Home Box Office's The Wire is a cop show that boldly seeks to explore the tensions in the grand narratives that we brought with us into the twenty-first century—mythologies regarding the safety our state can provide us, the postracial society many thought we had built in the United States, the stability of the United States as a superpower, our unshakable economy, the undeniability of social mobility, our unlimited individual potential, our pursuit of the true and the good. Focusing specific attention on the representation of modern slavery in season 2, Laura Murphy locates The Wire in a long tradition of representing slavery that can further inform our reading of the program's interrogation of early twenty-first-century American life, cultures, and literary traditions. Read in the context of two modes of representing slavery in particular—the African American slave narrative tradition and the “white slavery” narratives of the early twentieth century—The Wire becomes an inheritor of and contributor to our ever-changing picture of slavery in the United States and the cultural norms and anxieties that allow it to exist. This article traces some of the cultural contexts that inform the depiction of slavery in the last few centuries of American writing as a way of historicizing and critiquing the way The Wire takes up slavery as its subject in the twenty-first century. This reading reveals the deep-rooted and persistent cultural anxieties regarding race, ethnicity, and sex that intersect in our discourse on forced sex work, a troubling discourse that is alternatingly highlighted by the program and inadvertently replicated.

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