What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire? Part Nine

Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia sociologist and author of “Gang Leader for a Day,” is back once again with his chronicle of watching “The Wire” with a group of gangland acquaintances. His past reports can be found here.

I should have seen it coming. But I didn’t.

The Thugs informed me that they were not interested in watching the last 2 episodes of season 5 of The Wire. I’ve been pleading with them to reconsider.

“We’ve seen this s–t already,” Shine told me. “This is fun if you work all day behind a desk, or you’re sitting in some suburb. But for us, it’s like watching somebody make a movie about you — someone who doesn’t really know all that much about your life.”

“We did this for you, Sudhir, if you want to know the truth,” Orlando barked at me through his cellphone. “I mean, we can walk out the door and see this stuff every day. And we thought you were going to make some money on this. But you’re doing it for nothing, so what’s the point?”

I appealed to their need to entertain and educate the public, and perhaps even to enjoy themselves while frightening the public.

“No, I don’t get off on making a bunch of white folk nervous. Obama’s already doing that,” laughed Tony-T. “And anyway, Flavor‘s not here, and we ain’t heard from him. So, it’s…”

Tony’s voice trailed off, but I understood. The Thugs were worried about Flavor, and watching the show made them nervous. (Readers will recall from the last posting that Flavor got himself in trouble with a rival gang leader). Whether they admitted it or not, commenting on the show was akin to weighing the likelihood of Flavor’s demise.

I was hoping that they’d change their minds before Sunday evening. But while I still had their attention, I posed this question to them: “If there was another season of the show, and you were directing it, what would you focus on?” Here are their top four answers.

1. “I’d let a black man write it, first of all,” said Shine. “That way, you’d have real winners and losers. Like I said, white folk want you to believe that everyone is screwed up, everyone is getting their piece [of the action]. True, but it’s different if you’re white. It’s never as bad as it is when you’re black.”

2. “Sex,” said Orlando. “They missed out on the prostitution game and all the people making money selling their bodies. That’s a huge part of making money. And it brings white folk and black folk together.”

3. “Women,” said Tony-T. “Where I come from, women run most of the things [that the show] talks about. It’s the women that have the power in the ghetto. This show totally got it wrong when they made it all about men. Women are the politicians; they can get you a gun, they got the cash, they can get you land to build something on.”

4. Kool J sighed and answered the question in somber fashion. “Death. But not like how they do it. You don’t see none of these n—rs suffer. And I bet a lot of white people think we run around killing each other all the time. I mean, it’s not like we like seeing all these people die on our streets. It’s hard, man, and a lot of us get scared off. We leave the game. Suicide, man. People don’t want to talk about it, but we’re killing ourselves. Slowly.”

I asked each Thug if he had any final comments. To my surprise, they all said that they enjoyed reading the comments on the Freakonomics blog.

“I don’t know how,” said Shine, “but if people want to know about us, if they have questions, I’m cool with answering anything people want to know.”

“It’s weird,” Tony-T said. “I don’t talk to a lot of people outside my ‘hood, so I liked the questions and the things they were telling us. For me, I got to learn about ‘those’ people. You know, the ones who drink Budweiser and have trouble getting it up.”

Orlando felt particularly gracious. “Maybe I’ll throw a party and everyone can come over. I live in Harlem. Do you think they know where that is?”

Touché.


pembleton

sudhir, get them back! i can't believe they pulled out, and with only a week to go. they must return, this blog has been the highlight of my weekly reading for nine weeks now.
my thoughts are with flavor, let's hope he gets through this unfortunate spell.

Serge

I live in Europe and The Wire has yet to be broadcasted over here. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading Sudhir's blogs a lot -they're refreshing, down-to-earth, insightful and fun to read.

What I like especially is the fact that the ghetto guys have the same curiosity about the rest of the world as it appears vice versa. It seems to me they try to be right up there in Maslov's pyramid as well; being self-reflective and all.

What I am curious to learn, especially after reading about the financial situation and foresight of the majority of gang members in Freakonomics, is how Shine, Orlando, Tony-T and all those others feel about improving their lives; i.e. what is or would be, to them, the single most important thing to improve their chances on a safer, healthier and more prosperous life? Is it education, employment or something else? And how would they play their part in it?

All the best!

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Troy Camplin, Ph.D.

jim d -- I have a book for you that you might be interested in that might help explain the phenomenon -- and other kinds of personalities -- it's Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan. Interesting psychosocial theory. I would guess that all the thugs, and probably even your client, are all heroic individualists (in the spiral dynamics hierarchy of psychosocial development).

achilles3

I wanna thank the guys for giving what they did.

I'm a 30 year old white guy from the burbs.
BUT I taught at a school in Cincinnati that had the richest and the poorest (black and white) of public school kids. They taught me a lot that I didn't get in the burbs.

Now that I teach in Korea I feel like some things are missing. I was thankful for Tony T and the boys and their honesty in LIFE.

I don't even watch The Wire so I won't miss it.
But I'll miss this.

Thanks

fvreg

For better or worse, Orlando, white folks are finding Harlem more and more. Gentrification has crept to 125th St.

jim d

The comment about " we thought you were going to make some money on this. But you're doing it for nothing, so what's the point?" was interesting to me.
You are not "doing it for nothing". This is "value-added" material that helps to sell the book AND yourself for future projects.

I have a client who has the same sort of outlook on things as well.
He has made that same comment to me when I try and tell him about some project I am working on.
He is a Rich White Male that does not seem to understand why someone else does anything if there is no money involved. Either buying things (collecting) or selling things.
Any sort of "work" or project that is for some as-yet undefined monetary reward is something he does not "get". There must be a some sort of monetary end-game to everything that he or anyone else does or....what's the point?
I have been trying to wrap my head around this perspective on the world for awhile, partly because I am fascinated by it and also so I can explain things to him in a manner he wants to hear: deals/economics/numbers/profit.

I really think that the thugs and my client would get along quite well, seriously. Their general outlook on life is basically the same, just from different ends of the spectrum. He does not like to hang around other Rich people either. He prefers the company of others that see the world as he does no matter what their social standing.

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jay c

You can tell Orlando I live in the BX so yes I know where Harlem is and not everyone that read this blog is white and from the suburbs. The thugs need to remember this was supposed to be about Baltimore and friends of mine said for the most part west Baltimore is like that. It would have been nice to see pimps and hos but it wasn't built into the dynamic of the show after the strip club was gone.

Gary

I think the real loser in this is HBO. I only watched the Wire because the series of blog posts on the topic was so interesting. Thanks to the Thugs and Sudhir for giving a guy who sits in an office all day in DC some insight into a life far different from mine.

Jesse

I am also disappointed, but this feels oddly appropriate considering the uncertain lives these guys must live. You can't count on tomorrow. There is a similarity, no matter how stretched, between readers getting a taste of a good thing and expecting more, and a gang member getting a taste of the life and expecting it to last. This must be why blog readers still live with their mothers.

B K Ray

The cast, the crew and the storyline were all very diverse, the writers, not so much. It would appear that black people, poor and otherwise are not able to take a critical look at themselves and write about that. But it only appears that way, we are very much able to critically see ourselves and in compelling ways, we just do not have as much avenue to do so.
As a black writer, it is painful to see that so many other people, mostly white and almost none black, get to tell our story. That is not so bad, except we (black writers), generally are relegated to our mythology and some noble crap about being on the come up.

A hundred years ago when I was in college, I read Russell Banks 'Affliction', at the time, I did not know of one black writer who had written a contemporary book
the containing the ugly African-American (as it were). Black lit at that time was historical, a historical girl coming of age or a successful black woman who can not find love.

So I did what any writer would do, I wrote a book. (Shameful plug alert). It was a non-mythological book about a poor black family, living quite close to the irony that is University of Chicago. About twelve years and passing through many hands, I got it published. But the joke was on me. The name of the book is South Side Dreams. If you can get past the cover it is a decent read.

I can not say I was surprised to find so many aspects (except one big one) about life in poverty that would be cosigned by people much more famous than I. Before it was determined that drug dealers who stand on the corners really do not make a lot of money, I had already written about a small time dealer, in a fictional gang, who did live with his mother. One thing that non-black people have not studied (and I have to say I am surprised by this) that is in the book is the homosexuality and the black church (and y'all thought it was just Catholic Priests), but I am sure that will come out sometime. (shameful plug ends here).

The thing is we are able to tell our stories, as well as the writers on the wire would be able to, but we do not have access, not even through our own media outlets as it were. We (black writers) are in a rather curious place we want to tell the truth, but writing for a black audience we are forced to deal in myth and white audiences don't really care for the anger that our poverty is steeped in (well to be honest not too many black people want to hear about that either, or at least they don't acknowledge it).

David Simon, the guy behind The Wire, Homicide and the Corner was on Fresh Air and he talked about the how peope who tried to change the system for the better, efforts are almost futile. That is a hard lesson to learn, very hard. But if you are lucky (skilled and prepared when the opporunity avails itself) you can be a pea under the bureaucrat's mattress. All hail the pea!!

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Gopal

Has anyone else noticed that the racial/socioeconomic background of the viewer is being called into question this season more than ever before? It seems like blogs/message boards are rife with comments about who is and is not in a position to really "get" the show, despite the fact that the cast, production crew and storylines are all quite diverse.

Mimi

It seems a lot of people lost interest in this show after Omar got killed. It just isn't the same anymore. My brother threw a chicken wing at the TV when that happened. Now him and his friends refuse to watch. Having Omar get taken out by that little brat Kenard was a buzz kill. They were building up to an epic showdown between Omar and Marlo/Chris. That's what everyone was waiting for. It sucks. It really ruined this season.

I don't blame the Thugs for not wanting to watch anymore.

Sudhir, can you post a picture of yourself with these "Thugs"? It would dispel the rumor that you're making all this up. Some people think you're a fabricator like Scott Templeton. Show us some proof. Thanks!

Wes

People seem to have gotten a lot out of this blog, even calling it the highlight of their week. But the entries were so short. If we're going for reality, why just leave in the highlights? Count me among the skeptics. #7 is spot on too. Sudhir is pretty shameless, so nothing would surprise me.

ty

I'm black, I read the Times, I'm from the bronx (born and raised), I watch(ed) the wire. oh and I'm not a nerd...I feel like the thugs would never be satisfied...the show was on cable television, not a documentary and even those are edited. And sorry thugs it's not all about you either...this show was about society as a whole especially societal ills such as failure in the school system, homelessness, the working poor, the media...the list goes on and on. I suggest the thugs make a their own show if they want it to be so realistic... But believe me people will find fault with that too. I don't see you out there trying to tell your story, our story or anyone else's. Be glad it was told with all of it's imperfections be glad that someone cared enough to do it...doesn't take much to be a mouthpiece, action is the real test.

Marc

Two Questions:

* In The Wire, they make a big point about how the people stuck in B'more don't know how to get out; they've got no road to take them to the other side. So everyone's stuck in the game, prison, hustlin' or whatever. How true do they find this, and if they wanted to get out of the game, what would they do?

* They ever heard of Ralph Wiley?

Can get to Harlem; wouldn't know where to go once I got there. And if we never hear back, tell 'em thanks.

Gordon

Sudhir,
Thanks for a riveting blog. Because of what I've read here, my wife and I signed up for Netflix and are watching The Wire from the very beginning. An interesting point for me (generationally speaking) was my own reaction watching the episodes with just my wife as compared to watching it with my parents (we visited them recently). We noticed how uncomfortable we felt watching the episode where McNulty investigates a shooting and finds the slug in the refrigerater door...all the while saying mother f***er...but had no problems with the first four episodes and the language that was used. We tried to talk it over with my parents, but they weren't interested nor were they interested in watching any more episodes.

As far as the blog, I've enjoyed reading their take on the show and think it would've been interesting to get a live discussion between the people on this forum and them. It's one thing to give them an open forum and quite another to be able to probe into their opinions and views.

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Elizabeth

I have been of "The Wire" since Season 1. But I did really develop a fondness any of the characters until Season 4, where the focus of the show was on the 4 kids. As strange as it may sound, it made me look at all the other characters from that point on a bit differently. Reading this blog made the last season all the more interesting.

In watching the finale, was anyone else truly upset by the image of Dukie becoming a homeless addict? All I could think is how that kid never stood a chance and how many other kids there are out there that need our empathy and help.

Michael

The accusation that Sudhir is making this whole thing up makes no sense. If he was, why would he end it before the last two episodes??

I'm sure these folks are just having a laugh, but it's not right to smear a guy as dishonest without any evidence.

JZ

Just wanted to thank Sudhir and all of the guys for participating and giving the readers of this blog their insight. I've watched "The Wire" from the very first episode of Season One and am extremely sad to see it end, as I consider it to be the greatest show ever on television.

Like most other readers/commenters here, I looked forward to reading this so much each week. I'm disappointed that the guys won't finish the season, but I respect their decision. The way they predicted so many events so accurately this season was impressive and truly enlightening.

Sudhir, thank you for this column - I eagerly anticipate whatever you do next. And to all of the guys who participated - thank you for taking a chance on Sudhir and on this audience and giving us a glimpse into your world. I do wish you all the best and commend you for your efforts.

MauiYankee

A big Mahalo from this transplanted Brownsville Boy.

The series was terrific, and I found myself checking back, checking back to see if the new column was done yet. It's kind of ending on a weak note, but I don't know what else could be provided by the Gangbangers of New York.