Location: Littauer 166
Week 1 – The Wire as Social Theory.
In our first meeting we will present the HBO series The Wire as a conceptual lens for analyzing the structural and cultural sources of black poverty in the inner city. We will lift out some of the recurring themes which suggest a discrete theory of the intersection of race and class in an urban environment.
Week 2 – Black and Poor by the Numbers in the Age of Obama
Utilizing an episode from Season IV of The Wire we will connect the life experiences of four of the boys portrayed in that season to the most recent statistical data on black urban poverty and academic achievement. We will explore what the episode tells us about the reality beneath the numbers.
Week 3 – The Parable of Bodie: Structure vs. Culture
One of the major debates in the social sciences revolves around the question of what are the primary sources of black urban poverty. It is culture, i.e. the behavior of the poor, or is it structure, as in larger socioeconomic forces. We will examine what the life of the young drug dealer Bodie can tell us about this question.
Week 4 – Cornell West, Black Nihilism and the Meaning of Marlow Stansfield
One of the most important essays analyzing the intersection of black-on-black violence, culture and structure is Cornell West’s “Nihilism in Black America.” Focusing on one sociopathic drug dealer from Episode 4, Marlow Stansfield, we will discuss the analytic utility of the concept of nihilism for framing the peculiar character of black-on-black violence in the inner city.
Week 5 – A Conversation with Executive Producer, David Simon
The artistic and intellectual genius behind The Wire is David Simon who arguably has captured the nature of black urban poverty more powerfully than much of the scholarly literature. We will discuss what he thinks the presidency of Barack Obama means for the lives of young people such as those portrayed in the series.
Week 6 – An evening with Omar Little (Michael Williams)
When President Barack Obama stated that his favorite television show was The Wire he added that the character he liked the most was Omar. We will discuss with Michael Williams, the actor who portrays Omar, his take on how the character would have interpreted the meaning of the Obama presidency. We will explore what objective difference Obama would have made in the lives of the young people who live in the world of Omar.
Week 7 – Obama through the lens of The Wire
What difference does President Obama really make? In this final session we will discuss the potential and limitations of any presidency for affecting the conditions of the poorest of the poor in our inner cities. We will focus on the limitations of the state and the role of civil society in affecting the quality of life in our poorest cities. What kind of new intellectual movement is required to pragmatically address the issues highlighted by this extraordinary series?