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'This ain't about your money, bro. Your boy gave you up': Bromance and Breakup in HBO's The Wire

posted on 2023-05-22, 15:36 authored by Dominic LennardDominic Lennard

At the height of the show's critical popularity, Sophie Jones's was a rare dissenting voice in the discussion of HBO's crime drama The Wire: "Democracy is at the heart of the program, to the extent that viewers find themselves caring about 20 characters almost equally. But so few of these characters are women, and the female characters that do emerge aren't at stake. In The Wire, it is boys who are at stake. Women and girls are bit parts in a compelling drama played out by men."' With The Wire's essay-like focus through various seasons on Baltimore's docks, newsroom culture, the upper echelons of the city's political apparatus, and-especially-its drug trade and the police who range themselves against it, one might reasonably expect the show's male-centric focus to merely reflect the patriarchal composition of the institutions depicted; however, even in the fourth season - committed to the school system with this same focus - of the group of ten students whose often dispiriting trajectory the show charts, not one is female (as Jones herself aptly points out). Moreover, the show demonstrates a consistent lack of interest in investigating with comparable detail the nuances of its male characters' lives beyond the masculinized sphere of work (in the form of either shiploading, drug dealing, newspapers, police work, or politics). We never see the regularly cheated-on wife of detective Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce); the homelife of his buddy and key protagonist Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) is framed as a series of briefly addressed frustrations that unravel in his work time. The comment The Wire makes here, that police work is so consuming (at least for this one detective) that it contaminates and resubstantiates his private, domestic life, cannot accommodate the show's subordination of any other domestic life to its broader social and political focus. (So distant is the show's interest in domesticity that when Jimmy's tw.o sons appear again in the fourth season after a long hiatus, they might have been played by different actors for all the regular viewer would have noticed or cared.) It is hardly surprising that Jimmy's (short-lived) domestication in the fourth season, after he forms a relationship with a detective who is a single mother, is synchronous with his ejection from the show's main drama.

With few female characters of significance, relationships between women and women, or women and men, are consistently eclipsed in interest and dramatic force by homosocial (or even homosexual) relationships between male characters. The Wire abounds with close male partnerships, including that of central protagonist Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland; police officer Ellis Carver (Seth Gilliam) and gung-ho partner Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi); stick-up artist Omar (Michael K. Williams) and his gay lovers (a striking disruption of the macho culture of black masculinity otherwise depicted); and, most centrally and critically celebrated, the relationship between drug kingpin Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and his right-hand man, Russell "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba), which is phrased in terms of family but consolidated in a series of romantic and quasi-sexual gestures. The term "bromance" - a nonsexual relationship between men that may nevertheless verge into the sexual - is regularly associated with the comedy genre, manifesting most self-consciously in films like Superbad (2007) and I Love You, Man (2009). The Wire, however, constantly reminds us of its seriousness. Its moments of humor (many of which nevertheless rely on bromantic play, as this chapter will illustrate) never threaten to dilute the dispiriting-even harrowing-tone of the series as a whole; seasons frequently conclude with panoramic crosscutting that details (with overwhelming concurrency) Baltimore's social degeneration. Whereas the comedy bromance might be read in relation to a relaxation about fears of homophobia, The Wire's overt displays of homosocial affection are also managed by the hyper-masculine (and routinely homophobic) ambience of almost every tier of the show's milieu. In the context of homosociality' s relationship to definitions of "quality" television, this chapter explores how, much like the comedy bromance, The Wire offers a haven for erotic attachment outside of the feminine it consistently excludes, fantasizing beyond the perceived limits of a heterosexual male world; however, this chapter also discusses how its focus on male partnerships leads the show to evoke the limits and tragedies of male closeness.


Publication title

Reading the Bromance: Homosocial Relationships in Film and Television


M DeAngelis






Student Life and Enrichment


Wayne State University Press

Place of publication

Detroit, Michigan



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Copyright 2014 Wayne State University Press

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