What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire? Part Three

Sudhir Venkatesh, our good friend and author of the new book “Gang Leader for a Day,” continues today with his weekly mission of watching “The Wire” with some real gang personnel and reporting on their reaction (and his). Your response to his previous posts has been enthusiastic. Typical comments: “More” and “Please post this every week!” Sudhir, in deference to our bright and polite readership, has agreed to do just that. Enjoy.

Thugs don’t cry.

At least that’s what I was told when I hung out in the projects.

This ghetto legend was quickly dispelled when I watched episode three of
The Wire with the usual cast of thugs from New York and New Jersey &#8212 ex-gang members and drug dealers who prided themselves on being impervious to emotional outbursts. These weren’t supposed to be girlie men.

But as soon as Butchie received the first of two gunshots to the knee, about 40 minutes into the show, a pall was cast over the assembled crew. Shine began the love-fest: “Oh sh-t! I can’t believe they f—ed with my man. And I had tall respect for Snoop.” He was referring to one of two henchmen Marlo had sent to forcibly obtain information from Butchie. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

“Oh sh-t!” Orlando shouted. “Butchie? He’s my boy. And a good, hard-working man don’t deserve this. He’s like my father.”

After a final shot to the head claimed Butchie’s life, Flavor couldn’t hide his disappointment. “I say we find Snoop and that other [guy, Chris], beat their black a– to death.”

“It’s a TV show,” I said, sarcastically. I was surprised at the display of pro-Butchie sentiment.

I was thrown a “f–k you” stare that only men with deep knowledge of hand-to-hand combat could give.

To refresh: Butchie is a confidante in the Baltimore ghettos. And a damn good one. Over the past four years, he has accumulated influence with politicos, cops, and the thugs on the street. He can find you a perp, a gun, a hideout, and a loan shark. Whatever you need. The ghetto’s version of E.F. Hutton; when Butchie talks, others listen.

Even though I was chiding Shine and the others in the room, I knew exactly why Butchie’s death led to misty eyes. None of the guys in this room could have survived on the streets without a Butchie in their pocket.

“We all have a Butchie,” Kool-J explained, rubbing his hands through his hair as he grasped the gravity of Butchie’s death. “One time, I got $10,000 worth of product stolen. I was held up. I had to make a payment to my bank [loanshark] in two days and I didn’t have any money. Problem was I was already late once — cost me a broken wrist. This time I was going to be shot in the knee, maybe even worse than that. My friend Buster got this real estate guy to loan me $10,000, at 30 percent interest, but it saved my life. Buster was my Butchie.”

Tony-T raised his drink in the air. “Many a time I called this man named Jo-Jo,” he said. “Eighty years old, and that [guy] knew every cop in Harlem. Whenever I had somebody out to kill me, Jo-Jo always got me a safe house. To Butchie! a [man] for all [men].” The others calmly raised their drinks. Orlando threw up a clenched fist. I searched for a box of Kleenex to pass around.

I knew many “Butchies” in Chicago. Most of these “brokers” were instrumental in saving the life of thugs like Kool-J and Tony-T. On this note, The Wire scores a point for authenticity: most of the brokers were small businessmen like Butchie who operated barber shops, lounges, bars, diners, and retail establishments. They didn’t make much money — the most successful person I met earned about $75,000 — but they tended to have personal security. That is, their businesses were stable and could be used to launder drug money, host important meetings among high-level community leaders, or hide someone who was in danger. And these brokers were rarely physically hurt or punished. You didn’t simply kill a broker; it was like going after a “made guy” in the Mafia.

For this reason, watching Butchie die shocked and awed.

And just when I thought the mood in the room wouldn’t lighten, from out of nowhere, the clouds parted and hope was restored. On a beach, somewhere in the Caribbean, Omar came into view.

“Yeah! There’s my man!” Shine shouted, spattering the hot-sauce-drenched pork rinds in his lap all over the floor.

“I knew that f—–t would come back,” Flavor rejoiced, beer spilling down his arm. “Get his a–, Omar. Get Marlo, that little b–ch.” Flavor jumped up and gave Orlando a high-five handshake.

Shine pumped his fist, turning to me with an “all is right in the world” glance.

As the credits rolled, Flavor began the round of betting anew. “A thousand dollars says in the last episode, Omar kills Marlo.”

“I got another thousand says Omar puts money in McNulty’s pocket,”
Tony-T yelped. “And my man Bunk is going to arrest them both!”

Bets were taken. A new bag of pork rinds was opened. Orlando poured the hot sauce in the bag and shook it up, grinning all the while.

Happiness had returned to the thugs. Good night and good luck.


chappy

I'd really like to hear Dubner's thoughts on the Baltimore Sun ascpect if he watches the show. Apparently, David Simon is having a current war of words with the former Sun management that is dipicted in the show. I love the show, but I find the journalism angle to be less than exciting (maybe it really is and that is the point). I also think it is crazy that the show, while set in present day (while referring to real, past Baltimore occurences) doesn't recognize that the Internet IS the current mode of journalism.
Anyway, the show always surprises me with how it can save seemingly preposterous, short-term story lines, so I still have faith. I just think it is going to be hard to salvage the Sun angle (as well as the fake serial killer created by McNulty).

Rich

But what about wagering on the Baltimore Sun?

BMoreMan

Man, I love these articles! So sad for Butchie. No telling which way the Omar/Marlo drama will play out. Just when you think you have it figured out, David Simon will throw a curve ball on ya! All I know is I love this show about my hometown, both the good and bad, though the good is rarely shown and there is much good in Baltimore. I am gonna miss this show when it leaves the air!! Hopefully Simon will create another series based around life in good ole Charm City!

awesome

Another great post. This is honestly the best things on the Times website each week. They should have this for every show. Lawyers commenting on law shows, cops on and criminals on cop shows, etc.

Ambrose

Having seen the next few episodes, I recommend Sudhir stocks up on tissues for his friends.

Sue

Wow Ambrose, I don't know what purpose that comment served other than potentially spoiling the next episode(s). Thanks.

Dale S.

Oh just wait until tonight's episode. Someone big goes down.

Thank you Thank you Thank you for combining by favorite show with my favorite blog.

arealuofchicagosociologist

Venkatesh is the Scott Templeton of academia. These blogs read like voyeuristic, fetishistic made-up nonsense. In closing, "We don't believe you, you need more people."

Gus (Baltimore Sun City Desk Editor)

Sudhir--

My man, this is great work, my man, but hey would you mind getting some more react quotes and maybe some art to support these stories? hey, my man, i would never say from one writer to another that this is all b------t, but hey, my man, that shows what i know. in graph 12 you've really got some cornball stuff, maybe try to tighten that up. you're writing this like you're living their lives, this is our city not beirut... you can go out and live with these guys, you're just sitting in a room for one hour with them. from one w----e to another.

Sincerely, Gus (Baltimore Sun City Desk Editor)

Spencer

Good post. This is one of the main reasons I read freakonomics. Keep it up.

Truth About It Dot Net

Heyo....

But the way, Omar was in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

http://www.truthaboutit.net/2008/01/wired-on-wire-season-5-episode-3-not.html

david

Its been said already, but please don't stop. I need this every week

Slangdini

Let the boys know, black folks read this too (although I'm a professor). Man these conversations just validate why i love the wire. The trope of "keeping it real" is way over used, but the intricacies of the streets are so complex yet reflective of everyday life.

the debate over the code of the streets is one i first started hearing in the late 90s up until now. for many of my family members who just got out the pen, the streets are scary than ever because of the wild cowboy mentality of the youngsters.

But the children of the Me generation are entitled, to quote Jay-Z "You don't know me but the whole world owe me." As someone who teaches this young generation they are dedicated to not only getting paid but getting paid on their terms. And the sadistic Marlo is an example of that.

I wonder what they think of Marlo's penchant for not getting dirty. Its hella smart, but Marlo is like a gangster rapper with body guards--he orders the hit but was he ever in the streets putting in work? Or is he just terribly ambitious?

As far as a prediction. Omar will die, but Marlo will be dead too. The greeks' power as the connect cannot be undersold. They are not on anyones wire or anyone's freaking radar. They have cronies from eastern europe with nothing to lose. But i think Mike will kill Omar after Omar merks Marlo. Mike becomes avon. this has been foreshadowed. Remember Avon was golden gloves too, and Dukie will be his smart Stringer Bell.

keep up the good work.

Read more...

Ari

Sad day for Butchie. But short of killing is grandma (which was not going to happen) getting Butchie was really the only way to bring Omar back to B-More. Someone is going down. I have to believe like Ancient Rome and Greece, first the Barksdale's went down and so will Marlo- and some one will step up in his stead.

Name Withheld

The censorship of this post is entertaining. Can we get Randall Kennedy in the next quorum?

greiig

This should be on some DVD box set of The Wire as a commentary track.

Jay B

Chappy said: "I also think it is crazy that the show, while set in present day (while referring to real, past Baltimore occurences) doesn't recognize that the Internet IS the current mode of journalism."

That's because it isn't. The show reflected exactly where we are in terms of internet journalism and print news during "Not For Attributions"
Newspapers still have a strong presence in 2008. But that's not to say it will in 2018.
There are so many reasons to kill the newspaper; the environmental factor, the advent of digital media and devices like the Kindler. But many people including myself still appreciate the intimacy of holding the paper in hand and folding it up for later reading.

stitics

I love this. It's the only thing I read on NYT.com. Heck, i don't even watch the show. I just read this. Keep 'em coming.

Jennifer

Awesome - just read all three posts you've done so far. The Wire producers should be linking these posts to their website on HBO. I too am curious about their take on Michael...

Michael

Great piece, love the wire. Watched every season back to back for a week. Too bad its ending.