Shame Culture, Reputation, and Honour in HBO's The Wire
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HBO's The Wire examines the relationship between institutions and individuals in American society and concludes that institutions restrict the agency of individuals, and series creator David Simon likens the power of institutions to the gods of Greek tragedy. In this project, I argue that shame culture enables institutions to have the social influence described by Simon. The paper's introduction defines the term "shame culture" and distinguishes it from "guilt culture," and I use medieval examples of shame culture to illustrate how shame functions in The Wire. This paper divides its detailed discussion of The Wire into four sections, each of which focuses on a different institution. The essay's first section explores how drug dealers and criminals use their reputations aggressively to build drug empires or simply survive, as the characters Marlo Stanfield, a drug kingpin, and Omar Little, a stickup artist, demonstrate. The second section examines Marlo and Omar's influence on young drug dealers, called corner kids in the series, and I argue that the public schools cannot prevent shame from being ingrained in these children. The third section focuses on police officers and, specifically, eventual police commissioner Cedric Daniels, and I examine how the police department's preoccupation with crime statistics reveals their dependence on shame and reputation—the police force is ineffective since they mirror in many ways the criminals they are trying to arrest. Lastly, the essay's fourth section analyzes politicians in The Wire and how Mayor Carcetti is powerless to respond to and exacerbates the city's social problems due to his need to preserve his public image. The paper concludes that social reform that grants agency to individuals in The Wire is impossible as long as shame culture shapes the various institutions depicted in the series.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
SupervisorBartley, William M.
Copyright DateApril 2014