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Social Inequalities in HBO’s “The Wire” Essay

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Updated: May 15th, 2020

Social stratification is an ancient issue. The concept of power and inequality appeared as soon as humans started own properties. The ones with better properties ended up ruling the world and dictating social conditions to those less fortunate. Stratification stands for the social division into upper, middle and lower classes. Today, the issue of social inequality and the gap between the rich and the poor is explored not only by the scholars by also by artists and media.

This paper focuses on social inequalities in HBO’s The Wire. Using examples of D’Angelo’s communication with his followers the paper demonstrates that the inequalities of the inner-city Baltimore showed in The Wire are deeply rooted in the minds of the representatives of lower class who experience unfairness every day and who are taught that this is the only way life can be.

Introduction of the Program

HBO’s The Wire is a crime drama that depicts the lives of simple individuals in inner-city Baltimore. The protagonists are struggling to make their living in the world filled with unfairness and inequality (Chaddha & Wilson, 2010). The imbalance of power and institutional dysfunction affect the low-income community forcing its representatives into the world of crime and a clear creating social duality in the society dividing America into two different worlds (Simon, 2013).

The main characters represent two main groups – drug traffickers and criminals (D’Angelo and Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, Bodie, Poot) and Baltimore police and justice institutions (Jimmy McNulty, Daniel Phelan, Cedric Daniels, Kima Greggs).

Scenes Review

The scene that outlines the plot of The Wire is the intro the first season where McNulty is sitting next to a local gang representative discussing the nicknames of gang members, McNulty comments on an offensive nickname and calls it unfair, to which his conversation partner replies “Life just be that way, I guess”. This scene depicts the ultimate attitude towards life of low-income individuals forced to the world of crime. Ever since childhood they are taught that opportunities are limited for them and so are rights.

Another scene depicting the theme of social inequality is the chess scene from season 1. Explaining the rules of the game of chess to his partners, D’Angelo mentions the “the king stay the king”, a pawn has no chance of becoming a king, and a pawn generally is the most disposable figure.

D’Angelo seems like the carrier of the inequality beliefs, he serves as a mentor to younger dealers such as Wallace and Bodie. D’Angelo explains the way life works to them when they admire the inventor of Chicken McNuggets and suppose that he became rich due to his brilliant idea. D’Angelo breaks the boys’ fantasy telling them that most likely the inventor got exploited by his superiors who collect all the profit for his invention. D’Angelo says that “it is not about right, it is about money”.

Symbolism and Non-Verbal Communication and its Interpretation

When D’Angelo explains the chess rules to his partners, he picks up white figures. Elaborating on the meaning of the king figure, he kisses the piece showing his admiration to the superior status of the king. The color of a figure is a hint to the racial inequality as well. Besides, D’Angelo speaks bitterly about pawns and their limited role in the game, the faces of his partners demonstrate that they associate themselves with the pawns. In the McNuggets scene D’Angelo disillusions younger dealers and deliberately ruins their faith is fairness and honesty.

D’Angelo teaches the boys that money is the only source of power in the world and the people who were born poor and powerless will always remain that way. D’Angelo symbolizes the leaders of inner-city and their influence on the youth. His communication with Wallace, Bodie and Poot depicts the process of preparation of gangsters on the emotional level building a mentality of a typical inner-city criminal, angry at his life, at wealthy individuals and willing to re-establish fairness in the society through robbery, drug trafficking, and other illegal practices.

In conclusion, HBO’s The Wire is a criminal drama that is made along the lines of detective stories but also targets social stratification and inequality that feeds criminal activity. To prepare new human resources for gangs, the older members train the youth. Emotional preparation plays a vital role in this process and is demonstrated through D’Angelo’s lessons about life taught to young boys.

Reference List

Chaddha, A., & Wilson, W. J. (2010). Why we’re teaching ‘The Wire’ at Harvard.

Simon, D. (2013). David Simon: ‘‘.

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IvyPanda. "Social Inequalities in HBO’s "The Wire"." May 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-inequalities-in-hbos-the-wire/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Social Inequalities in HBO’s "The Wire"." May 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-inequalities-in-hbos-the-wire/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Social Inequalities in HBO’s "The Wire"'. 15 May.

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