltimore Mayor Tommy Carcetti sees corridors of his own city as being no different to "fucking Fallujah," it suggests that a reappraisal of the very foundations of our own society is needed. Seen in this light, Baltimore acts only as a microcosm of the strangeness, inassimilability and difference that exists, more broadly, at the heart of American society today. The Wire clearly draws attention to this broader context in the series' final scene in which the city and its inhabitants are given one last encore. As McNulty approaches the city's limits, he pulls to a stop on the shoulder of the freeway. He steps out of the car, and stares blankly towards the city in which he has lived and worked for most of his life. No distinguishing features set this city apart from the dozens like throughout America. And yet, it remains uniquely its own: strange, inassimilable and different. The montage set to the series' theme song plays for a final time as we are given one last glance at the city's characters, corners and realities -- all of which The Wire dramatizes throughout its five seasons. Though we have seen it all before, everything looks new. Look and look again and, like McNulty, you will see things as they really are. There, as with the Choruses of Greek tragedies past, you will see not one picture, not one individual and no single truth; you will see many.


[1] JM. Tyree, "The Wire: The Complete Fourth Season," Film Quarterly 61, no.3 (2008): 38.

[2] Helena Sheehan and Sheamus Sweeney, "The Wire and the world: narrative and metanarrative," Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 51 (2009), (accessed on 12 October 2009).

[3] The key exception is a section in CW. Marshall and Tiffany Potter, "'I am the American Dream': Modern Urban Tragedy and the Borders of Fiction," in Tiffany Potter and CW. Marshall (eds.), The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television (New York: Continuum, 2009).

[4] Page duBois, "Toppling the Hero: Polyphony in the Tragic City," New Literary History 35, no.1 (2004).

[5] Ibid, 77.

[6] See Margaret Talbot, "Stealing Life: The crusader behind "The Wire"," The New Yorker, 22 October 2007, (accessed on 12 October 2009); Matthew Yglesias, "David Simon and the Audacity of Despair," The Atlantic, 2 January 2008, david_simon_and_the_audacity_o.php (accessed on 12 October 2009); Charlotte Higgins, "Hay Festival: The Wire and Greek Tragedy," 22 May 2009, (accessed on 12 October 2009); Marshall and Potter, "'I am the American Dream'," 4.

[7] Higgins, "Hay Festival"; James Ponewozik, "Connecting the Dots," Time, 3 January 2008,,9171,1699870,00.html, (accessed on 12 October 2009).

[8] Higgins, "Hay Festival."

[9] Ponewozik, "Connecting the Dots."

[10] Marsha Kinder, "Re-Wiring Baltimore: The Emotive Power of Systemics, Serialty, and the City," Film Quarterly 62, no.2 (2008-9): 57.

[11] David Simon cited in Sheehan and Sweeney, "The Wire and the world."

[12] Ibid.

[13] Talbot, "Stealing Life"; Marshall and Potter, "'I am the American Dream'," 4.

[14] Talbot, "Stealing Life."

[15] duBois, "Toppling the Hero," 65.

[16] Ibid, 71.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid, 65.

[19] Ibid., 77.

[20] Ibid., 73.

[21] David Held, Models of Democracy, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), 28; Mary Ebbott, "Marginal Figures," in Justina Gregory (ed.), A Companion to Greek Tragedy (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 366.

[22] Edith Hall, "The Sociology of Athenian Tragedy," in PE. Easterling (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 92.

[23] Ebbott, "Marginal Figures," 366.

[24] Christoph Menke, "The Presence of Tragedy," Critical Horizons 5, no.1 (2004): 216; Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Tension and Ambiguities in Greek Tragedy," in Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Tragedy and Myth in Ancient Greece, trans. Janet Lloyd (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1981), 18.

[25] Higgins, "Hay Festival."

[26] Ted Nannicelli, "It's All Connected: Televisual Narrative Complexity," in Potter and Marshall, The Wire, 201; Kinder, "Re-Wiring Baltimore," 54.

[27] Ash Sharma, "Editorial: 'All the pieces matter' -- introductory notes on The Wire," darkmatter Journal 4, 2009,, (accessed on 15 March 2010); Sheehan and Sweeney, "The Wire and the world"; Marshall and Tiffany Potter, "'I am the American Dream'," 8.

[28] Sheehan and Sweeney, "The Wire and the world."

[29] John Atlas and Peter Dreier, "John Atlas and Peter Dreier Respond," Dissent, Summer (2008),, (accessed on 11 March 2010).

[30] Jason Reid, "Stringer Bell's Lament: Violence and Legitimacy in Contemporary Capitalism," in Potter and Marshall, The Wire, 134.

[31] Ibid, 122.

[32] Marshall and Tiffany Potter, "'I am the American Dream'," 4.

[33] Paul Sheehan, "Obama is walking a high wire," The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January 2009,, (accessed on 13 October 2009).

[34] Tyree, "The Wire," 38.

[35] duBois, "Toppling the Hero," 74.

[36] Marshall and Potter, "'I am the American Dream'," 1-4.

[37] Sheehan, "Obama is walking a high wire"; Sam Twyford-Moore, "It Ain't Beirut: Baltimore on the Wire," Meanjin Quarterly 68, no.3 (2009): 10.

[38] Marshall and Tiffany Potter, "'I am the American Dream'," 2-3.

[39] duBois, "Toppling the Hero," 75.

[40] Simon Goldhill, Reading Greek Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 77.

[41] David B. Morris, The Culture of Pain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

[42] duBois, "Toppling the Hero," 75.

[43] Ebbott, "Marginal Figures," 373, 375.

[44] Talbot, "Stealing Life"; Tyree, "The Wire," 38.

[45] John Atlas and Peter Dreier, "Is The Wire Too Cynical?," Dissent, Summer (2008),, (accessed on 11 March 2010); Atlas and Dreier, "John Atlas and Peter Dreier Respond."

[46] Joshua Foa Dienstag, "Tragedy, Pessimism, Nietzsche," New Literary History 35 (2004): 86.

[47] David Simpson, 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2006), 2.

[48] Elizabeth Bonjean, "After the Towers Fell: Bodie Broadus and the Space of Memory," in Potter and Marshall, The Wire, 163.

[49] See Jeremy D. Mayer, 9-11: The Giant Awakens (Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2003); Ken Booth and Tim Dunne (eds.), Worlds in Collision: Terror and the Future of the Global Order (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2002).

[50] Simpson, 9/11, 4.

[51] See Jack Holland, "From September 11th 2001 to 9-11: From Void to Crisis," International Political Sociology 3, no.3 (2009).

[52] Sheehan and Sweeney, "The Wire and the world."

[53] Erika Johnson-Lewis, "The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Serial Narrative on The Wire," darkmatter Journal 4 (2009),, (accessed on 15 March 2010).

[54] David Simon cited in Talbot, "Stealing Life."

[55] James Truslow Adams cited in Marshall and Potter, "'I am the American Dream'," 3.

[56] Immanuel Wallerstein, The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New York: The New Press, 2003), 2.

[57] Ibid, 2-3.

[58] Sheehan and Sweeney, "The Wire and the world."

[59] Wallerstein, The Decline of American Power, 13, 1.

[60] Ibid, 13.

[61] duBois, "Toppling the Hero," 76.

[62] Alvin W. Gouldner, Enter Plato: Classical Greece and the Origins of Social Theory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1965), 108, 110.

[63] Ibid, 114.

[64] Dostoyevsky quoted Damon Young, "The Democratic Chorus: Culture, Dialogue and Polyphonic Paideia," Democracy and Nature 9, no.2 (2003): 228.

[65] Claude Calame, "Performative Aspects of the Choral Voice in Greek Tragedy: Civic Identity in Performance," in Simon Goldhill and Robin Osborne, Performance Culture and Athenian Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 130.

[66] Twyford-Moore, "It Ain't Beirut," 11.

[67] Sophie Fuggle, "Short Circuiting the Power Grid: The Wire as Critique of Institutional Power," darkmatter Journal 4 (2009),, (accessed on 15 March 2010.

[68] Tyree, "The Wire," 32.

[69] Ibid, 36.

[70] Sheehan and Sweeney, "The Wire and the world."


Mark Chou is a McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne, having recently completed his PhD in Political Science at the University of Queensland. His publications on topics broadly related to cultural politics and political theory have appeared in such scholarly publications as Millennium, New Political Science, Critical Horizons and Borderlands e-journal. He would like to thank Debbie Lisle for first alerting him to the link between The Wire and Greek tragedy. He acknowledges the helpful feedback from Matt McDonald, the panel members at the 2010 Oceanic Conference on International Studies, the Journal editors, and the two anonymous CTheory reviewers.

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