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Published by: Windu W. Jusuf on Apr 25, 2013
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Journal of American Studies
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Rogue Cops’ Politics of Equality in
The Wire
Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 189 - 211DOI: 10.1017/S0021875812000801, Published online: 13 August 2012
Link to this article:
How to cite this article:
YOUNGHOON KIM (2013). Rogue Cops’ Politics of Equality in
The Wire
. Journalof American Studies, 47, pp 189-211 doi:10.1017/S0021875812000801
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Rogue Cops
Politics of Equality in
The Wire 
This paper explores HBO television show 
The Wire 
s portrayal of inequality and injusticein terms of the neoliberal state and capitalism, while focussing on the Baltimore PoliceDepartment and the marginalized people in the show. In arguing that the neoliberal state andneoliberalism promote the systemic problems re
ected in
The Wire 
, this paper will examine therepresentation of the marginalized in the show in relation to Zygmunt Bauman
s idea of wastedlives. In doing so, it will explore how bureaucracies in the show fail to salvage the wasted livesthat Bauman de
nes as the collateral casualties of capitalistic globalization. After examining theshow 
s bleak portrayal of American urban life in terms of the police department, this paper willdiscuss some morally complicated characters, such as Major Colvin and Detectives McNulty and Freamon, who attempt to surmount the systemic problems of the department. In examining their controversial police work, including transgressions of law, this paper aims to clarify the political implications of these police o
cers in terms of Jacques Rancière
s ideas of politics andequality.
Claimed by many to be the best thing ever seen on television,
The Wire 
 portrays an American urban life that epitomizes the systemic violence of theneoliberal state and capitalism. Through its portrayal of the prevalent systemic problems of various bureaucratic institutions that govern Americans
The Wire 
represents a pessimistic vision of contemporary America. The show comprises
 ve seasons. The
rst and third seasons mainly portray the MajorCrime Unit in the police department of Baltimore, and its target, theBarksdale organization. The second season focusses on Frank Sobotk
sseverely deteriorated harbor union and the Greek 
s smuggling organization, which brings drugs and other illegal cargo into Baltimore. The last two seasonsintroduce more diverse subjects: the Baltimore school system, Major Colvin
sunauthorized legalization of drugs in his district, the city politics and elections,the
Baltimore Sun
newspaper and a new drug kingpin, Marlo Stan
eld, whodoes not follow the code of the street.Throughout the series, the members of the Major Crime Unit
CedricDaniels, Detective Jimmy McNulty, Lester Freamon, Kima Greggs, EllisCarver, Thomas Hauk, and Roland Pryzbylewski
are the most commonly 
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of English Language & Literature, Sogang University. Email: apouge@gmail.com.
 Journal of American Studies 
Cambridge University Press
First published online
Downloaded: 19 Feb 2013IP address:
gures in the show; they construct most of the main narrative, whileactively engaging with various street characters such as Stringer Bell, D
AngeloBarksdale,Bubbles,andBodieBroadus.Inaddition,atleastfourothergroupsof  people, such as Sobotka 
s harbor union, city politicians, Edward J. TilghmanMiddle School
s students and teachers, and reporters and editors on the
 Baltimore Sun
, constitute substantial portions of the story of Baltimorerendered in the show, as they are interwoven with the city 
s police department.
The Wire 
is a subversive cop show that unveils the structural problems of the police and policing in contemporary America. And through its vividrendering of the slums in Baltimore,
The Wire 
also foregrounds social outcasts who turned into vagabonds, paupers, beggars, robbers, prostitutes, addicts,drug dealers, and smugglers partly from inclination, but in most cases underthe force of neoliberal changes and circumstances. In portraying the police asone of the deteriorated bureaucratic institutions that fosters the productionof outcasts, the show raises a strong sense of inequality and injustice inAmerica. In doing so, it insistently emphasizes that everyone in the show isexposed to the same type of systemic violence and problems brought about by the neoliberal state and capitalism.
The Wire 
is one of the most widely discussed and taught TV shows inAmerica. Many reviews and critical essays have contributed greatly to theshow 
s somewhat cult status in academia, crystallized by William Julius Wilsonand Anmol Chaddha 
 Why We
re Teaching 
The Wire
at Harvard.
Andmany of these reviews and essays have also explored
The Wire 
in relation tothe neoliberal state or neoliberalism. Among them, Alberto Toscano and Je
Baltimore as World and Representation: Cognitive Mapping andCapitalism in
The Wire 
is one of the most lucid and balanced understandingsof 
The Wire 
s representation of our world in which neoliberal or post-Fordistcapitalism reigns.
In this article, taking a cue from David Harvey 
The Urban Experience 
Toscano and Kinkle argue that
The Wire 
one of the mostcogent attempts
to depict
social space in our historical moment
thetotality of class struggle on a global scale.
After they aptly defend
The Wire 
soften criticized pessimistic representation of America as
an inevitableaesthetic and epistemological barrier,
they contend that
The Wire 
could beseen as dramatizing the struggles of any critical or political
 will to know 
inthe current ideological and institutional dispensation.
Though I agree with
 William Julius Wilson and Anmol Chaddha,
 Why We
re Teaching 
The Wire
at Harvard,
 Harvard Kennedy School 
Alberto Toscano and Je
Baltimore as World and Representation: CognitiveMapping and Capitalism in
The Wire 
Dossier Journal 
David Harvey,
The Urban Experience 
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
Younghoon Kim

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