Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 124

of Brandon’s death “is [also] a reflection of Brandon’s lack of recognition as human” (Deylami 136) due to his homosexuality. In the concluding scene of “The Wire,” McNulty escorts Omar to the coroner’s office to identify Brandon. Upon seeing Brandon’s mutilated corpse, Omar screams. Barksdale and other black characters in The Wire shun such forthright displays of emotion, as they believe it indicates effeminate weakness. Indeed, macho masculinity emphasizes “the suppression of sensitivity or ‘soft’ or ‘feminine’ emotions” (Scharrer 618). However, Barksdale’s plan backfires by instead provoking Omar to target his lieutenants and safe houses, systematically dismantling his organization. While Barksdale, Stanfield and other drug kingpins tacitly acknowledge that Omar is a dangerous presence, they frequently address him by homophobic slurs, such as “dick sucker” and “faggot,” and mock his motivation of avenging Brandon. The purpose of these actions is to understate the threat Omar poses to their operations by delegitimizing his masculinity: Since the means of signaling masculine behavior are governed by cultural norms, men tend to grant other masculine esteem only when they see behaviors that they already associate with masculinity. Manhood is thus a never-ending test of whether one’s behaviors measure up to the ideal form of manhood. (Cooper 101) To the vast majority of black criminals in The Wire, homosexuality is aberrant behavior far outside the acceptable norms of masculinity. Because of this, Omar’s sexuality is a frequent source of ridicule from his peers in the drug trade, and in some cases results in extreme vilification. Notably, in the first season episode “Old Cases” (6/23/02), Barksdale, after placing a bounty on Omar, quickly doubles the reward after being informed of Omar’s homosexuality. While Omar’s criminal occupation makes him a rogue in greater American society, his homosexuality also makes him a rogue in African American society, contributing to his isolation and demonstrating the intersectionality of his identity. However, Omar is completely comfortable with his sexual identity and the show never depicts Omar coming out or questioning his sexual orientation in any way, further defying contemporaneous depictions of homosexuality in popular television. Unlike many other characters in The Wire’s vast ensemble, including McNulty, Omar is never motivated to validate his masculinity. Instead, Omar has already achieved self-actualization (Maslow 382). Further deviating from the masculine norms that his black peers adhere to, Omar also refuses to employ profanity in his speech or indulge in flamboyant displays of wealth, the latter 124