Note: I am not finished with the entirety of The Wire. Currently I am on season four, episode seven. Why do I love television so much? Because it’s story telling with words and images that is the same every time, there is no variation, there is no retelling, it is the one time presented, and you can analyze it over and over again. It’s not like oral stories passed on, the story itself remains the same but the significance changes over time. It is filmed in one era but can be viewed in another, making the experience different. The technological and anthropological significance of television is one that is truly intellectually underrated.
The Wire might be one of the most bad-ass, gritty, and provocative television series off all time that was not only revolutionary for it’s time, but the social concepts explored in The Wire continue to be possibly more relevant today than at the time of it’s broadcast during 2002 to 2008. The early millennial had not socially approached it’s next revolutionary epoch in America, the likes of which we are seeing in the next wave of liberation movements (gay rights, the fight for racial equality, a focused discussion on what modern feminism is), most likely because Bush was in office and everyone was really patriotic because of the post 9/11 environment and focused on several international wars we had going on. From a national perspective with white Americans in charge, there wasn’t a lot of time to talk about race. So unfortunately for The Wire, while it was critically acclaimed and an arguable work of television perfection, was praised and watched, but the saturated racial environment explored by The Wire wasn’t raw like it is now.
Flash forward, and under our first black President, a barrage of social changes are accomplished. Gay marriage is legal in 36 states, marijuana is fully recreational under one state and medicinally available in 23 states in some form, and there is a frank national conversation about how rape victims are treated in this country from a non-male solipsistic perspective. Granted, this did not all occur at once under President Obama (gay marriage and medicinal marijuana were “a thing” before his administration though clearly the ability of both those movements to gain momentum forward increased dramatically under Obama), but the more liberalized political and cultural environment and clearly brought changes.
However, as a nation, we are seeing a discussion on race relations that still has the ugly unsettled undercurrents and full swirl tsunamis of white supremacy and hatred against non-whites that pervades in the hearts of some in this country. With all footsteps forward come backlashes, and as everyone knows the scope and breadth of hatred is long-winded. Ferguson was a national tragedy, disaster, and embarrassment to justice. It also caused Chris Rock to make one of the funniest jokes I have ever heard concerning how social relations now function in the new cyber world, “I found a new app to tell which one of your friends is a racist. It’s called Facebook”, referring to the number of pro-Wilson sentiments that many white Americans were exposing, some in the process exposing the ugliness and irrationality of their racist thoughts. Indeed, I defriended at least two people as a result of their hateful racism displayed on my Facebook feed.
Back to The Wire, the first season is pure gold. I am a cinema and television junkie, and The Wire proved so masterful in it’s story telling, character building, and plot development, that the next seasons unfortunately haven’t captured the same gold shine, though they do gleam as works of the most advanced and rich television series to date. However, the rest of the seasons are not without merit. The first season is a work of drugs, sex, money, power, politics, and what lays beyond the veil of civilized and polite company. The rest of the seasons tell the tale of how it gets to be that way, and unfortunately some of the sexiness wears off. Season Four is spent examining the broken lives of Baltimore’s children, hardly a “sexy” topic and nor should it be, but one of incredible seriousness that shows the generational impact of times that came before a person was born.
John Rawls is considered a father of “liberal contractionalism”, or the philosophical concept that all human beings have an inherent obligation to one another by virtue of being human. On your first day in Philosophy 101 class in college, you are taught Rawl’s “Veil of Ignorance”, a mind exercise that asks the person to erase any and all concepts of identity. Pretend that there is no civilization, you have no identity, and you don’t know the significance of any identity characteristics behind “the veil”. Now, while you’re behind this veil, you create what you want society to look like.
Is it based on your identity characteristics, and which ones, and why, and for what reason, and how?
Most likely you would say something along the lines of an equal society, because human beings are by virtue, of merit in and of themselves.
What this equal society looks like, is up to your imagination. But remember, when the veil is lifted and you are in a wheelchair, without physical beauty, of the ethnic group out of favor, and of a limited economic status, do you want to be considered of less value than a physically beautiful able bodied person who is part of the majority ethnic group with a lot of disposable income? Remember now, you didn’t know your identity and what it meant under the veil. You were just asked what equal treatment of human beings looks like.
After The Wire runs us into the underworld, introduces us to where political contributions come from in inner city urban areas, what people do when they are put in potentially deadly environments, and a healthy swig of cop culture, it brings us to what happens to the children when they grow up in this environment. And this is what America was not ready for ten years ago, an examination of what police violence, racial tension, economic degradation, illegal drug markets and poor understanding and treatment of people living with addiction can psychologically wreck on children.
Ol Dirty Bastard of the Wu Tang Clan, one of the greatest hip-hop groups to help tell the struggle of the African-American identity and experience in inner city America, once said “Wu Tang is for the Children!”. Most people rarely understood the extreme wisdom of this rambling man, and what he meant was, us, the Wu Tang, we tell the truth. The truth, what you let children know and how you let them know it, is how they know the world. Wu Tang wasn’t about lying to the children, it was about enlightening them to the harsh reality with their story-telling.
In Part II, I hope to offer an analysis of why America needs to rewatch The Wire in order to pull away our veil of ignorance.
TV Junkie (2006) is one of the most disturbing documentaries I have ever seen in my entire life. As I have watched A Film Unfinished which features among other otherworldly documentations of human suffering, starved dead bodies being thrown into a pit, so when TV Junkie left me clutching my throat and gasping, I was surprised to saw the least. The cliche “watching a train wreck” was completely applicable. But the back story of why this documentary is more significant than Rick is what is so tragically and ironically incredible.
According to Rick, he interviewed George HW Bush about the dangers of crack cocaine and drug addiction while high on crack cocaine. This means that the white people who were importing the raw cocaine that was then distributed throughout the country, the white people who held corporate jobs and got off on being “adrenaline junkies” while outsourcing the real dangerous illegal black-market narcotics jobs to African-American inner city men (Rick attests several times to going to “the hood” to buy crack cocaine) were creating propaganda about the evils of cocaine while both personally benefiting and destroying themselves. George HW Bush is an evil man. He is a man who saw a way to manipulate a black market for his political benefit at the calculated expense of untold millions of lives and then denied justice, liberty, and freedom, and safety to humanity. Rick is not an evil man, he is human, fell victim to becoming a monstrous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where the overwhelming chemical dependency of cocaine distorted his character and integrity. While interviewing the very man who controlled The United States of America, who secretly was importing cocaine, this man interviewing him, who was secretly using crack cocaine, were creating a distorted reality that has had unending consequences for billions of people. The hypocrisy of Rick’s actions is ironic, disgusting, and all too human when a person has a drug addiction. The interview makes us watch these two be Master and puppet, president and press, importer and user, truth and escape.
Some people can use drugs such as cocaine in a recreational manner. Some cannot. Rick drank and used cocaine, which caused volatility in his personal life. He hit his wife in front of his child and scarred his pre-verbal baby so that at his first birthday party he cried when everyone yelled “yay” because he had seen his parents fight and yell right before his father was taken away by police for domestically abusing his mother. But Rick engaged in a cycle of hypocrisy, dominating others at the expense of both them and yourself, like using crack cocaine while interviewing the president about the evils of this drug. I cannot help but see his identity as a straight white man being the pinnacle of why this disaster was allowed to go on for so long. He was portrayed in his media career as an “adrenaline junkie” and that made him a fun, edgy guy! This was also during the ’80s and ’90s, when it seemed like white male news anchors were somehow viewed as somewhat infallible people. But there was such darkness, and because of his position of power people were willing to overlook his abuse of crack cocaine because he was so talented within his industry. For the black kids in the New York City projects who he bought the crack from, no one ever argued for their futures because of any talent they may have had. No one in the media gave merit any alternative narrative George HW Bush and American politicians of both parties were asserting that prohibiting narcotic substances and causing them to become black market products is a better policy than regulation, and certainly not good ol’ Rick. Why would he rock the boat?
“its almost euphoric, hard to speak because of the rush type high. it becomes a very sexual in a way, not in a good way in any means, very raw, very animalistic, very lustful, a very primeval sort of way. at least in my experience with this rotten drug how can something so euphoric and good be so terrible?” Rick is not a sympathetic character. And his insistence of documenting his ever spiraling out of control reality, including abusing his wife and smoking crack cocaine a whole bunch of times, his complete divorce from reality is even more exacerbated than the average crack head. He is completely obsessed with documenting his life. And with all these documents of reality, he cannot see that the source of his addiction lies somewhere in his constant desire for adrenaline. He cannot sit with his sons in day to day life, he gets clearly depressed while sitting around in what looks like suburban bliss. He takes his anger and frustration out on his family in extremely scary ways. Apparently, he has press credentials for the Dallas police despite the police being regularly summoned to his dwelling for domestic disputes. The Dallas police most likely knew of his drug abuse, yet he continued to have press credentials.
The documentary is bizarre to say the least. Between his obsession with crack cocaine, complete inability to cope with real life, obsession with documenting his every waking moment, the moments of dark honesty of what drug abuse does to a family, and how privilege works in a way that does no benefit to those who hold the privilege and those who suffer as the result of not having the privilege (in this case, I believe Rick’s privilege as an educated talented charismatic white male helped in the cause of his ultimate downfall because so many people were willing to overlook his horrific behavior due to the standard of how white men are treated in this society) the film is a mindfuck.
People with serious addiction issues such as Rick’s must be dealt with in a medically appropriate manner where both physical and mental health are rebuilt. Rick constantly talks about the shame of drug use. The abuse against his family is horrifying and unfortunately, completely normal for them. Rick is able to get around law enforcement consequences because of his status within the community. Treatment for drug abuse is piss poor in America. Crack cocaine has been described to me as a “full body orgasm” which explains why people who do it sit for hours constantly smoking. Watching Rick struggle with this addiction is as brutal a reality as a documentary can portray accurately.
This documentary would later be used as a “Don’t Do Drugs, Kids” message. The documentary ends extremely awkwardly, with Rick speaking to a group of random graduating high school seniors that he used to do drugs but he doesn’t now and isn’t that great don’t do it kids look at my children here they are. His two sons, around ages 9 and 13 it looks, awkwardly come out on to the stage, let their father embrace them, and then run back off stage. Tammy, Rick’s wife, is also present. It is as painful and bizarre as the rest of the documentary.I felt like they missed an opportunity here. Just like everything else in his life, Rick uncritically excepts the status quo narrative that has been presented to him, and misses his opportunity to create any positive change and effect.
Tammy eventually divorced Rick, and with the use of Google I haven’t been able to figure out what Rick is up to if anything at all. There is an incredible number of documentaries about drugs, because fascination with altering states of consciousness is a normal part of being human. Unfortunately, this is recognized now globally in a very limited way. As a direct result of the United Nation and United States of America, narcotic substances are a billion dollar underground economy, the likes of which are never taxed, the reality of which never goes away, and the destruction of lives like Rick and his family and all the dealer’s who dealt to Rick is monumental.
The argument that global prohibition of narcotic substances is a working policy is a destructive delusion. TV Junkie shows this completely accidentally, in one stroke of the irony that sometimes the universe swirls upon the unsuspecting people of the world.
I wonder what happened to Rick’s little boys, one of whom screams “why did you hit my momma?!” during one of Rick’s tirades. But most people know what happens to young black boys who end up in the narcotics trade: dead, jail, or reformed, and people in power are more inclined to engineer the first two instead of the third.
Cocaine makes you feel euphoric, aggressive, egomanical, and a little delusional. A lot of cocaine makes you all those things and the worse version of yourself you’ve ever known. I think the United States’ global policy on narcotics is clearly high on blow.
I have a tumblr, gzeu.tumblr.com, and it is one of my favorite past times, to scroll through the endless series of images people decide to reblog. It is a wonderful source of bizarre fun, “from porn to puppies in seconds” is one of the jokes of the site (though the Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is trying to do away with all the sex, in the spirit of corporate America) and so when I saw this wonderful image of one of my favorite television characters, Rust Cohle from True Detective, I knew I had to delve into Serial.
I listened to the entirety of Serial in nearly one day. I saved the last episode for the next day because the night was fading into morning, and I wanted to save it. I did the exact same thing with True Detective.
Then I did that weird thing that makes me an eccentric person. I really love cinema, and will often re-watch movies countless times until I can watch them in my head. I did this with Serial. I fell asleep to Serial, I ate breakfast to Serial, and I even did yoga while listening to the disturbing tale of this sad murder. Hae Min Lee became a person I thought about while I walked down the street to buy milk. Her mothers testimony at Adnan’s sentencing, about a Korean proverb that observes that when parents die they are buried in the ground, but when a child dies they are buried in the parents heart, made me think about my mother while I cooked macaroni and cheese one night. Clearly, it was very important that we know what happened to Hae. She sounded like the very definition of a good person, a true young lady who had a promising future and was well liked by peers and adults.
So, the thing that makes this story that Sarah Koenig narrates for us compelling is that essentially the entire state’s case rests on the credibility of the state’s witness, Jay. There is something significant; Jay knows where Hae’s car is. But that does not mean that Adnan killed Hae. That is a logical leap of epic proportions. And here is why.
Jay is a noted liar. Jen, the girl Jay was most likely cheating on his girlfriend with, says “Well, Jay lies. Everyone knows Jay lies”. Jay lies about all kinds of things, things that are both benign, and then things that are more shady. When The Intercept interviews Jay, he comes out with this absolutely incredible story that he had never told before.
One thing that everyone agrees is that Jay and Adnan were not “friends”. Adnan says “we didn’t exactly kick it per se” which as Koenig awkwardly seems to translate for seriously suburban white people as “yes we smoked weed together, but we were acquaintances and not friends”. So, in The Intercept interview, Jay now essentially says “so this dude who is not really my friend shows up at my grandma’s house with a dead body in the trunk and says hey you big drug dealer I’m going to rat on you unless you help me bury this body”. The entire trial Jay has this entire story built around seeing Hae’s body at Best Buy, the words “Best Buy” are used about fifty times every episode.
But now, this is not true. And Adnan is sitting in prison.
Or was something else going on entirely? Here’s where I am going to get wildly speculative. Throughout all the interviews with Jay, the detectives are clear to say that Jay was dealing marijuana, only marijuana, and no additional drugs. Jay, who appears to be egocentric to say the least, claims that he was the “criminal element” of Woodlawn. This makes me inclined to believe that Jay was dealing dimebags and thinking that he was a badass, but just because a liar does not mean a true statement cannot be made by that person. Jay gets a sweetheart deal with accomplice to murder after the fact with no prison time, and he gets a lawyer who was hand picked by the prosecution. What we know from watching The Wire, which I am completely aware is a work of fiction but has been critically acclaimed for its realistic storytelling, is that Baltimore is a narcotics town. Any and all towns that are heavy sources of narcotics are corrupt. Was Jay up to something else, and all this knowledge that he had was a thing about protecting a greater source? Everyone agrees that Jay and Adnan were not friends. But were they business associates? In the last episode, Josh, who was a coworker of Jay’s, attested to the fact that “he was scared” after the murder. He also says that he was afraid “people” were after him, “people” connected to the murderer. Did something go wrong while Jay was borrowing Adnan’s car and she got strangled?
It’s a complete theory. But its a question posed in philosophical justice that recognizes the corrupt relationship between government and organized crime.
Getting away from speculation, it is clear that Adnan’s Muslim identity was used against him. The prosecutor arguing against bail for Adnan tells a wild tale of all these “jilted” “Muslim” and “Pakistani” men who kill their lovers who reject them (because come on, all men of Pakistani descent who are Muslim have fantastic terrorist like connections who can get them out of one of the most policed nations on the planet) and then are never brought to justice.
Throughout Serial, Koenig does a good job of making the point that the American justice system has a clear distinction between the idea of what justice is and what justice actually looks like when enacted properly, what could be called the distinction between political justice and philosophical justice. Justice, to prosecutors, is winning the case. The state having absolute power over its citizenry is justice. This is the political definition of justice. As Koenig points out, the detectives were not incompetent. They followed procedure, and a detective on the podcast says that he probably would have followed the same course of action as the detectives did. Philosophical justice is what Koenig was looking for, who did this and why, and why should we believe this person who constantly lies and by all accounts is a shady character? I don’t like to judge people for how they make their living, but Jay was a criminal because he was a marijuana dealer, but to what extent is unclear. His claim is that Adnan threatened him with going to the police because of what he knew about his drug dealing activity.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that murdering someone is worse than dealing some weed. Even a lot of weed. Jay got a sweetheart of a motherfucking deal, and his lawyer was found for him by the prosecutor. That, as Koenig puts it, “is not a thing”. That is insane, and it is corrupt. I believe that the judge made the wrong call by asserting that Jay didn’t know he was getting a benefit. Jay was not stupid, a liar yes but stupid no. He was “street smart”, as described by one juror. He knew that lawyers are worth money.
But why are we getting political justice instead of philosophical justice? Because political justice is easier. This is so cliche, but anyone who has seen The Wire knows that Baltimore is a gritty city. The murder police there must encounter some truly gruesome things. This murder case looked good from a police perspective looking for political justice, to build the best case possible. The lawyers were going to take care of character assassinating Adnan, and everyone else was going to cover their ass on Jay’s case. Why go through extra steps when the suspect’s case was going to go through successfully.
If Jay is now telling the truth that Adnan showed him the body at his grandmother’s house and not at Best Buy, was this Best Buy story a cover for Jay’s marijuana operation? How big of a dealer was Jay anyway? Why is Jay talking about this grandma trunk pop business now, after the podcast, after all the Reddit.com speculation? Why did the prosecutor give him such an enormously good deal? Was Jay only a marijuana dealer, or was he connected in some way to some important person? Were these kids who were smoking weed, in 1999, maybe getting a little high on heroin in a place where that is somewhat normal? Intelligent people, intelligent adults and teenagers use drugs. This is completely speculative of me. But I’m just sayin’, I wonder these things.
Philosophical justice means exposing some things. Something that always bothered me was that Hae’s body was by all accounts well hidden. On the last episode, Koenig reveals that there is reason to believe that there was a serial killer operating within the Baltimore area at that time targeting Asian women. This would take massive amounts of time, coordination, detail oriented effort, creativity, and man hours to uncover a serial killer. Former chief of the FBI’s Crime Unit John Douglas states that a “conservative estimate” puts the number of active serial killers operating in the United States between 35 and 50. The FBI also cites that strangulation is the most common form of murder for serial killers, with 42.5% of victims strangled. Hae was strangled.
It is possible that Adnan killed Hae. Strangulation is also a very personal way to kill someone, and random lethal domestic violent attacks do happen. But the Kafkaesque maze of analyzing who Adnan is, evaluating which part of what Jay says is the truth or a lie, the entire bizarre situation with the prosecutor and Jay’s lawyer, and this strange observation that according to Koenig, the body was really well hidden, and according to Jay, it doesn’t sound like they put a lot of physical effort into disposing Hae’s body makes me feel like this was a case where political justice won. But an experienced killer would know how to dispose a body so that it would be hard to find and know that Baltimore is a place where many people are murdered.
The only two people who know who killed Hae are Hae and her murderer. And what is so absolutely tragic is when murders get away with murder, like George Zimmerman. But what might be more tragic, is when a man’s life is taken away based upon a narrative about his identity and a story told by an identified liar.
That to me is reasonable doubt.
If I ever lost it
it was downstairs where the
and ghosts moan.
I tore the throat out of another girl
and wore it as a necklace.