At the Emmys last week, George Clooney received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, an honor that recognizes an actor’s do-gooder work and highlights television as a catalyst for change. As Clooney talked in his acceptance speech about “keeping the spotlight burning” on issues after the cameras disappear, I couldn’t help but think about the HBO series The Wire. Why? Because it’s one of the few shows whose stars not only act for entertainment, but are collectively acting on their social conscience through a nonprofit called ReWired for Change.
From 2002-2007, The Wire portrayed Baltimore’s most neglected and most powerful communities, delving deep into complex institutions—the drug trade, law enforcement, unions, politics, the media—and showing how they’re ultimately all related. I reference it all the time, at work, at the hair salon, at a recent bachelorette party…If it’s possible to have a crush on a T.V. show, I’ve got it bad.
After watching five seasons, it’s hard to miss one of the show’s central themes: the wasted potential of misguided youth. And it’s hard not to feel like you want to do something about it. Sonja John, who played the tough cop Shakima Greggs, decided she wanted to keep the spotlight on this issue after the show ended, starting in Baltimore. With support from the cast and creator David Simon, ReWired for Change was born.
What’s cool about ReWired for Change is that it uses episodes from the show as a teaching tool to empower “high risk youth” to seek better opportunities. The curriculum also incorporates other forms of art and media to encourage youth to think constructively about themselves and their surroundings, as well as a street-based intervention component. The ultimate goal is to implement the model on a national and global level; in the meantime, ReWired for Change has been busy with local initiatives, such as a youth community center and a coalition of citizens working to improve the quality of life in Charm City.
At the risk of sounding like a gushing schoolgirl, I really believe The Wire is a prime example of reality inspiring art, and art (hopefully) inspiring reality. It gives me hope that American pop culture isn’t so self-absorbed as the media portrays it to be, and that the reach of television can be harnessed for good. [Editor’s note: ReWired for Change has a profile on Idealist; keep an eye on it if you want to get involved.]
Besides The Wire, what other arts and entertainment platforms out there have inspired change?
[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]