England & Wales

Baltimore bites back


All week I’ve been planning to do a post on Chris Grayling’s comparison of English inner cities to The Wire. The politics of this have been very well covered and I’ve particularly enjoyed contributions from Misha Glenny and my old boss Matthew Taylor

I was going to take a different line and argue that Grayling had misunderstood the nature of art. I was going to wax lyrical about verisimilitude and mimesis. I was going to cite Aristotle’s argument that the act of representation always involves distancing ourselves from truth. I was going to argue that The Wire is an example of naturalism, not realism, because its main concern is to explicate a theory about the impersonal forces that shape the world it portrays.

All this I was going to do, but now I don’t need to (and readers have been spared) because the Mayor of Baltimore has done it so much better (hat tip @tom_watson). She says:

“To present a television show as the real Baltimore is to perpetuate a fiction that dishonours our city. It is as pointless as boasting that Baltimore has a per capita homicide rate a fraction of that in the popular UK television show Midsomer Murders.”

Quite. Debate closed I think.


Apparently, the debate is not quite closed. Attentive readers have pointed out that these comments turn out not to be made the real mayor of Baltimore at all, but to be an elaborate hoax (which the Guardian and The Independent both fell for).

The point still holds though. Indeed the fact that this comes from a ‘fake’ mayor is brilliantly appropriate given that the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction is precisely the issue at stake here.

Chris Grayling seems to be drawing back from his comments a little, writing in the Manchester Evening News that

“I did not suggest that Moss Side was Baltimore – scene of the US series The Wire. Palpably the level of violence there is greater than in Manchester or any other UK city.”

But once bitten twice shy, whether or not this is the real Chris Grayling, I wouldn’t dare say…..