Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 115

of masculinity, which are explored through the usage of morally ambiguous antiheroes as protagonists (Sepinwall 41). However, The Wire is unique from its peers in several important ways. The Wire, which aired for five seasons from 2002 to 2008, consists of 60 separate hour-long episodes. Set and filmed in Baltimore, The Wire serves as a critique of American bureaucracy and local government, with each season examining institutional and systemic dysfunction within a different public service of Baltimore. One of The Wire’s most unique traits is its casting, as more than half of the series’ cast is African American. While The Wire’s casting accurately reflects the racial demographics of Baltimore, such diversity remains a rarity in American dramatic television. Instead, representation of African Americans in television – and entertainment as a whole – have been historically limited to roles that reinforce cultural stereotypes, the most prevalent of which being the presentation of African American males as criminally or sexually dangerous (Ward 285). It is noted that: The relationship between race and masculinity has always been one vested with popularized stereotypes that … involve representational practices that classify and categorize members of another group, reducing those members to simplified and exaggerated characteristics, which are then communicated as fixed by nature. (Park 370). Due to the racial diversity of its cast, The Wire is a distinctive research text that provides a unique opportunity for scholarly research on cultural representations of race and gender in popular media, particularly regarding how they intersect. Specifically, does The Wire perpetuate or challenge popular notions of hegemonic masculinity, which describes the “most honored way of being a man” (Connell and Messerschmidt 832) in society? How does The Wire’s portrayal of hegemonic masculinity differ across racial representations? Such questions are especially important given the prominent role that mass media plays in influencing expectations amongst male viewers towards idealized masculinity in society (Moss 29). Popular television is recognized as exerting especially strong influence over audience conception of gender roles, as audiences derive “contemporary archetypes … from the small screen” (Watson 3). Out of The Wire’s expansive ensemble, two characters in particular will serve as the prism through which this research is conducted: Jimmy McNulty, an Irish American police detective, and Omar Little, an African American stickup artist who robs Baltimore’s drug dealers. McNulty is The Wire’s most prominent white character, being the main protagonist of the series. Dominic West, the 115