hat ultimately led to Oedipus’ tragic undoing in Sophocles’ masterpiece Oedipus Rex? Was it his hubris? His excessive temper? His blind determination? No. These are simply symptoms of a much greater disease. Oedipus’ real tragic flaw was that he’d never seen David Simon’s groundbreaking HBO series The Wire. Sophocles knew this, and that is why his masterpiece, Oedipus Rex, is still so relevant. At the end of the day can we really trust someone who hasn’t taken the time to watch The Wire? No. We cannot.
Colleagues and students alike have come at me with the same rebuttal: “But Professor Johnston, Oedipus Rex was set in ancient Greece. The Wire hadn’t come out yet. In fact HBO wasn’t even a thing, let alone television or Baltimore.” And to them I have the same response: That’s what makes the play so brilliant.
When the curtains rise we see the togas and robes and before a word is even spoken we think to ourselves, “Oh no. This play is set in ancient Greece. This man has never seen The Wire. This is going to end poorly.” Sophocles knew what he was doing. He chose to set his play in ancient Greece, a time famous for not having The Wire. This fact has eluded my fellow classics professors. Shockingly, in pages upon pages dissecting this play, I have never seen The Wire mentioned.
Yet this interpretation adds an entire new layer to Sophocles’ masterpiece that we rarely, if ever, talk about. Ultimately Oedipus is exiled, blind from his own kingdom. But what we’re forgetting is that the kingdom is full of people who also have never seen the single greatest television show ever made. So then a new question surfaces: Is Oedipus’ new secluded fate all that bad? He rid himself of the people who have no idea who Stringer Bell is. I wouldn’t want to surround myself with those people. Perhaps it’s a happy ending.
But of course this is not true. It’s a tragedy after all. Oedipus is so ashamed. Ashamed of murdering his father, ashamed of sleeping with his mother, ashamed of not realizing how awesome McNulty is, that he voluntarily blinds himself. This is of course the ultimate sacrifice. He gouges out his Wire-seeing devices, making it impossible for him to ever see David Simon’s masterpiece. Sure he can hear it, but how good is that ‘Awww Fuck’ scene from season one going to be if he can’t watch it?
Oedipus never saw The Wire, and the gods abandoned him.
This is actually a very common theme throughout Western culture. In most literature no one has ever seen The Wire. It’s rooted in ancient Greece, of course, but traces of it can also be seen throughout modern Judeo-Christian mythology. Original sin: Eve chooses to eat the apple instead of watching The Wire, which we can only assume Eden had. It’s paradise after all. The great flood: God punished everyone except Noah for not having watched the greatest show ever made. Noah was of course spared because God thought he would really dig it.
And of course we can’t forget the mother-lode: the story of Jesus. When Jesus was crucified he did not know who Omar was. But three days later he returned to Earth, enlightened after binge watching the entire series in Heaven. That’s why they call it Good Friday: Good for him — he gets to go watch The Wire. And for those of you who are skeptical, yes, you can watch the whole thing in three days, or at least through season four, and that’s really what matters.
It continues on. The characters of Shakespeare have never seen it. Of Dante. Of Orwell! Of course 1984 is a dystopic! The Wire didn’t come out until 2001! In fact we don’t see a utopia in Western culture until Star Trek, which we assume is so wonderful because it’s in the future and everyone has seen The Wire by then. Even The Wire takes place in a world where no one has watched The Wire. Which is ultimately what makes David Simon’s Baltimore so tragic and so beautiful.
But it all began with Oedipus. When you put Oedipus Rex in its proper context the entirety of Western culture falls into place. And for those of you who haven’t seen The Wire yet: LOOK, YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND, OK?!