Two Harvard professors, one is sociologist William Julius Wilson, explain why they have built a course on urban inequality around the television show “The Wire.” In addition to how the show illustrates how the chances of the urban poor are limited by institutions, the professors argue “The Wire” is unique in its abilities to show the complexities of the real world:
“The Wire” is fiction, but it forces us to confront social realities more effectively than any other media production in the era of so-called reality TV. It does not tie things up neatly; as in real life, the problems remain unsolved, and the cycle repeats itself as disadvantages become more deeply entrenched. Outside the world of television drama, sociologists aim to explain what causes certain social conditions and then assess the merits of competing theories. The solutions, however, are usually less clear. “The Wire” gets that part right, too.
In my experience, television shows and movies are often terrible at depicting the real world. Perhaps it is difficult to avoid following a typical narrative arc or the need to entertain wins out. However, I’ve always thought that real life situations are usually more interesting than created stories.
When reviewing this show back in June, I mentioned about this course at Harvard and added thoughts about the sociological value of the show.