Law and Television: The Wire

In mid-October John Hudson taught classes in Emanuele Conte and Angela Condello’s ‘Law and Humanities’ course at the University of Roma Tre. The classes concentrated on the presentation of law within the acclaimed HBO series ‘The Wire’.

Comparison was made between the state-based law of police and judicial system on the one hand, and on the other the customary norms of ‘The Game’, that is, the culture and practices of the drug trade and its participants, as well as the customary norms of medieval Icelandic law as revealed by Njál’s Saga. Also considered were the differences of Common and Civil Law practices for televisual presentation; does the Common Law’s adversarial trial system particularly suit dramatic purposes, be it for depiction of straightforward contests between good and evil or of more nuanced conflicts? does the audience stand in the same place as the Common Law jury? may an inquisitorial system in the Civil Law break down some of the genre differences between police and legal drama?

With a class from four continents and ten countries, we were able to assess such questions not just in terms of authorial aims, but also of audience reception. Those from Civil Law systems watched The Wire’s trial scenes in subtly different ways than those from Common Law systems, whereas that difference of legal tradition had less effect on perception of the customary norms that can be uncovered in ‘The Game’ or in Njál’s Saga.