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Imagination and Narrative in the City: The Wire as a Tool for Social Change

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Abstract:

Baltimore has been called both the murder capital of America and the juvenile homicide capital of the world. Plagued with epidemic violence, poverty, addiction, and disease, it is a uniquely useful site of study for those concerned with the intersections of race, class, and gender in the city. David Simon’s HBO series The Wire draws even greater attention to a city which has a national and international reputation for its crippling social ills. As academics, politicians, and others continue to use this fictionalized drama as an instrument in their work, imagination emerges as a useful if not essential tool for addressing the most complex and extraordinary problems of our American cities. Specifically, The Wire demonstrates the critical role storytelling plays in the city, not just in historicizing or documenting everyday lives, but in articulating something about the present that is useful to audiences both within and outside of these urban communities. By examining what is most unique and remarkable about the HBO format and ultimately, what sets The Wire apart from traditional episodic police dramas, this paper aims to pinpoint specific elements of the narrative complexity in The Wire that make for the kind of text that help us better understand life in the city.
While much attention has been paid to the reality-based nature of the show, this paper is concerned with how the authenticity of The Wire is rooted more in its structural elements than on any particular presentation of real people, places, and events. In other words, I focus less on the actual reality of the series and more towards its replication of the real. This distinction is a significant one as it supposes two things: first, that fictionalized drama is a viable means of cultural communication and secondly, that appreciation of the show is not dependent on one’s knowledge of Baltimore and its culture, but on one’s recognition of the intricacies of humanity and its institutions.
The HBO format allows for an attention to detail and what Simon himself calls, “the intimacies and ordinariness that constitute real life.” The nuances of character and story are made possible by the structure of the show, which is more typical of the novel than television. Further, it uses these devices to draw distinct parallels between various characters and institutions of the city, resulting in rich depictions of the relationship between seemingly disparate people: criminal and enforcer, religious leader and politician, elite and working poor, developer and union worker, victimizer and victim. It is this deliberate rendering of entanglements which allows The Wire not only to capture an audience in a uniquely engaging narrative, but also to carve a space within the imagination where we can confront problems of the city with new clarity and deeper understanding.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509835_index.html
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MLA Citation:

O'Neill, Katie. "Imagination and Narrative in the City: The Wire as a Tool for Social Change" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, Oct 20, 2011 <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509835_index.html>

APA Citation:

O'Neill, K. K. , 2011-10-20 "Imagination and Narrative in the City: The Wire as a Tool for Social Change" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509835_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Baltimore has been called both the murder capital of America and the juvenile homicide capital of the world. Plagued with epidemic violence, poverty, addiction, and disease, it is a uniquely useful site of study for those concerned with the intersections of race, class, and gender in the city. David Simon’s HBO series The Wire draws even greater attention to a city which has a national and international reputation for its crippling social ills. As academics, politicians, and others continue to use this fictionalized drama as an instrument in their work, imagination emerges as a useful if not essential tool for addressing the most complex and extraordinary problems of our American cities. Specifically, The Wire demonstrates the critical role storytelling plays in the city, not just in historicizing or documenting everyday lives, but in articulating something about the present that is useful to audiences both within and outside of these urban communities. By examining what is most unique and remarkable about the HBO format and ultimately, what sets The Wire apart from traditional episodic police dramas, this paper aims to pinpoint specific elements of the narrative complexity in The Wire that make for the kind of text that help us better understand life in the city.
While much attention has been paid to the reality-based nature of the show, this paper is concerned with how the authenticity of The Wire is rooted more in its structural elements than on any particular presentation of real people, places, and events. In other words, I focus less on the actual reality of the series and more towards its replication of the real. This distinction is a significant one as it supposes two things: first, that fictionalized drama is a viable means of cultural communication and secondly, that appreciation of the show is not dependent on one’s knowledge of Baltimore and its culture, but on one’s recognition of the intricacies of humanity and its institutions.
The HBO format allows for an attention to detail and what Simon himself calls, “the intimacies and ordinariness that constitute real life.” The nuances of character and story are made possible by the structure of the show, which is more typical of the novel than television. Further, it uses these devices to draw distinct parallels between various characters and institutions of the city, resulting in rich depictions of the relationship between seemingly disparate people: criminal and enforcer, religious leader and politician, elite and working poor, developer and union worker, victimizer and victim. It is this deliberate rendering of entanglements which allows The Wire not only to capture an audience in a uniquely engaging narrative, but also to carve a space within the imagination where we can confront problems of the city with new clarity and deeper understanding.


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Youth and Violence in Brazil: Exploring Youth’s Narratives about Street Violence Related to Drug and Social Order in Brazil’s Most Violent City

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