*Harvard students are taking a course in HBO’s “The Wire.” Yes, a couple of professors have decided the show will help their students understand the social conditions in inner city America. They say it is realistic and shows how ordinary people make the world make sense.
Read their letter to the Washington Post:
In our course on urban inequality at Harvard this semester, we want our
students to understand the roots of the social conditions in America’s inner
cities. To that end, we get some help from Bodie, Stringer Bell, Bubbles and
others from HBO’s “The Wire.”
Take this scene in a Baltimore housing project from the show’s first season:
Two teenage drug dealers marvel at the ingenuity of their boneless Chicken McNuggets and imagine the inventor who must have become incredibly rich off his creation. An older dealer, D’Angelo, mocks their naivete, explaining that the man who invented the McNugget is just a guy in the McDonald’s basement who dreamed up a money-making idea for the real players. To D’Angelo, the formal labor market is fundamentally unfair. People are not rewarded according to their true worth, and powerful institutions regularly exploit those with less power. Social inequality is the inevitable result – the McNugget inventor doesn’t get his due. “It ain’t about right. It’s about money,” D’Angelo tells the young dealers.
“The Wire,” which depicted inner-city Baltimore over five seasons on HBO, shows ordinary people making sense of their world. Its complex characters on both sides of the law defy simplistic moral distinctions. Critics loved it. Its fans hung on every episode. We think it is more than just excellent television. Impressed by its treatment of complex issues, we developed a course at Harvard drawing on the show’s portrayal of fundamental sociological principles connected to urban inequality. Our seminar was designed for 30 students; four times that many showed up for the first class last week.
Of course, our undergraduate students will read rigorous academic studies of the urban job market, education and the drug war. But the HBO series does what these texts can’t. More than simply telling a gripping story, “The Wire” shows how the deep inequality in inner-city America results from the web of lost jobs, bad schools, drugs, imprisonment, and how the situation feeds on itself.
Read the full story here.