‘The Wire’ and Realism

Julian Murphet


‘I’m not a Marxist,’ David Simon has been heard to insist, even though, on the basis of his masterpiece, the five-season HBO sleeper-hit crime series The Wire, ‘I’m often mistaken for a Marxist.’ And there are good reasons, given the ongoing conventional relationship between Marxism and the kind of realism for which his show is generally celebrated, why the label continues to be applied. For 'The Wire' concerns itself with the same kind of social canvas as was assayed by that ‘splendid brotherhood of fiction-writers in England’ whose members (Thackeray, Dickens, Gaskell, etc.) first began to make of their contemporary social space a proper object for aesthetic pedagogy. That this now takes place on television, rather than a triple-decker novel, is the signal innovation of a program that patently advertises itself in terms usually reserved for literature. This, in turn, would seem to invite an analytical consideration of the series from the sorts of critical and theoretical perspectives the realist novel has engendered - a task this paper undertakes.

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