Smacketology: Day 6 – Can Omar Be Beaten?

David T. Cole/Grantland Illustration Wire

Omar Little is going to win this tournament.

Obviously, I can’t prove that. Moreover, I have no vested interest in the outcome, and I haven’t voted in any of the preliminary matchups (and I won’t vote in this one). But Omar is going to win, unless thousands of people decide to vote for Stringer Bell simply to contradict my prediction. Since its inception, our tournament has transpired in a totally predictable fashion; there have technically been upsets, but no genuine surprises. If an actor’s face appeared on the DVD box, he did okay. No minor character inexplicably dominated because her mother’s friend was killed by an arrow or because he best represented the ideals of Lacanian Marxism. What has happened is this: The show’s four most central characters advanced to the Final Four, and the two most meaningful archetypes subsequently advanced to the title. Stringer Bell represents the notion of a rational criminal operating as a traditional authority figure; Omar Little represents the possibility of a rogue criminal self-creating a moral framework superior to that of mainstream society. As a voter, you will have to decide between someone who craves legitimacy and someone who craves autonomy (unless, of course, you’re only reading this because it’s on your computer and you have no idea what you’re even supposed to be deciding, which is a wholly reasonable way to feel).

Admittedly, the idea of subjectively debating (and then objectively calculating) the “best” character from a TV show that went off the air four years ago is a curious endeavor. What does your answer even mean? If you start from the (widely accepted) premise that The Wire is more important than other television shows, whoever you perceive as “the best character” needs to embody that importance. It can’t just be the individual you find the most personally entertaining, because your personal entertainment isn’t that consequential; the reason a tournament like this is still justifiable in 2012 is because we assume its ultimate conclusion will validate the larger ethos of a TV show everyone wants to be meaningful. Conversations about The Wire are not based in nostalgia for an escapist distraction we can no longer access; they are based on the collective belief that we need to remember this program for social and political reasons. And that’s why Omar has to win.

When you watch the first two seasons of The Wire, it’s difficult not to love Stringer Bell the most. It’s been years since I saw those episodes, but I vividly recall being most compelled by all the storylines that involved him directly. It was possible to relate to his (superficially alien) life, mostly because he was the most reasonable thinker within an unreasonable sphere (and since we all like to view ourselves as rational beings, our natural human inclination is to reflexively relate to any fictional character flummoxed by the irrationality of his circumstance). Were this a straightforward popularity contest conducted in March of 2008, Stringer likely prevails. But that’s not what this is. This is a metaphor contest. In the semis, Stringer beat Jimmy McNulty because a likable drug dealer is more symbolically significant than a likable cop; in the opposite bracket, Omar beat Avon Barksdale because an ethical murderer is more symbolically significant than a Machiavellian murderer. That leaves us with Stringer vs. Omar, so the make-or-break question is this: What’s the single most important axiom The Wire promotes? That’s debatable, but I’d argue it’s this: “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” And if that’s the takeaway, the choice is clear.

Grantland Bracket

#1 Omar Little (11,688) defeats #1 Avon Barksdale (1,190)
#1 Stringer Bell (6,844) defeats #3 Jimmy McNulty (6,414)

Filed Under: Smacketology, The Wire

Chuck Klosterman is a contributing editor at Grantland and the author of eight books. The latest is I Wear the Black Hat.

Archive @ CKlosterman