It started out as a cheap and easy way to fill posts and spark discussion in the fall of 2006. It's evolved into one of the standbys of my Wire blogging, the neverending game to determine who's the nastiest, dumbest, or wiliest schemer in a cutthroat world--the Asshole Sweepstakes.
I thought I'd celebrate the end of the greatest show ever made for television with a big awards ceremony and retrospective, but an "Asshole Sweepstakes" is too crude for such a momentous occasion. Instead I've decided to name them the Andres, in honor of Andre "Bubbles" Royo's famous street Oscar. And I've expanded the contests to include two new honors that I've been tracking for a while without labels. Here they are, the categories for the First Annual Fifth Anniversary Andre Awards...
Biggest Asshole: What makes an asshole? Is it murdering people, importing heroin, mismanaging a police department, or wrecking a city? In your book or mine, sure, but many of those actions actually serve the institutions that set the perverse logic of this show. The institutions demand nothing less. That doesn't make the guilty parties good people, just good workers in a sick economy.
What makes an asshole is more than just the scale of the damage. It's the violation of the codes that are supposed to govern your trade, or the pure glee taken in doing it. It's ordering the murder of your best friend's cousin, while you're screwing his girlfriend, while he's in prison taking a sentence for you. It's calling a hit on Sunday morning. It's humiliating a district commander in front of his peers before you fire him; insulting a security guard so you can invent an excuse to kill him; warping a child's mind and sending him out on the corners because you've gotten used to your idle lifestyle. It's making life miserable for everybody else purely because you can. It's always being ready to do the cruel or selfish thing, whether it's necessary or not. Isn't that what makes an asshole?
Mm, sure. That and a sphincter muscle.
Dumbest Asshole: And then you have the incompetent workers, the bad decisions, the...
Oh hell, just look at Herc.
Craftiest Bastard: This is not to say they are not assholes. Sometimes they are the most destructive characters on the show. But a bastard does not abuse his or her assholery, applying to one end and one end only: their own advantage. Whether they use their gifts for advancement, profit, or simple self-preservation, the crafty bastards are consummate professionals.
And while they may break a few eggs along the way... roll back a few programs, bust a few unions... they are exceptionally competent at what they do. Remember, siccing the Major Crimes Unit on Frank Sobotka wasn't just ruining hundreds of lives in pursuit of a petty grudge--it was a great hunch about how much money Sobotka had and where he was getting it. It was solid police work rooted in strong local knowledge, the knowledge The Wire most respects, and it made the entire rest of the series possible. Underestimate the Craftiest Bastard at your own peril.
Heart of Gold: I nearly called this one "Teacher of the Year," but these characters aren't always teachers. Whether they mentor young officers, bring addicts into twelve-step programs, teach troubled kids, legalize drugs, or carry a shotgun under their trenchcoat, these characters are the moral centers of their seasons. Though not always of every season, Lester Freamon.
Most Improved: Speaks for itself. The Wire isn't unremitting tragedy. Every year a character or two will try to straighten themselves out, find a new job, a new mentor, or a new lifestyle. Some backslide and some don't, but they remind us that postmodern America isn't as bad as it looks. Or rather, it is as bad as it looks, in spite of the fact that a few people still manage to get themselves right.
By the way, I wasn't planning to choose all my examples from the police; I guess I must think of them as the show's protagonists. I suppose you could do the same with the street characters, since they've been around just as long and offer at least as many options. It would be educational to see who lines up with who. Here's one point that flies in the face of season three's parallel structure--the criminal counterpart to Bunny Colvin is not Stringer Bell. It's this guy:
To whet your appetite for the upcoming Andre Awards for season five--for which suggestions will be welcome--I thought I'd run through the past seasons. The season four Andres were set pretty firmly in my mind, but I had to assign them retroactively for previous years. I'm drawing a few blanks, so any suggestions (or disputations) are welcome here, too.
Season One: The Barksdales
Biggest Asshole: Bill Rawls
Dumbest Asshole: Wallace (runner-up, Wendell "Orlando" Blocker)
Craftiest Bastard: Ervin Burrell? Maurice Levy?
Heart of Gold: Omar Little
Most Improved: Cedric Daniels (runner-up, Roland Pryzbylewski)
Season Two: The Port
Biggest Asshole: Stringer Bell
Dumbest Asshole: Ziggy Sobotka
Craftiest Bastard: The Greek
Heart of Gold: Beatrice "Beadie" Russell
Most Improved: absolutely no idea, though Daniels pulls off a great career move
Season Three: Hamsterdam
Biggest Asshole: Bill Rawls
Dumbest Asshole: no idea, but when in doubt go with Herc
Craftiest Bastard: Tommy Carcetti (runner-up, Marlo Stanfield)
Heart of Gold: Howard "Bunny" Colvin
Most Improved: Ellis Carver (with a late-season challenge from Jimmy McNulty)
It's not impossible that Bunny Colvin is both the Heart of Gold and the Dumbest Asshole in season three. Clarence Royce also drops the ball pretty badly.
Season Four: The Schools
Biggest Asshole: DeLonda Brice
Dumbest Asshole: Thomas "Herc" Hauk
Craftiest Bastard: Stan Valchek
Teacher of the Year: Howard "Bunny" Colvin
Most Improved: Namond Brice
Interesting how the show's nominal protagonist, Jimmy McNulty, is never the noblest, craftiest, most selfish/antisocial, or dumbest character. That's probably as it should be, with the caricatures generally displaced to the borders of the story. Even more interesting, McNulty only shows the capacity for improvement in a couple of seasons, and he's always eclipsed by other characters who make bigger changes.
Of course, this year he may be on pace to win two Andres at once.
And what about this year? Who should win for season five? Start mulling it over now, but save your thoughts for the next post, when I handicap the races and give you the insider predictions... and since I choose who wins, they're pretty far inside.
In the meanwhile, I'd love to have a full list for the awards ceremony. Who should win for the past four seasons?