Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 122

Omar Little. It has been observed that the “hypermasculinity found in certain lower-status male locales, such as [in] urban gangs,” functions as an effort to establish and assert masculine identity and self-esteem in spite of low economic standing (Pyke 531). In particular, men in these environments “use the physical endurance and tolerance of discomfort required of their manual labor as signifying true masculinity” (531). To further assert this particular form of masculinity, these men “also engage in pervasive talk of their sexual prowess and a ritualistic put-down of women” (532). This particular socioeconomic trend is accurately depicted in The Wire, as the vast majority of African American gang members in the series conform to “a particular type of black masculinity … centered on sexual conquest, materialism, nihilism, respect, violence and vengeance” (Chambers and Waldron 182). Noted sociologist Patricia Hill Collins specifically identifies this certain type of masculinity as that of the “gangsta”: When it comes to representations of Black male deviance, several important variations exist. The thug or “gangsta” constitutes one contemporary controlling image. […] The “gangsta” may be crafty, but the essence of his identity lies in the inherent violence associated with his physicality. (158). Characters in The Wire who ascribe to this archetype are aggressive, sexually promiscuous, and entirely focused on protecting their street credibility and reputations, which they affirm to their rivals in the drug trade through displays of violence. Thus, gangsta masculinity similarly emphasizes macho values (Scharrer 617). In contrast, Omar is an anomaly who breaks from his peers’ conventions in numerous ways, with the most immediate example being his sexuality: Omar is openly gay. Cultural stereotypes of African American criminality are popularly associated with overt masculinity, which in turn is commonly associated with heterosexual hypersexuality (Jackson 105). When viewed through the lens of early 2000s popular culture, the masculine identity conjured by Omar’s status as a dangerous criminal is not easily reconciled with his sexual orientation, as homosexuality was commonly portrayed in other contemporaneous television series as effeminate and unthreatening (Avila-Saavedra 8). The cold open for the fourth season episode “Home Rooms” (9/24/06) best encapsulates Omar’s contradictory identity: Omar leaves to pick up cereal for himself and his romantic partner one morning, leaving behind his handgun after a humorous scene where Omar unsuccessfully attempts to conceal the weapon in his bathrobe. After buying cereal at the convenience store, Omar stops in the street to smoke a cigarette, coincidentally outside a local stash 122