Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What About the Drug Addicts?

There has been one scene that has really stuck with me throughout all of the Wire, and until lately I haven 't exactly been able to figure out why. It doesn't involve any of the main characters, and it doesn't take place in a setting that's very common to the show, but I think it speaks volumes. I couldn't find the clip on YouTube, so I'll type it all out manually, but if you want to watch the scene again it's in the seventh episode right at 30:00.

Context: Bubbles and his friend are at the mandatory Narcotics Anonymous meeting and a big, scruffy looking white guy named Waylon is getting up to give a speech.

Waylon: "Well hell, y'all, you all know I'm Waylon and I'm an addict. And the fact is that I want to be clean today more than I want to be high. It's good to be here, hell it's good to be anywhere clean, even Baltimore. I been clean a few 24 hours now and I'm still dead certain that my disease still wants me dead. I'm in here with y'all talking shit about how strong I am and how strong I feel but my disease is out there in that parking lot doin' push ups, on steroids, waitin' for the chance to kick my ass up and down the street. Scars on my hands, on my feet, 2 bouts of endocarditis, hep c and whatnot knockin' out walls and kickin out windows in my liver. I lost a good wife, a bad girlfriend, and the respect of anyone who ever tried to loan me money or do me a favor. Pawned my pickup, my bike, my National Steel Guitar, and a stamp collection that my Grandad left me. And when it was almost over for me, and I was out there on them corners, not a pot to piss in, and anyone who ever knew me or loved me cussin' my name, you know what I told myself? I said 'Waylon, you're doin' good.' I surely did. I thought I was God's own drug addict, and if God didn't mean for me to get high, he wouldn't have made bein' high so much like perfect. Now I know I've got one more high left in me, but I doubt very seriously I've got one more recovery. So if there's anybody out there who sees that bottom comin' up at em, I'm here to talk sense. I don't care who you are, what you done, or who you done it to..if you're here, so am I."

That's pretty powerful language, even if it is spoken in the hick vernacular.

In the scene (which I really encourage everyone to re-watch, simply reading it doesn't do it justice) you can see Bubbles seriously impacted by what Waylon is saying. Afterwards when they are giving out the chips, Bubbles takes one for 24 hours despite the fact that he got high that morning, not to mention that he wasn't even the one enrolled in the program. The series does a good job at instilling a real sense of ambiguity; the audience is always challenged to question their preconceived notions of "good" and "evil." The drug lords and the cops who are trying to catch them seem to be put on the same pedestal and we're constantly shown both doing bad, bad things. But this is one of the rare moments when the show seems to almost take a stand, very obviously, against drugs. We're not watching the detectives in their dungeon-esque office engaging in their Orwellian Big Brother antics over Baltimore's criminal underworld, and we're not watching the members of the surprisingly organized drug ring deal with their own moral dilemmas or structural problems, we're watching one of the people caught in between. Waylon speaks on behalf of the people who, with the notable exceptions of Bubbles and his friend, don't get much of a part despite the fact that they are essentially the true perpetuators of the conflict that the detectives are trying to solve. When I saw that scene and got to thinking about it I couldn't help but wonder if the writers were trying to say something central to one of the main themes of the show: the true path to the end of the drug war isn't through either of the two organizations who fight over it "winning," but rather through getting all the people caught in the crossfire, the drug addicts, help.

It was also interesting because my brother was a drug addict and I got to grow up seeing everything that Waylon described first hand. Usually when there is a NA scene on TV or in the movies it shows people sitting in a circle and awkwardly greeting one another as they take turn giving corny "motivational" speeches. Anyone who has ever been to an NA meeting knows that isn't how it really goes. That's not how recovering drug addicts really feel, this is. It was was a refreshing dose of reality (!).

Maybe I read too far into it, but it seemed pretty damn important to me. It changed my opinion on the Wire from "good" to "whoa..."

1 comment:

  1. Its an awesome scene and one of my favorite parts of the show.