Why I despise Stringer Bell

So Melly Mele told me she was worried about my distaste for Stringer Bell. She says it’s irrational.
When a woman who makes bank while Skip Bayless (who, it should be noted, has always been really, really nice to me) begins Year 7 of his grudge with LeBron James, I feel the need to do what I do best — hyperintellectualize!
Well, not really.
Anyway, I hate Stringer Bell. I admit that I have a visceral reaction when I see his character on the screen. When he was on The Office, I wanted Idris Elba’s character — whose name I never bothered to remember — to be the victim of workplace discrimination. It’s just a tad serious when it comes to Stringer.
Like Jemele, many of you wonder why I go so hard on Stringer Bell. I actually had to think about this, because I readily acknowledge this isn’t normal and, on its surface, it does seem irrational (and this coming from someone that’s so rational that it’s got to be annoying to deal with).
It’s pretty simple. Stringer Bell is a racist.
(For a second, imagine Stringer’s a white man. Now read some more, then we’ll revisit this.)
The single most objectionable thing about Stringer Bell was the nauseating, condescending tone he took with the people that worked with and for him. Stringer Bell was a self-hating bastard. David Simon talks about how Stringer just wanted to be someone else, but that translates nicely to “self-hating.” He talked to those boys, boys who came up the same damn way as him, as if they were stupid. He sounded like the rest of the self-righteous bourgeois clowns that continually look down on the poor as if they’re lesser beings.
Think about this. A lot of you love Stringer because he was going to community college (as if that shit’s special). Here’s my question — why is it that Stringer Bell never, not one single time, encouraged anyone else to take his path. He thought he could change the game? Maybe. But how was he gonna keep that game going if he was the only one that had this advanced knowledge?
He saw the people around him as marginally superior to monkeys. He treated them as such. I hate those people in real life — and notice many of them looooooove Stringer Bell — and I hate them on screen.
Imagine Stringer as a white man again. You might have a different look at him.
Let’s take questions from the audience right fast.
Now, the only way that’s a truly good thing is if you saw Stringer’s attempts to be a way to eliminate violence. I get that. One payoff from Stringer’s vision was less murder, and I guess he gets credit for that.
Except it’s not as if Stringer did this in the name of principle. He did it in the name of paper. Less bodies, less cops, more money. I don’t blame him for it. Ain’t gonna give him props for it, either.
Let’s go one step further. At every point, when Stringer ran out of answers, what was his solution? Take somebody out. Happened to Wallace. He tried to do it to Omar and/or Brother Mouzone. He wanted to do it to Clay Davis (classic television, btw).
Let’s not pretend this cat didn’t want anyone to die. He didn’t give a damn if they did or not. He just wanted the cops to get off his back. I guess I’ll give him a golf clap for that one.
Now don’t get me wrong. Stringer is a compelling character. I just don’t find him compelling because he was taking business classes. I’ve taken the same business classes. They didn’t make me a good dude. The biggest assholes I’ve ever met are in academia. And I have worked in both music and the sports media.
Just made him another dude in community college. Whoo-hoo.
He also was smart. Another great big whoo-hoo. I’m pretty smart. Know what that matters for in the grand scheme? Naythin. That’s what. Bupkis.
I won’t belabor the obvious points about Stringer getting with D’Angelo’s girl when he was in the joint. And having D’Angelo killed while he was getting with his girl. And the Wallace thing. And sending Avon up the river because Avon, the boss, wouldn’t listen to him. Nah, no need to get deep into that.
But the bad vibe I got off the character, which made him the biggest villain — even bigger than Marlo — in the greatest narrative I’ve ever followed, comes from the stench of a hatred of poor black people. I have no respect for that whatsoever, whether on Earth or on film.

31 thoughts on “Why I despise Stringer Bell

  1. Yeah, Stringer was a ruthless bastard but his methods were mostly logical. On the drug side of the show he was smarter than everybody else in the room except Prop Joe, Avon, and maybe Marlo (on a good day). When he was talking down to folks it’s because they were doing knucklehead things like Bodie not throwing the guns away properly in season 2 or the youngin’s just needed some schoolin’. I don’t even think he was that harsh all things considered.
    As for him wanting to murder folks, what was he supposed to do? Go to the police? The one time he did it ended up getting him killed. As much as it hurt to see, Wallace and D’Angelo needed to get got. Wallace was gonna snitch and D’Angelo made it seem like he was gonna snitch to a crazy cautious motherfucker like Stringer. Both these cats could’ve put Stringer in a cell forever, it’s do or die for String.
    As for that racist stuff, I’d probably say you’re one of those dudes Stringer would’ve had to put in check and that’s clouding your perspective. Smart enough to see Stringer’s a beast but not smart enough and too jealous to sit back and learn from him. Stringer was ruthless no doubt but his was game was on point and on a whole other level than most of the drug dealers on the show.

  2. I’m following you on everything except for characterization of Stringer as a racist. Stringer was condescending to everyone who he knew he had some kind of angle on – I’m not sure color enters it at all, as much as I want more reasons to hate him.
    And I think people always sort of oversell how smart Stringer was. Yes, he was pretty sharp in his narrow area of expertise, but as the show proved, he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was.

  3. The hood’s Bernie Madoff, Mr. Bell was. End game was always money, no matter who of his closest had to be bumped from the picture. He was constantly condescending to everyone not in politics pretty much, because he was an elitist.
    I think folks liked Bell because he was the one person there that didn’t just see working in the game as survival, but instead he embraced capitalism and the very basic principles of simple economics. People always assume the Stringer Bells of the world are simpletons, almost like Bell thought of his minions, but that’s not the case.

  4. Please analyze Marlo – I hate him how you hate Stringer! He was so wack! Didn’t see his appeal, his smarts, nothing.

  5. Stringer was certainly condescending, but I don’t see how you make the inference to he was a racist who hated poor black people. It does not follow logically. Simply because he spoke down to those he thought intellectually ineferior doesn’t imply that he thought poor blacks were intellectual inferior. It’s possible that he thought the cats in the drug trade were imbeciles for not following his way.
    It seems that he dismissed all people that had an incongruent perspective toward the drug game. Unfortunately, in their line of business, the “workers” are almost always poor black dudes. I’d say he’s more like an educated dude from the hood that goes back and thinks everyone is dumber than him. He’s not necessarily racist, but is fully aware that he thinks on another level.
    Or, perhaps we are operating under a different definition of the term “racist”.

  6. Bo, I’m not up on “The Wire” like you and I can’t really add to the discussion much, but I will repeat something that I think some of the folks commenting have missed…
    “Imagine Stringer Bell was a white man.”
    Under that assumption, and based on what all here have agreed to be his tactics, I think he would be accused of racism “if he were a white man.”
    I will throw this out there (again, not having watched it much), people who climb to the top on the backs of others tend to maintain their power by “keeping people in line.” It’s the flip side of crabs in a bucket, he’s trying to keep those under him right where they are because he has to. Otherwise…he loses respect, power and money.

  7. I used to think Stringer Bell was completely malevolent. But watching it again I have to feel sorry for him. I think he renounced violence enough times to realise he didn’t kill people for the sake of it like Marlo for example. I think Avon had it right when he said something like he wasn’t hard enough for their world and not smart enough for them out there. The contrasts between Avon and Stringer sort of reminded me of the difference between Paul Castellano and John Gotti. Ultimately Stringer is surrounded by dangerous psychopaths, Avon, Omar, Brother Mouzone and even Marlo who is putting a squeeze on the Barksdale operation.

  8. I hate stringer bell TOO!
    I googled “I hate stringer bell” and here I am
    I just finished watching season 2, and despise him more and more w/ each episode
    F*** that dude

  9. I don’t know about the racist thing either. I think it might come down to Stringer’s frustration with not being where he wanted to be. He didn’t want bodies because he didn’t want police, but I think he also wanted to keep it as legitimate as possible to make it seem more like business; even him reaching out to Prop Joe and starting the Co-op was all about making it seem legit. I mean the Co-op had board-room-style meetings! And any anger or aggressiveness at his underlings stemmed from frustration with having to deal with people who didn’t care about business and were just looking to cause some damage. Even when Stringer and Avon are feuding it’s because Avon wants to battle over corners and String was passed that part of the game.
    I agree with David about feeling sorry for him. I mean at the end, he gets screwed be Davis and the contractor and has no prospects of developing any land and Avon is still mowing people down over some corners. Stringer couldn’t make it in the business world and couldn’t convince Avon to give up beefing over territories. To Stringer, giving up Avon was the only way he could maintain.

  10. I dont think Stringer was a racist. He certainly thought he was superior but the reason I don’t think he was a racist is the episode where Avon is released from jail and Avon reminds Stringer of the days when he was into “black pride”…

  11. I love the character Stringer Bell. One of my favorites on the show. Also I think Idris Elba showcased some of the best acting on the show as well. As to the matter at hand, yes he was condescending to his subordinates, but I don’t think that makes him racist. An Ass-hole, sure, but racist? Also he secreted cool every time he was on screen.

  12. I agree with this, and I think the reason for him being like this, is because Idris Elba is British, simple as. His whole acting style and mannerism, coupled with the dialoue he is given make him alien to the rest of his crew. The reason why I think it is him and not the character, is because not many people seem to really dislike him and even though he is the boss, (I am at season 3) there isn’t any real dissent among his people. This to me indicates that his behaviour, that I and many others I know who watch the program, despise, is something that is communicated subliminally, and thats why the audience picks it up and not the characters. Maybe, I don’t no, holla at me with your responses I would like to hear what you guys might think about that.

  13. I stumbled across this article and loved it. Although I actually loved the character. His self-hatred made him absolutely fascinating. Check out my take on Stringer and let me know what you think:

  14. “As for him wanting to murder folks, what was he supposed to do? Go to the police? The one time he did it ended up getting him killed.”

    That’s NOT why Stinger was killed.

  15. Stringer Bell was a nerd! A true blooded nerd. A nerd that happened to be a black man.
    Nerds are intelligent and they have poor people skills as they concentrate in solving problems than in looking good politically. That is why you are calling him a racist, because he wouldn’t care about what you think of him.
    There is no evidence to say he was a racist.

  16. Interesting POV. Which is what makes Stringer’s character so important. It can be approached from a lot of different angles.
    I didn’t see the condescending thing the way you did. He had a genuine fondness for Bodie, that was shown in the Stray Rounds Episode in Season 2.
    I would also say that Stringer only used murder as what he thought was a last resort.
    I also think his death scene was revelatory of his life, try to find a way out of a bad situation, but never afraid to stand his ground.
    Saying all that, we’re still talking about a rich-ass drug dealer that could have walked away from the game at any point, but chose to stay in to make coin. He was just greedy and got what he had coming to him.
    Nonetheless he was a great character.

  17. I’m not gonna sit here and read through every comment made so if this is redundant, I’m sorry. I loved Stringer. I loved him because I did not see his hatred for black people. He grew up on those streets, except he wasn’t like every other “nigga” on the streets. He was intelligent and organized. He had leadership. Powerful leadership. His control over his people, his ability to intimidate and control was very compelling. The way he treated the poor blacks was because he needed to make sure things got done. There’s no room for misunderstandings in the business.
    Well this has turned into a pile of gushing. I’m sorry.
    All in all, I admired Stringer for being a man who knew how to maintain power, how to intimidate, how to control, and who aspired to something greater than that street-level bullshit (the kind that Avon kept pulling).
    No matter what, you must admit he was fascinating.

  18. I’m witcha on a majority of what you’re saying about Bell’s treatment of his own people. At the same time, I think there has to be an acknowledgement of his insistence of running meetings with the crew, having everyone speak one at a time (of course, unless it was Poot calling him out), which, in turn, shows that he was attempting to expand their vision and their ways of handling business.
    There was also the print shop when he was telling the workers in there that he wanted it run like a legitimate business. So while I do understand the points you’re making, he actually did try to enhance the lives of the people around him, in his own fucked-way.
    I will tell you this, though (unrelated to Bell); I’m startin’ to truly dig Season Two. I watched it the first time and had similar thoughts that folks had about it being too slow, but after watching it for a second time, it’s dope as hell. Season Three is in a class of its own, but I’ll put two against the others easily.

  19. I think the crux of the Stringer Bell character is explained in the “Man without a Country” speech by Avon.
    Stringer attempted to separate what he did from ‘the street,’ when in reality nothing was more ‘street’ then the game. He took classes at the JC as a means to separate himself from the business he was knee deep in. A mask if you will. Yet, as was proven over and over again, he never made it in the ‘straight’ world.
    Much like D’Angelo said in the book club, “He’s saying that the past is always with us. Where we come from, what we go through, how we go thought it all this shit matters.” No matter what sort of front Stringer attempted to put forth, he was always a drug dealer and died in a manner that befit his career path.
    So, I’m not sure that necessarily makes him a racist, but it does make him fake.

  20. I thought I was the only one who hated Stringer. I also don’t particularly care for Idris Elba because all I can see is Stringer and I get annoyed.

  21. In the wire every character has flaws, and often their morals are questionable. It’s more rational to view the characters in the wire as objectively as possible, as each character in the story reflects on the larger picture and their flaws exemplify certain flaws in society. On a more personal level, Bell’s actions are both admirable and morally reprehensible – and you have to take this dichotomy and consider it.

  22. Stringer was capitalism. It was cheaper to use Omar to kill brother to secure the territory in combination with prop joe’s more profitable package.
    Even his killing, wasn’t because he hated wallace, it was the cheapest route to protect the business.
    People like Stringer because people wish they could be effective capitalists, and stringer was that, defined.

  23. As far as Stringer talking down to people you never saw him talk to Wee Bey and Bird the way he talked to Poot or Bodie. That is because Wee Bey and Bird did not need supervision. Did they make mistakes like when Bey shot the police woman? Yes, but he did not go off on him because that was a mistake that could have happened to any of the soldiers. It was not like whe Bodie screwed up getting rid of the guns. To not get out of the car and then throw the bag to make sure it went into the water was just lazy. String only yelled at Slim Charles once when Stringer made that dumb demand that Slim kill a politician, string was just frustrated over losing his money. Bottom line I do not think Bomani watched the whole series. You either missed a lot of the first season or just watched the show in bits and pieces.

  24. Do people like/dislike Stringer Bell the Character or Idris Elba the person? This conflation of characterisation doesn’t do much to illuminate the argument but there might be some sparks in there that could help. After all, Idris originally auditioned for the part of Avon but the director scanned this dude from England and imediately saw Stringer come to life.
    Imho Stringer was one of the more sympathetic characters. He made a few mistakes and he made some good calls but all in all, was just as deeply flawed as any other character in the wire. No more no less. They are all products of their environment. The show does well to pair character archetypes in the various professions against each other as part of it’s social commentary; and so it’s always fun to play the game: if Stringer had been a cop, which character would he be most like? Or if he’d been a teacher? Or a stevedore? Or one of the f thes? That might help put him into better perspective. Heck… what Snoop says to Michael when he’s about to kill her is something that could be said to Stringer and work.
    That said, despite his dying on the series, we do see some of his plans coming to fruition. The co-Op flourishes and Marlo uses the same to sell his piece of the game and get out. Which is exactly what Stringer wanted to do. Difference is? Stringer had a vision and Marlo didn’t really have one so Marlo is lost after getting what he wants. There’s a lot to unpack in the series and I believe that was the point of the show. If you don’t like Stringer then that’s fine. But perhaps you should do a strength vs weakneses conparison to extract the pertinent themes being portrayed. His most distilled essence showcased Stringer being aspirational and that touches on many people’s lives.

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