Friday, January 18, 2008

The Wire -- Real Talk

OK, TV critics and commentators, move aside. I know you've all been typing furiously about the last season of The Wire, but all y'all need to check yourself before you wreck yourself, 'cause you just been served -- by Mr. Sudhir Venkatesh. Check this tremendously entertaining and informative piece in the NYT's Freakonomics blog.

Sudhir Venkatesh, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, and author of the just-published book Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, invited a group of NYC fellows experienced in the drug trade to watch and comment on The Wire's fifth season.

"Ever since I began watching HBO’s The Wire, I felt that the show was fairly authentic in terms of its portrayal of modern urban life — not just the world of gangs and drugs, but the connections between gangland and City Hall, the police, the unions, and practically everything else. It certainly accorded with my own fieldwork in Chicago and New York. And it was much better than most academic and journalistic reportage in showing how the inner city weaves into the social fabric of a city.

Last year, I learned a lot by watching a few episodes of The Wire with gang leaders in Chicago. So, a few weeks ago, I called a few respected street figures in the New York metro region to watch the upcoming fifth season. I couldn’t think of a better way to ensure quality control."

For Vankatesh's guys, the Wire cops are not dirty enough. In their world, they expect more corruption, with all sorts of side deals between dealers and cops. An acquaintance of mine who is a police in a notoriously crime-ridden city backs this up, saying that The Shield, with its focus on corrupt cops, is the most realistic cop show.

But The Wire is by far the most compelling. If you read the comments on Freakonomics, people are practically begging for this to be a weekly feature.