“The Wire” was ahead of its time, but not by much. The last season of the HBO series about life in my hometown of Baltimore aired at the beginning of 2008, just in time for the economic crash later that year.
The fifth season of the Wire focuses on budget cuts and their impact on the police department and the Baltimore Sun newspaper. The lack of money creates havoc.
Nerves are on edge in the police department. One police officer flies into a rage and attempts to drag a motorist who beeped his horn from his car. He is restained by fellow officers.
Police are forced to back off the investigation of a major drug dealer in West Baltimore due to lack of money. As a result, the young desperado has free rein and goes about murdering enemies and opponents.
Also, the police find they can’t do their work, at least well. Jimmy McNulty, a detective, can’t even get a working vehicle to go to the scene of a crime and ends up taking the bus.
Furthermore, other crime investigations are delayed. Police have to wait hours for the crime lab personnel to show up and perform their duties.
With its own budget cuts, the Sun lays off experienced reporters. The daily’s city desk editor Gus Haynes finds that his untrained cubs and overstreteched reporters miss out on stories picked up by the more popular TV stations.
The worst part of the economic crunch in Baltimore is how it affects the integrity of the workers involved. Police detective McNulty, a detective struggling with numerous addictions, decides to fake crime scenes of homeless men so that it appears there is a serial killer on the loose. McNulty believes this will get the attention of the mayor’s office and they, as a result, will just HAVE TO re-fund the police department.
Not to be outdone, in the rush to keep up with in the popular media of the day and save the paper economically, senior editors overlook some shoddy reporting. Reporter Scott Templeton is quite adept at just plain making stuff up and getting published at the whim of the big bosses, much to the chagrin of old salt Haynes.
“The Wire” isn’t the only TV drama depicting tough financial conditions. Another favorite show of mine, the medical drama “House”, is doing the same this year, with the same themes reflecting the effect of low budgets.
Dr. Gregory House, a foremost diagnostician, has been released from prison at the behest of Dr. Eric Foreman, the dean of medicine at his old hospital. House is himself making minimum wage and is on a tight leash from Foreman, who will have him sent back to prison if he goes back to his old chicanery on the job.
House is clever, though. He manages to recruit a prison doctor he got to know in jail (whom he also helped get fired) to work for nothing to help him solve his cases. He also is given the assistance of a female doctor who has a sexual harassment case pending in which she accused her boss of some unwanted advances.
However, House doesn’t intend for things to remain staffed by unpaid staff and malcontents. He is determined to get his old department funded again and gain the services of some of his old staff.
As a result, in two straight episodes House uses wealthy patients to further his schemes. One of them has a disorder which makes them overly altruistic and House hits him up for donations.
The other is a CEO. When the stock price of the man’s company plummets upon news of his illness, House buys up stock. Assuming he will save the businessman’s life, House expects the stock to rise again. Thus, through a little insider trading, he will be able to make his department financially stable.
These shows bring up some troubling issues to me as we move into a new year. I am thinking of how the economic woes around the world will affect the workplace.
I am familiar with one office where the department is under the same kind of duress as described in “The Wire”. Workers are doing the work it used to require 2 or more other people to do.
The workers are stressed. They are working long hours and some are not sleeping well. They feel disrespected by those in charge.
Others see the handwriting on the wall. They are updating their skills and resumes, anticipating an eventual lay off.
The good news for these people is that they are still working and earning an income. The bad news is that their workplace looks as if it is on life support and doomed for the tomb.
However, if you look around one wonders where these people are supposed to go. I just read an article which stated that teens in American can’t find work because adults, including recent college grads, are taking the jobs they want.
As the economy slides, I fear for the impact it will have on people. We will see people who are extremely out of sorts doing desperate things, as depicted in “The Wire” and “House”.