The America Left Behind:
An Exploration of Audience Empathy and
The Wire’s Baltimore
Alexandra Harper
he Wire is a “smear on this city [Baltimore] that
will take decades to overcome” is what former
Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III
said of the series at a 2011 event (Fenton). Bealefeld,
who was Police Commissioner during the original cable
run of the series, expressed his disgust at the contrast
between crime shows based in New York, Miami, and
Los Angeles and The Wire. The former series cast
actors who look like models and include cars that
should be in museums to create unrealistic settings
while Baltimore gets hopelessness, drug dealers, and
violence. Unlike those other shows, The Wire uniquely
aspires to a form of documentary-like truth (Fenton). It
transcends entertainment to become a realistic
ethnography of the marginalized population, and not
just people at the margins in Baltimore but throughout
America. The Wire owes no apologies for its portrayal
of Baltimore, however, because it is through its
intersectional representation of the drug war, the
decline of the middle class, corruption at all levels of
institutions, and other hard truths that The Wire is able
to create a space for empathy to connect viewers with
characters, situations, and obstacles far removed from
their daily lives. As a native Baltimorean, I understand
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