I've watched The Wire three times now. That's 60 episodes, each averaging an hour, multiplied by 3. That's over a week of my life devoted solely to watching a television show.
And what a television show.
Every time I watch The Wire, I get some new perspective on what it's all about.
"It's about who the real targets are."
"It's about the hierarchy within institutions."
"It's about the machine that is the modern polis."
"It's about the futility of the war on drugs."
"It's about the possibility and impossibility of reform."
"I've been reading way too much into things. It's just about cops and gangsters and stuff."
Right now, my perspective is that it's about the politics and power of the lie. Without giving too much away [though you may want to cease reading just in case], in season 5 McNulty fabricates a story, a lie that eventually becomes known to the highest powers in the city. What started out small, barely worthy of a few inches in the newspaper, becomes a national story that everyone buys into. When it is revealed to the powers that be as a hoax, what happens? Does the lie get exposed? Does the truth set them free? Is McNulty, the originator of the lie, punished?
In McNulty's words, the lie is to big for them to live with it. To expose it would be to expose themselves. Campaigns, promotions, promises, policies - all of these were based on a lie. Even those who want the right thing to be done are content to keep schtum, because any whisteblowing would have devastating effects for the careers of their loved ones. The lie is built into the fabric of society, and so the truth cannot be made known without serious repercussions, without serious cost. And no one who matters is willing to pay.
The Wire is a tragedy of Greek proportions, but it does not leave us without glimmers of hope. There are still those few who are committed to the truth, and who will tell it even if it hurts. The Wire itself is an act of such telling, and as you may have guessed, I can't recommend strongly enough that you listen.