Realism

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The writers strive to create a realistic vision of an American city based on their own experiences. Central to this aim is the creation of truthful characters.  David Simon (creator of The Wire) has stated that most of them are composites of real-life Baltimore figures.  The show often casts non-professional actors in minor roles, distinguishing itself from other television series by showing the “faces and voices of the real city” it depicts.  The writing also uses a lot of contemporary slang to enhance the immersive viewing experience.  In distinguishing the police characters from other television detectives, Simon makes the point that even the best police of The Wire are motivated not by a desire to protect and serve, but by the intellectual vanity of believing they are smarter than the criminals they are chasing. Many officers portrayed on the show are incompetent, brutal, self-aggrandizing, or hamstrung by bureaucracy and politics. The criminals are not always motivated by profit or a desire to harm others; many are trapped in their existence and all have human qualities. Even so, The Wire does not minimize or gloss over the horrific effects of their actions.  The show is realistic in depicting the processes of both police work and criminal activity. Many of the plot points were based on the experiences of Simon and Burns. There have even been reports of real-life criminals watching the show to learn how to counter police investigation techniques.  The fifth season portrays a working newsroom and has been hailed as the most realistic portrayal of the media in film and television.

In December 2006, The Washington Post carried an article with local African-American students saying that the show had “hit a nerve” with the African-American community, and that they themselves knew real-life counterparts of many of the characters. The article expressed great sadness at the toll drugs and violence are taking on the African-American community.

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