Freamon, Bodie, and Zenobia’s statements cut straight to the heart of The Wire’s overarching theme: Individuals are trapped in a complex “cycle of harm” where social problems of inequality, crime, and violence are constantly reinforced. The Wire was a television drama that ran on HBO from 2002 through 2008, created by David Simon. The show focuses on the narcotics scene in Baltimore through the perspective of different stakeholders and residents of the city. The Wire highlights how self-perpetuating, interconnected, and broken social institutions act in concert to limit individual opportunity. These institutions squash attempts at reform by punishing good ideas and reinforcing the status quo. The Wire’s characters are all trapped in this cycle of harm. No matter how desperately individuals want to make change, the house always wins, and attempts to reform institutions often do more harm than good. This paper will discuss three specific institutions that play central roles in The Wire: The family unit, the War on Drugs, and the public-school systems. Each section will focus particularly on how past efforts at reform have contributed to institutional failure. David Simon’s critique of each institution and The Wire’s relevant lessons are also examined. Ultimately, this paper recognizes that because society’s failing institutions are inextricably linked, efforts at reform must target structural problems, in order to effect genuine change.



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