The most studied media empire topics in the last 20 years, and arguably the most popular, lie in the fantastical realm -- aliens, vampires, dual realities...and drug dealers.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Matrix, Alien, and The Wire comprise the most academically cited TV shows and films of recent times. There are, of course, a number of reasons for citation -- from capitalism to feminism to fashion -- but academics largely take interest based on fan devotion.
That is to say, drugs and drug culture fall in the same norm and dedicated fandom as aliens and vampires. Motifs surrounding the fantastic draw viewership, and The Wire subsists as "an example of a popular cultural form that stimulates the sociological imagination," according to one paper.
But what about The Wire, a Baltimore-based drug and law enforcement drama with characters the creator says are "invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed" by institutions, seems illusory? Are we as removed from urban culture and the drug trade as we are from high school vampire fighters? Stumbling on The Wire fan fiction certainly makes it seem so. Though we not be as familiar with street-level drug dealing, perhaps society could benefit by learning more about the real communities behind the show.
Having spent time in Hunts Point in The Bronx, it's easy to tell how stereotypes happen, how language and mannerisms in the show manifest from real life. But this is in New York City, hardly something from Alien.
What of it impresses viewers? Is urban drug dealing on par with teleportation? It could be that we can conceptualize drug dealers no easier than we can fathom The Matrix's dual realities. Are drug dealers so intrinsically different? Career choice aside, morality and legality for better or worse, they're people surviving, as we are.
Taking it at face value, societally, we're displaced from these lives, as far as we are from the supernatural. And is this a good thing? Does it make drug dealers and street users that much farther from societal redemption? Could we understand and accept reformed users and dealers into our communities? My fear is that the more imaginary these lives and livelihoods seem, the more isolated the communities become.
Take a look at the opening sequence from the first episode of The Wire, season 1: