Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: The Wire

Vice interview with David Simon

For hardcore addicts of The Wire like myself, David Simon’s interview with Vice Magazine is can’t miss material. The interview is huge, here are some good bits. David Simon explains what’s wrong with TV writing:

But I guess where I was originally going is that nobody wants to write endings in television. They want to sustain the franchise. But if you don’t write an ending for a story, you know what you are? You’re a hack. You’re not a storyteller. It may not be that you have the skills of a hack. You might be a hell of a writer, but you’re taking a hack’s road. You’re on the road to hackdom and there’s no stopping you because stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The difference between Greek and Shakespearean theatre:

This seems to play into what you mentioned earlier, that you were writing Greek tragedy, which certainly had comedic elements.

Yes. Before finishing the first season I’d reread most of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, those three guys. I’d read some of it in college, but I hadn’t read it systematically. That stuff is incredibly relevant today. As drama, the actual plays are a little bit stilted, but the message within the plays and the dramatic impulses are profound for our time. We don’t really realize it. I don’t think we sense the power in there because we’re really more in the Shakespearean construct of—

Yes, the individualism kind of thing.

The individual and the interior struggle for self. Macbeth and Hamlet and Lear and Othello. These are the great tragedies—the dramatic branch that leads to O’Neill and our modern theater. But I saw a version of Aeschylus’s The Persians done on the stage in Washington, and it made my jaw drop. They put it on during the height of the insurgency in Iraq—after that misadventure in Iraq had made itself apparent. If you read that play and if you saw this production of it, it was so dead-on. I don’t know if you know the play.

There’s a ton of other great stuff in there, especially for fans of The Wire. My main impulse after reading the interview was to go off and write an essay explaining how the Gervais principle applies to The Wire. Maybe over the holidays …

David Simon on the problems of urban America

David Simon explains The Wire and American cities to overseas viewers:

That is the context of The Wire and that is the only context in which Baltimore – and by reasonable extension, urban America – can be fairly regarded. There are two Americas – separate, unequal, and no longer even acknowledging each other except on the barest cultural terms. In the one nation, new millionaires are minted every day. In the other, human beings no longer necessary to our economy, to our society, are being devalued and destroyed. Both things are true, and one gets a sense, reading the distant reaction to The Wire, that Europeans are far more ready to be convinced by one vision than the other.

And wow, I’m just quoting these two paragraphs because they should be quoted:

In places like West Baltimore, the drug war destroyed every last thing that the drugs themselves left standing – including the credibility of the police deterrent. To elect one man to higher office, an entire city alienated its citizenry and destroyed its juror pool.

Mayor O’Malley is now Governor O’Malley. The police commanders have all been promoted. A daily newspaper that had no stomach for addressing the why a decade ago when it had 400 editors and reporters, a newspaper more consumed with prize submissions and gotcha stories than with complex analysis of its city’s problems, now has 220 bodies in its newsroom and is even less capable of the task. And nothing, of course, changes.

David Simon is wrong about the news

One assertion I’ve seen David Simon make in multiple places is that newspapers blew it by not charging for online access to their content when they could.

I think he’s just wrong about that, as does former newspaperman Scott Rosenberg:

I always saw print journalism as doomed. I loved it anyway, the way you might love a beautiful old car whose engine leak is too costly to repair. There was no way to know how much longer the old newspapers would run, but — outside of exceptional cases like the Times and the Journal, which face their own struggles — they plainly weren’t going to run forever. When the opportunity to leave for the Web came along in 1995, I took it without hesitation.

Here we are, a dozen years later, and only now does it seem to be dawning on many newsroom veterans that the entire industry missed the boat. Simon blames narrow-minded executives, and they are surely at fault, but they were also stuck in a transition that was bound to overpower them. Complaining that newspapers should have charged for their online wares “when they had the chance” is foolish and self-deluding — like wondering why you missed the chance to boost your restaurant’s profits by charging for air. That model was never going to work.

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