This article draws on critical responses to The Wire as a way of reflecting on how race is reproduced. It focuses on how calls for better stories and images on television are not reconciled with the ontological distinction between representation and reality and the fact that there is no unitary racialised subject to represent and looks at how a narrow set of racialised relations are invoked to explain interpretations of black culture despite a more complex set of viewing positions and practices. It argues that rather than the erasure of race becoming more prevalent, normative racialised assumptions and narrow conceptions of subject and viewing positions continue to inflect commentary about popular culture. It also proposes that the achievement and cultural value of The Wire exemplifies a shift in the way stories are constructed in the contemporary media landscape from linear, morally prescriptive narratives to complex, morally ambiguous accounts of social worlds. In doing so, the politics of representation and thus how appetites for complex narratives and characters are being attended to by shows like The Wire become more visible without invoking race as the final arbiter of authentic storytelling.
- SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship