Just after Christmas, about six years after the rest of the U.S. and right in sync with my backwards British compatriots across the pond, I started watching The Wire. It began innocently. My boyfriend and I, suffering Christmas ennui and James Bond-ed out, were gazing listlessly at my computer. My brother had given me iTunes money for Christmas. How simple it was just to download the pilot episode, and what a spiralling chain of addiction it started. Luckily, recovering from surgery on a nasty ovarian cyst, I had nothing else to do. Otherwise I’d be unemployed by now. Or hanging out on a street corner in Baltimore. Or something.
I’ve always been unhealthily obsessed with shows that feature drug addiction, and/or drug dealers. There’s something about a rapid descent into grotesque squalor and iniquity (especially if it precedes redemption) that makes terrific television. Which is why Intervention is so popular. In England we don’t really have crystal meth (although I hear Amy Winehouse is trying to promote it), so the levels of sheer physical ugliness that come with ice usage have given me a whole new fascination. In The Wire, it’s all about smack and crack, but it’s also so much more. Why else would so many middle-class, middle-aged white people watch a show about drug dealers in Baltimore? There are so many potential allegories: addiction, morality, integrity, climbing the greasy pole, playing The Game. While the Westside Baltimore drug dealers rarely dip into their stash, the cops get obliterated on Jameson’s night after night, cheat, carouse, vomit and urinate in public. On the corners, promotion comes when a body falls. In the force, it’s generally when a career does, but there’s no less backstabbing and manipulation. It’s a beautiful thing.
The only thing about The Wire is, if you watch it late at night you’ll have very strange dreams. One night I dreamed that my friend Rosie, an MA art history graduate, had been caught smuggling a kilo of heroin into our local taxi rank. The next day, unsolicited, she sent me an email. “Hope you’re recovering well. At least with all this time off, you can vegetate. Have you ever watched The Wire?” True dat. Rosie recalled gifting the box set to her dad (a kindly judge) for Christmas and coming home one day to find him effing and blinding at the laundry basket. “F%^& that, nigga. Where my socks at?” My professor from journalism school sent me a Wire-related email that started with the words “Mos Def.” At best, Wire-compulsion will take over your free time. At worst, it’ll ruin your vocabulary. That’s a risk I’ll take.
There’ll be much more to come about The Wire, particularly because I just downloaded the fourth season which seems to be a killer. But for now, two things:
(1) Like Barack Obama, my favorite character is Omar, the homosexual robber of drug dealers who whistles, touts a shotgun and is positively Shakespearian in his eloquence.
(2) About a week ago when I was in a lot of pain and feeling very low, my boyfriend, who is immensely sweet and sympathetic, offered to drive me to downtown Baltimore to look for teenage corner boys. I’m not saying it’s a failsafe, but it was a lovely offer.