The Wire at Ten– Jack Halberstam, “The King Stay the King”

Editor’s Note: “The Wire at Ten” has thus far featured posts on drugs and the “human ecology” of the show (Stan Corkin, Cincinnati), its logic of “subordination” (Sergio Campos, Miami), and the way it departs form the televisual crime genre norms laid out in the 1970s and ’80s (Carlo Rotella, Boston College).  Today we take a different tack and welcome Jack Halberstam, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. Halberstam is the author of, among other canonical texts of queer studies, Female Masculinity (Duke, 1998), The Queer Art of Failure (Duke, 2011) and Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Beacon Press, 2012).  Currently working on a book on Queer Anarchism, he is also a founder of and contributor to Bully Bloggers.

In my recent book Gaga Feminism, I turn to The Wire for wisdom about power, gender relations, sex and violence. If you know where to look,

Omar and Brandon, Season 1

you can find pieces of gaga feminism, gaga-ideology strewn throughout this acclaimed HBO series. Filled with life lessons and hard knock truths about “the game,” or the perpetual struggle between the law and those people it fails to protect, the street and those people who are sacrificed upon it, professions and those people who learn how to work their success while engineering everyone else’s failure, this series has more to say about the inertia of race and class relations in the US than anything else in TV ever.

Set in Baltimore over in five glorious seasons, The Wire explores the warfare between drug dealers and drug addicts, between detectives and city hall, between the fine shades of right and the nuanced areas of wrong. And all of these epic, Shakespearian dramas play out against the backdrop of school, kinship, intimacy, homoerotic bonding, lesbian parenting, divorce, alcoholism, courage, love and loss.

Unlike recent “gay positive” sit-com fare like The New Normal or Modern Family, The Wire does not feel the need to situate its gay, lesbian or queer characters on the side of the right, the good and the true. It does not seek to correct negative images and it does not idealize or unnecessarily heroize those characters, or any characters, along the way. Instead, The Wire gives us magnificently complex, contradictory, flawed queer characters who, like everyone else in the series, kill, maim, struggle, fight and die.

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