Identity and Amnesia on the The Wire

Posted on March 30, 2009 by


Michael Lee, from the Wire, the new stoic stick-up man of Baltimore…

derived from…

Michael Lee, from the Wire, an extremely moral kid who does everything to protect his little brother and his friends.

After a drug gang takes care of a problem for him that the police and the justice system can’t, he becomes involved with that drug gang. Later in the story, when that drug gang is taken in by police, he’s suspected of snitching. Just as the drug gang is about to kill him, he pulls the first move and kills the person whose going to kill him.

And now his life is on the run.

But just before he proceeds with that life, he cuts all ties with the one that he had been living, as a kid working as a drug dealer.

It’s about a kid whose lost his childhood. It’s about a kid whose lost his connection with family and friends. It’s about an individual who has been lead to forget the good episodes of living.  His friend, Dukie brings up an episode that was pretty memorable on the show itself, when we first see the boys, and actually see Michael taking a lead role in it, but  the memory doesn’t appear to register at all with Mike.   Those “normal” episodes have lost meaning, and have forgotten; any joy he derives will be based on the streets, as a stick-up artist.

For me as a memory person, it’s about a childhood, socio-cultural-environmentally-inspired amnesia. We actually don’t know how or why he’s forgotten or even if it’s intentional, just that he has. He does not carry that memory of him and his old homeys having fun together…the only memory he seems to carry is how to shoot a gun and how to hold someone up. Its the only time we really see Michael Lee, from the Wire, the new stoic stick-up man of Baltimore, smile.

Relating to my earlier post about the Maori and how they have the youngest memories, it appears Mike himself has lost those episodic memories. Perhaps because he doesn’t have adult figures sharing stories with him. Perhaps because he doesn’t have a rich emotional conception of himself. As a result of his environmentally-learned stoicism, his emotional suppression, he can’t recall, let alone recognize something that happened in the past.

Socio-cultural-environmentally inspired amnesia

a term I came up with, but has probably existed, but hasn’t really reached me here.

* * * * *

I consider The Wire somewhat of a model for things, but obviously it wasn’t built primarily to expose deep truths about life in the drug trade/police department/education system, but I wonder how this type of forgetting actually applies to real life:

What do people on the streets tend to remember?

What do you remember when you just try to get by?

What societal and personal memories do they have in a place like Skid Row in Los Angeles?