Baltimore university teaches The Wire

Class uses HBO series to study issues in modern urban centres

Critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire, frequently the subject of discussion in film classes and at staff parties everywhere, is now the basis for a course at John Hopkins University  in Baltimore, Md., the gritty city the series was set in, reported the CBC.

I’ll admit I’m a little obsessed with the show, and suspect Omar Little quotes are now rampant at John Hopkins.

The crime drama is used in other courses at institutions such as Harvard and Duke universities to showcase the struggles against drugs and crime in a fictionalized inner city setting. However, this course, titled “Baltimore and the The Wire: A Focus on Major Urban Issues,” will be the first time the show been taught in Baltimore, and is the first to bring in people who worked on the show and those whose jobs were portrayed on the show.

The course was created by former city health commissioner and current county health officer, Peter Beilenson. Beilenson told student newspaper the JHU Gazette that he thought the show’s portrayal of life in Baltimore, which he felt reflected life in many other American cities, was “frighteningly accurate.” Beilenson said he felt that the show’s realistic portrayal of issues in modern urban centres would be beneficial for students.

“My idea was that instead of just having students read in a book about the problems plaguing modern American urban centres, they could watch them played out in The Wire and then hear them discussed and dissected by leading experts who are working to address those problems,” Beilenson said.

Written by former Baltimore Sun crime reporter, David Simon, and former police detective Ed Burns, the show dissected several different facets of the city of Baltimore, including the drug trade, police force, city government and bureaucracy, and the print news media, during its five season run from 2002 to 2008. In interviews Simon has described the show as being a portrayal of how people function within the modern American city, despite being presented as a crime drama.

Some critics have described the show as the greatest television series ever made, despite having a relatively small following. “When television history is written, little else will rival The Wire, a series of such ambition that it is, perhaps inevitably, savoured only by the appreciative few,” Variety magazine once wrote.

The class’s guest speakers have included former Baltimore police commissioner Ed Norris and Simon himself. The final assignment in the course requires students to write a paper outlining their suggested solutions for solving problems in the city.

If I could transfer from the University of Manitoba to JHU just to take this course, I would do it in a heartbeat. But that seems like a pretty extreme measure to fuel my Wire obsession.

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