lake trout vs squirrel brains

It’s not rash to say that dimensions of crime, race, class, cops and municipal governance, as depicted on the show’s fictional Baltimore, are far from representative of America as a whole. As Mr. Simon offered in our comments and on Slate , Baltimore’s populations are at this point, fairly black and white- the impact of Spanish-speaking populations is still yet to be determined. Language is one of the most obvious aspects of urban geography and a key example. If The Wire was set in San Diego, Houston, Phoenix or Orlando- any sun belt city, it’d be in 12 languages and on every night.


By virtue of its Baltimore setting, the urban blight on The Wire looks like what we think it should look like, because Baltimore looks like what we think a city should look like. West Baltimore is an intended urban area- whereas Pleasant Grove, Acres Homes, and North Little Rock are urban by happenstance. Corners, Corbusier towers and bombed out 19th century rowhouses make more sense as urban spaces than strip malls full of Money Trees and Dollar Generals, shotgun houses or skuzzy sprawling apartment complexes. If there’s any hard driven lesson from the show, especially in this past season, it’s to think about the way large scale operations carry out in everyday life, and by extension, to think about what they look like.

But the point of this post is that you won’t have to wonder about what another city’s Wire would be like or look like, because recommended viewing in post-season reeling this week is the mindblowing HBO doc of yore, Gang Wars: Bangin in Little Rock. In a fit of On-Demand scourging a few months back, I happened upon Back in the Hood, the 2004 follow up, which while less substantial and highly specific, is might be necessary to acquaint the unfamiliar with the world of Arkansas in 1992. Observers of The Wire point to authentic depictions of Baltimore’s linguistic idiom as a stumbling block, but seriously dudes, try Arkansas as a starting point instead of the recognizable quirks of the eastern seaboard.

Gang Wars runs under 60 minutes, and its subjects make The Wire’s kids look utterly wholesome by comparison. (Sure, gang dynamics are absent from The Wire, gangs are about more than drugs, et cetera.) Little Rock’s black Bloods and Crips are depressing and inscrutable- to say the least, and their rural-urban environment makes them seem far more hopeless. At the center of much of the narrative is the Little Rock city coroner Steve Nawojczyk, who takes up anti-gang campaigning in either spare time or official capacity. By far the most well intentioned of all of the city officials, Steve makes a poster of drive-by victims’ morgue shots, and takes it around to neighborhoods while bearing pizza and fried chicken. (For humor or to draw in white audience members, the filmmakers do diverge and spend a fair amount of time chronicling a coed, black-white Folk Nation chapter, who chant the lyrics to The Chronic, tote hunting weapons and operate on petty thefts, and may very well be the type of Arkansas youth who pick off squirrels when they get the munchies.) Gang Wars is, bizarre, fairly heartbreaking, and accurately captures the local hysteria that surrounds a sudden crime epidemic.

Explore posts in the same categories: Poverty, Race

9 Comments on “lake trout vs squirrel brains”

  1. noz Says:

    hope you guys don’t mind me spamming like this, but i got this wire hoodie up on ebay and i really need to pay off debt accrued from random rap records –

    on the subject of gang documentaries, i just snagged a bootleg of “80 blocks from tiffannys.” maybe i’ll write something about it for this site after all, if i’m still welcome. you know, after the spam and all…

  2. Kevin Says:

    I wish they would put the first one up on On Demand. I saw the follow up a few months back and really liked it.

    Your right, if The Wire was filmed in my home town Houston there would be so many different languages that it would become dizzying. If you want to get an image of urban life of Houston I recommend Jason’s Lyric, a great film that is a historic record of Houston’s inner city before significant revitalization started.

  3. christycash Says:

    oh shit, noz. jetset, buy that shit!

  4. Shoals Says:

    this is the part where i trot out one of my favorite, but probably useless, conceptual disctinctions: urban-rural vs. rural-urban.

    one of them (doesn’t matter which) is what pw refers to as “urban by happenstance,” while the other is the wire-ish deterioration of city’s institutions and infrastructure. if you’re on a block of abandoned houses where force rules and a decentralized, informal market reigns, is it still a city? i know that the author of the above post would claim that police and surveillance are what still define it as such, but don’t they forfeit that status if they too start to live by the rules of the POST-MARLO street?

  5. pizzawhale Says:

    A fine example of these distinctions is “Animal Cops” (I think Houston is the best series, but Detroit is good too). I do realize that there’s much to be read into policing people and their keep of animals in an urban environment, but Will they seize a tiger from a drug den? Will they take in a malnourished donkey? Rural-urban or Urban-rural?

    And duh, “Kevin”, I live in Houston too- why else would I mention Acres Homes?

  6. jetsetjunta Says:

    What about the recent embrace of rural-uban / urban-rural aesthetics in hip-hop? For a while there it seemed like every other ATL group was chewing on straw and cavorting with pigs, and not just Bubba Sparxxx and Field Mob either. Isn’t there a Ying-Yang video where they’re wearing overalls, to say nothing of the “Miss Jackson” video? When will the two things, if they are even very different, merge entirely?

  7. glockinpalm Says:

    GANG WARS was an absolute favorite of mine when it was released and may be the finest moment in the American Undercover series. Together with HIGH ON CRACK STREET: LOST LIVES IN LOWELL and SKINHEADS USA: SOLDIERS OF THE RACE WAR, these movies were simultaneously absorbing and revolting. first rate television–especially GANG WARS–that actually deserves to be mentioned alongside of THE WIRE…

  8. Shoals Says:

    jsj, the phenomenon of all southern cities claiming “country” just proves that urban-rural has some cachet. rural-urban, on the other hand, is just plain scary.

  9. Al Says:

    Baltimore definitely has a small Latino population (especially compared to D.C. or Chicago or most Southern cities) but it is there. I live in one of the city’s only heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, Upper Fells Point.

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