The Increasing Significance of Race

by LittleManLevy,

After reading over last week’s posts, it occurred to me that for a show whose primary focus is the black urban underclass, the first three seasons of the Wire had remarkably little to say on the subject of race. The blackness or whiteness of individual characters is rarely brought to the viewer’s attention; racial inequality is represented in the landscape, but never enters as an object of critique. The dysfunctions of the institutional power structures are what keep the plot moving and the city miserable, and for the first three seasons, these dysfunctions are essentially colorless.

In the first two episodes of Season 4, however, these power structures are presented in overtly racial terms. Herc laments about how his black partner will again make rank before he does; Perelman worries that a black DA will “bounce the white girl…and give the narcotics division to one of their own”; and Tommy Carcetti repeats his sorry dirge about waking up white in a city that ain’t. As one of us has already pointed out, it is easy to watch this episode and conclude that “the system is black” in Baltimore – that its corruption is a corruption of black influence and self-interest. But when we stop and consider the events of Seasons 1-3, how much evidence for this conclusion really exists? In the first season, Daniels lost his promotion to a white lieutenant (Cantrell); Royce’s first police commissioner was white, as was his intended replacement until Valcheck – in exchange for the Sobotka detail – intervened on behalf of Burrell; as the portraits in city hall testify, all but one of Baltimore’s former mayors have been white as well.

If the racial anxieties expressed in Season Four are significant, it is not for their validity, but for their objective consequences. Insofar as white opportunities appear closed under a black administration, those who feel aggrieved will be motivated to replace it. One of the big questions about the dead witness leak in Episode 2 was whether Landsman dialed Valchek directly, or whether he went through Rawls. However irresponsible, my speculation is that Rawls was involved, believing that a white mayor is his only chance at further promotion. Here, race really could become an impediment for reform in Baltimore. For if Carcetti is to win, he will need more favors from his informants, and these favors will require repayment. Given the chance to promote an actual reformer like Daniels or Colvin, he’ll have to settle for just a different color of status quo.

This is the first instance where racial polarization could become a self-fulfilling prophecy; a second is Carcetti’s campaign. In addition to informants, Carcetti will also need votes, and D’Agostino’s remark about Spiro Agnew and the 1968 riots gave a hint at how he might get them. It was by lashing out at the black community and rejecting its leaders as criminals that Agnew, a one-time moderate Democrat, famously caught the eye of the Nixon campaign, and propelled both himself and the race-baiting “Southern Strategy” onto the national stage. As it stands now, Carcetti’s law-and-order platform seems largely innocent and sincere. But as the campaign heats up, I have a feeling this will change.

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Update: Just saw Episode 3 – they just keep getting better!  A few quick thoughts:  1) Is Major Crimes really dead?  Will nothing come of those subpoenas?  2) That scene between McNulty and Bunk brought tears to my eyes.  After he didn’t show up once in the last episode, I thought I was over him.  I was wrong.  3) Who is Rawls going to demote from homicide?  If its Landsman or that other guy, I withdraw my theory about the leak.  4) Let me be the first to confirm it: the academy LOVES Bunny Colvin.

Explore posts in the same categories: Carcetti for Mayor, Race, Uncategorized

12 Comments on “The Increasing Significance of Race”

  1. Shoals Says:

    it’s been widely held among my circle of friends that if season 2 has a weakness, it’s all the time spent getting the band back together. levy had worried that this might overtake season 4, but i guess this episode brilliantly addressed his concerns.

    i also like how that dude came in looking like he was going to be the most one-dimensional, useless roadblock character ever, and instead the unit falls apart.

  2. annaa Says:

    ok, here’s my procedural question for last night. I assumed the dead witness leak went through the Major, but if so, if he is so determined to help Carcetti, why did he tell Herc to sit on the blowjob story? Did he just know from experience how the mayor was going to play it (can the whiteboy) and figure the story would be better coming directly from Herc just a week or two before the election?

  3. LittleManLevy Says:

    yeah, I was wondering about that myself. It seems a little odd that Valchek, if he’s trying to help Carcetti, would sit on the blowjob story but then go and leak about the dead witness. unless, as you said, he was operating under the assumption that the mayor would fire Herc – something we now know isn’t going to happen.

    Shoals mentioned that there might have been a scene last season in which Valchek asks Landsman to watch out for dead witnesses, which would explain why Landsman didn’t go through Rawls, but I don’t remember it. does anyone else?

  4. Shoals Says:

    maybe valchek is saving something in case royce get reeeeelected. he tells herc to keep quiet and take the promotion so he can be the one to leverage this information.

  5. LittleManLevy Says:

    you know, a season ago I would have said there’s no way Valchek is so canny an operator, but from what he’s show us recently, it seems totally plausible.

    speaking of plausibility: I can bring myself to believe that Jimmy McNulty is a family man; I can even believe that he genuinely likes being out of the game. But what I’ll never believe is that TV’s GREATEST ALCOHOLIC in seasons 1-3 is suddenly able to “nurse his beer”.

  6. Murky Says:

    I think Valchek draws a distinction between political weapons — the dead witness — and personal ones like the blowjob. Not that he would never use the bj, but it’s too valuable to fritter away on something as mundane as an election. Like Shoals said, better to have it in the quiver in case Royce wins.

    Also, I don’t think any of these guys want to drop down to that level unnecessarily. Blowback could turn ugly, especially the way these cops and pols sleep around. Carcetti obviously wouldn’t want to run with something like that, given his own habits.

  7. jhoshea Says:

    carcetti gets wind of the subpoenas and the resulting coverup and uses them to get elected.

    valcheck doesn’t leak the blowjob story because it’s useless info unless you’ve got herc at a press conference being all and then i saw the mayor’s huge… you know. a rumor of a blowjob goes nowhere. still it’s enough for the mayor to throw herc a bone as it costs him nothing.

  8. Shoals Says:

    i hope that wasn’t a spoiler. and obviously, anyone who happens to have advance DVD’s isn’t allowed to use their priveliged information to make “right” guesses about where things might head. or to cash in at our betting section.

  9. Tom Says:

    Yeah, spoiler posts should be deleted, although its not clear if that guy is spoilin’

  10. jhoshea Says:

    it’s a guess dudes – i wouldn’t spoil stuff for you.

    well the first is a guess and the second is kinda guess mixed with an analysis.

  11. Tom Says:

    Cool man – sorry for my paranoia. Many writers and TV critics got a complete set of discs, which I’m sure have been passed around a bit.

    My guess is the blowjob never gets used as a political weapon because there’s no proof it ever happened. The police politics this season are the best yet. What’s Landsmann’s angle? Who will become Commissioner if Carcetti wins? Valchek? Hell, what about Daniels?

    Herc is sitting pretty either way, except for the fairly improbable case where Carcetti/Valchek use the blowjob to attack Royce, but Royce wins anyway.

  12. brooklyn Says:

    remember in season 3 (or 2), Valcheck made a deal with Tommy to give him a heads up with a witness murder in exchange for some much needed police equipment. Tommy made good on his promise, so Valcheck had to keep his word. A blowjob story was not a part of the deal, so Valcheck held it back.


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