Camera: iPhone 12
Location: Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park; San Diego, California, United States
Camera: iPhone 12
Location: Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park; San Diego, California, United States
“‘The Wire’ is the greatest television show of all-time. Even as the show nears the 20th anniversary since when it first aired on American cable television network, HBO, it still rings as culturally relevant and as emotionally stirring as it was when it first debuted in the Summer of 2002. While technology may be different now, the characters would not be the same, the setting could be different from the show, the overall themes, and messages from ‘The Wire’ as well as the institutions that the show focused on for five great seasons have not changed that much.”
‘The Wire’ is the greatest television show of all-time. Even as the show nears the 20th anniversary since when it first aired on American cable television network, HBO, it still rings as culturally relevant and as emotionally stirring as it was when it first debuted in the Summer of 2002. While technology may be different now, the characters would not be the same, the setting could be different from the show, the overall themes, and messages from ‘The Wire’ as well as the institutions that the show focused on for five great seasons have not changed that much.
I could write a thesis on ‘The Wire’ and devote at least 10,000 words on the show in terms of an in-depth breakdown on how it’s the modern equivalent to a Shakespeare tragedy or drama. However, in this ‘Anatomy of a Scene’, I am going to focus on one of my favorite scenes in this classic television show. This scene is the opening one for the entire five-season series and discusses a core tenet of the show not just about what kind of ‘game’ that the characters play, but also the ‘game’ inherent to the setting of Baltimore, Maryland as well as America as a country.
The opening scene, more than any other scene, even if it is the 1st, one pinpoints exactly what ‘The Wire’ is about. In the first shots, you can see a young man lay face down dead on the ground on some dark city street with the police collecting evidence and a main character, who is a detective, questioning a potential witness. The associate of the victim talks about how they were involved with street gambling and how it was not fair that it was not right to kill the victim, non-ironically known as ‘snot boogie’ to the game’s players. The victim of the crime has a real name but is endeared to the rest of the game’s players by that nickname alone.
As the witness explains to Detective Jimmy McNulty of Baltimore Police, ‘Snot Boogie’ was the victim of the crime, but his associate did not expect him to be killed for stealing from the other players of the street game for playing craps. The associate tells McNulty that the victim is known for stealing and grabbing the money to run away but they never want beyond just ‘beating his ass’ up a bit.
While it is a grim description of the dangers of gambling illegally on the streets, the witness to McNulty’s murder case explains that there is an unwritten rule to the ‘game’ of street gambling and that ‘Snot Boogie’ should not have been murdered for stealing from the other players. Nobody ever tried to kill the victim even after he was found guilty of stealing money from the street game players even if they did often catch him and beat him for having done it multiple times.
The witness refuses to tell McNulty who killed his associate in this game and does not want to go to court even though he believes it was disgraceful how ‘Snot Boogie’ was killed because they always let him play even though he would always steal from them.
“I got to ask ya, if every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away…why’d you even let him in the game?”
“If Snot Boogie always stole the money, why did you always let him play?”
“Got to, This America, man.”
McNulty looks incredulously as the witness tells him this reasoning because at its face, it does not make much sense for a guy who steals from folks repeatedly to continue playing a dangerous and illegal craps street game. It’s clear to both characters that life itself, and life in America is far from being fair at the end of the day especially a man got killed, which was against to how the game was being played, according to the witness, even if he was stealing from them.
Even if the game is fair or is rigged to some degree, it occurs to the witness and then McNulty after he sees the guy’s reasoning that even if the game was not meant to be won and the result would always be the same, you still let the game play out. The game may not be fair like life itself in general or in America, but it must be played by everyone. It may not be a fair shot and there is no equal outcome, but there is equal opportunity out there for each player to be involved even if someone cheats, steals, and comes back to play again. The game exists for everyone to be given a shot at it and if they don’t, that’s against the principle of life itself and life in America.
There are tragic consequences to this craps game for Snot Boogie who loses his life senselessly as well as for the men who will go to jail for it or lose all their money, but the game goes on and it’s open to everyone. Like the witness explains, the game deserves to be played by everyone equally although the outcome may not be something everyone will like or even will cost some people dearly. This excellent opening scene opens with the most prominent themes of The Wire perfectly and almost seems like a graphic novel come to life. Its visuals are striking, the characters are who you can relate to on a human level, and there is a lot of foreshadowing about the rest of the show and its messages to the viewers from this tone-setting scene.
‘The Wire’ is a show about the early stages of 21st century America in its first decade of the 2000s but it is as still as relevant about 20 years later. The metaphor of this opening scene for not just a couple of guys in a craps game gone wrong in the street can pair directly too what can happen when capitalism can go off the rails when someone tries to beat the rules or try to gain an advantage when they are put at a disadvantage to begin with. If the game is rigged from the get-go even if you’re given a shot at it, what’s the point in playing by the rules? If you can beat the system even if there are dire consequences, is it not worth trying?
‘Snot Boogie’s associates knew he was a thief and a cheater because they believed that he still deserved a shot at winning like everyone else even though it was likely rigged so he would never make it after multiple tries. As the opening scene of the greatest television show of all-time shows the viewer, everybody can play the game even if they are a cheater in the sense of having equal opportunity, but what happens when no one is held accountable when the odds are stacked against them from the start of the game and there is no other way to win than by cheating the system and facing serious consequences?
The show may not be defined by its iconic opening scene but as you find as you watch the entire series, the metaphor for what that scene represents about the show and about the ethic that binds American society together long after you finish watching each of its five seasons.
Camera: iPhone 12
Location: San Diego, California, United States
“There is always going to be a risk involved when rolling the dice or making the choice in life as there is when it comes to choosing one of two possible decision or even one of multiple decisions.”
When many of us think about versus chance, the English expression, “A roll of the dice” comes to mind. When you are faced with two or more choices and you must act, it’s like rolling the dice and hoping to get lucky in a table game at a casino. There is always going to be a risk involved when rolling the dice or making the choice in life as there is when it comes to choosing one of two possible decision or even one of multiple decisions.
Life involves a lot of non-linear choices to make and that inevitably involves taking chances on it. There’s no bigger example for me of taking a chance metaphorically than the rolling of a dice like at a craps table. Dice can have multiple choices on them or two choices only, one of which that it will land on, the other it will miss, but there is only one outcome without any alternative once the dice stops rolling.
Many of our day-to-day decisions involve choosing, taking that action, and going in one and only direction after the decision is made like the dice being rolled. While we would like to choose both options to see where they lead us, the chances of doing so are unrealistic and impossible. Like the dice that we roll, in life, we only can choose one of two or more possibilities. Dice can have more than two choices and while your standard dice has six sides to it, life usually has us choose between more than a few options as well with only one possible choice being the outcome to follow.
The metaphor of rolling the dice is apt when you consider that for the average person, choice overload leads to indecision or no decision at all. The most stressful part of a person’s day is not making the choice itself but rather when they are not given a choice or if they have too many choices to choose from. There is real fear and anxiety in people thinking they made the wrong decision and if they have multiple choices, the likelihood of feeling stress goes up because the choice is not simplified, and they must weigh different outcomes rather than just two or a few of them.
When the choices we have in front of us are two or four or six, we suffer less from ‘analysis paralysis’ or from indecision itself. While you can still second guess yourself later, if you are still able to think your decisions through and make an educated guess or choice, you won’t feel as stressed or anxious. I think that’s why the adage of ‘flipping a coin’ or ‘rolling the dice’ appeals to people because sometimes, the randomness and leaving it up to chance is better than putting actual effort into our decisions.
That’s partly why gambling is such an intrinsic part of most cultures in that you can still act by flipping the coin, rolling the dice, pulling the lever, but you don’t have any real choice to make because you’re leaving the choice up to someone else like an algorithm, a card dealer, or fate itself. People like autonomy over their decisions but they also enjoy leaving things out of their hands and letting ‘fate’ decide what happens next.
Of course, ‘fate’ usually has its outside influence on the choice that is made whether that’s the wind gust blowing the coin on a different side you expected, the casino letting the algorithm or computer decide who wins or who loses, or more generally, the environment around you that has an impact on the outcome. Fate itself is not without its own influence on the outcome so if you think that there is anything in this world that is truly impartial or just unbiased to the core, I tend to disagree and believe that whether it’s leaving things up to ‘chance’ or ‘fate’ itself, nothing is ever truly random in its consequence and that no outcome is without its own chance of interference.
You may have rolled the dice, pulled the lever, tossed the coin, picked a card from a deck, but there are other factors at play that keep ‘fate’ from being truly blind in its outcome. Even when leaving things up to ‘chance’, you still acted up until that point and the fact that you put yourself in that situation means the outcome itself afterwards even if you call it ‘fate’ was a consequence of your actions only but it is rather true instead that the immediate environment, the people around you, and a number of other external factors that had an influence on the ‘fate’ of that outcome.
Rolling dice, playing cards, and gambling give people a thrill because your action can lead to random winnings or losings but that’s basically the illusion of it all. Fate in life like a rolling of the dice may seem random but there are outside factors in place that may seem like it was ‘destiny’, ‘fate’ or ‘random luck’ but involved several actions, decisions, beliefs that led to the present moment.
Instead of trusting in ‘fate’ to guide us or for our choices to always be led to pure ‘chance’, we lose the power of our choices and the education of our decisions. We cannot always leave things to ‘chance’ and must look beyond picking randomly or choosing out of a hat to guide us in life. While I disagree with taking on too many choices or nitpicking every decision you make, you must always be thinking things through, educating yourself, and being willing to learn from your mistakes.
Choices inevitably cause consequences, both good and bad, and we cannot foresee where our choices may lead. However, if we leave too much up to ‘fate’ or ‘luck’ as we call it, then we will never really mature or grow as people. People should do their best to have autonomy over their decisions and to not take them lightly. Yes, it can be fun to roll a dice or flip a coin to make our choices, but life is too serious to be gambling on our choices like that. Rolling the dice may seem like an easy way to go through life like picking random numbers out of a hat but that’s not how the real-world works. When we evaluate our choices, think through decisions that have big consequences, and trust in our believes to guide us through the consequences of those decisions, we will be better off as individuals for having taken control of our lives rather than leave it all up to ‘chance.’