‘The Wire’ As Homosocial Love Story

Noah Berlatsky, one of my favorite internet sparring partners (we met in a spat over Twilight), responds to my post on the arid romantic lives of The Wire’s drug crews with a wonderful meditation on homosocial relationships in the show:

The main focus of homosocial tension in the Wire, though, is between Avon and Stringer Bell. For both, their partnership is the defining relationship of their lives, and at several points that relationship is explored not just through business, but through sex. The clearest instance of this is when Avon gets out of jail. He’s interested in making time with an attractive woman at his coming home party, but Stringer keeps cornering him with business talk. Finally, Stringer drops a frustrated Avon in a luxury apartment. Avon stands and fumes for a couple of seconds…and then Stringer reappears, the attractive woman and a bonus attractive woman in tow. The whole sequence is a sexual tease, and the teaser is Stringer. He uses the women he’s bought for Avon to seal their partnership and friendship with sex. […]

The parallels between Omar’s relationships and the other drug dealers’ relationships calls into question the heterosexuality of the entire milieu, a fact of which the other drug dealers seem nervously aware. Both Avon and Stringer initially want to kill Omar because he robbed them — but what really pisses them off is that he’s gay. Avon ups the bounty on Omar when he learns that he’s a “cock sucker”. And as for Stringer, while it’s never made explicit, it seems clear that part of the reason he uncharacteristically participates in the torture of Brandon, Omar’s lover, is because Brandon is gay. The killing of Brandon, and Omar’s reaction to it, ultimately ends in Stringer’s own murder. Male-male love is the only kind on offer in the world of the gangs — but it’s a love steeped in disavowal, which ultimately leads to tragedy and death.

I think there’s a lot of truth to this. David Simon makes clear the social costs of the drug trade in obvious, powerful ways. But dropping out of school or becoming an addict or landing in prison isn’t the only way you can circumscribe your own life.