Search the Site

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?”