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December 17, 2009 6:22 PM   Subscribe

You’re going to hire people to guard your sh*t, but you’re not going to give them health care. Vice has a long spoiler- and profanity-laden interview with The Wire creator David Simon, running the gamut from backstage Wire details to the media's obsession with "the Dickensian aspect" to his next series (set in New Orleans) to Joe Lieberman to this fight he almost got in at a concert one time. Via /Film.
posted by gerryblog (41 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
You're going to hire PAs to move your shit but you're not going to give them health care either.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 6:30 PM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Now you’re listening to Joe Lieberman say that he will filibuster anything with a public option. Let me understand this: One guy from a small state in New England is going to decide on a singular basis what’s good for the health care of 300 million people? That’s our form of government, and I don’t get it.

I'm currently about to start the third season of The Wire, and I'm loving it. It's interviews like this that just make me appreciate it more and more. It's often hard (or maybe the interviewer simply doesn't try) to get an artist to seriously talk about their work. But David Simon always gives a good interview, with good answers and real discussion. I think it really reflects his purpose with The Wire, that it is a platform for discussion and change.
posted by cyphill at 6:41 PM on December 17, 2009


You're going to hire some guy, but you aren't going to pay him enough to buy a decent shirt.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:42 PM on December 17, 2009


cyphill, you may have decided that you don't care about spoilers, but you should know there *are* big spoilers for the end of The Wire in that interview. Be careful.
posted by gerryblog at 6:43 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


"like that fellow on YouTube, “Don’t let the government take away my Medicare…” You look at that and you think there’s only one thing that can make people this stupid, and that’s money. "
posted by Avenger at 6:48 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually these 'centrists' are chomping at the bit to gut medicare and social security. They're vary worried about the deficit, and are concerned that we might have to cut military expenditures if we're going to keep paying!
posted by delmoi at 6:56 PM on December 17, 2009


Best line of the interview, re: Just Say No:

“What the fuck was I supposed to say yes to, motherfucker?”
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:58 PM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Excellent interview; thanks for posting this. I keep thinking I really ought to watch The Wire, but I'm afraid it will make me want to slit my wrists.
posted by Quietgal at 7:04 PM on December 17, 2009


You're going to hire some guy to pull the bone all the way out the chicken.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:12 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Excellent interview; thanks for posting this. I keep thinking I really ought to watch The Wire, but I'm afraid it will make me want to slit my wrists.

No, don't worry, it won't.

Now, your face, though—you might want to Omar that up just a little bit.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:44 PM on December 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


I keep thinking I really ought to watch The Wire, but I'm afraid it will make me want to slit my wrists.

There are small moments of hope here and there in it; not so much in the sense that the institutions are going to change but that people can find a way to not be destroyed by them. People rise and fall throughout the series.

And its one of the best things TV has ever produced. Don't miss it.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:52 PM on December 17, 2009


The Wire, especially the third season, is one of the best pieces of art in any medium I've ever experienced. I didn't believe all the hype about this show for YEARS until I finally just said screw it and Netflixed it. The hype is true.
posted by spicynuts at 8:11 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't believe all the hype about this show for YEARS until I finally just said screw it and Netflixed it. The hype is true.

This is true. If you like good things you'll enjoy.
posted by nola at 8:27 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Now you’re listening to Joe Lieberman say that he will filibuster anything with a public option. Let me understand this: One guy from a small state in New England is going to decide on a singular basis what’s good for the health care of 300 million people? That’s our form of government, and I don’t get it.

Yup, you don't get it. You need 41 Senators to filibuster anything. It's not one guy from a small state in New England, it's at least 40 more guys.

We only give Lieberman the power to decide anything in a singular basis on Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones.
posted by qvantamon at 8:34 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not one guy from a small state in New England, it's at least 40 more guys.


Oh, so when Lieberman is done the Republicans are gonna vote for the bill?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:44 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


So ... I keep seeing The Wire mentioned on Metafilter (and other places) and heaped, heaped, heaped with praise. But last year I tried watching the first couple episodes and it seemed like any other cop show. Can anyone give me motivation to keep going? As in, what's so special about this show?
posted by mannequito at 9:03 PM on December 17, 2009


You’re witnessing it now with health care, with the marginalization of any effort to rationally incorporate all Americans under a national banner that says, “We’re in this together.”

Nice to hear the Left say this again, we don't say it enough. Bring back the grand narrative!
posted by AlsoMike at 9:17 PM on December 17, 2009


last year I tried watching the first couple episodes and it seemed like any other cop show.

OH YOU. You're like a ghost I've feared (but wanted to address) my whole life! I started watching THE WIRE season 4 because I was paying for the HBO and I figured I ought to check out this show that everyone was yapping about. And I was *at sea* - but after a few episodes things started to click into place and I was rapt for most of the season and completely undone by the end.

So then I got DVDs and started at one and was mortified. Ooh, here's Jimmy McNulty - he's a cop - but he doesn't PLAY BY THE RULES even though the crusty captain wants him to PLAY BY THE RULES! oh, and OOH - maybe the COPS and the CRIMINALS are.... NOT SO DIFFERENT AFTER ALL?

I absolutely understand and agree with you about the early goings of THE WIRE - the beginnings are loaded with cop 'n' robber cliche and all I can say is that those who are urging you to love the program aren't insane. All pilots are crap compared to the rest - and I hope I can persuade you to keep going because once the necessary and broad character establishment is over with - oh, you'll be so glad you stuck with it.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:23 PM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


mennequito - I also held out on watching the Wire for years. Not so much because it's a cop show but because I just imagined some sensationalized ghetto bullshit. Having come from a rough neighborhood I wasn't sure that this show could teach me anything or entertain me sufficiently. It does both and then some. You get to be inside the problems that are being presented to you. Many of the inexplicable gray areas about why people sell drugs and why schools don't work and everything in between are fleshed out. I do think that this show is for the choir though. Not sure that people who believe that the world is black and white can enjoy or appreciate this show.
posted by mokeydraws at 9:37 PM on December 17, 2009


last year I tried watching the first couple episodes and it seemed like any other cop show.

Hmm. Try watching of few of these. If you can't tell the difference, best stick with the ultimate crime fighter.
posted by larry_darrell at 9:41 PM on December 17, 2009


This show is special because of its depiction of institutions. Almost every character is a member of an institution, and while these institutions are often in conflict with one another - the police and the drug gang being the first iteration of this theme - each institution is full of conflict and struggle as well. Always. It shows how people living at every level of the hierarchy of any institution feel pressure from above and below. How personal ambition can be destructive to those institutions - usually. How the work of every institution is measured, and how the metric that you choose will shape behavior - like the police juicing crime stats, or dockworkers counting their shifts, or Avon and Stringer - Stringer who cares most about money, and Avon who cares more about the number of corners he controls than the number of dollars in his pocket.

The best thing about The Wire is that it shows how if you want to look at a modern American city, if you only look at one or two institutions - drug gangs and police, for example - you won't see what's really happening. You have to look at the police, and the gangs, and the churches, and the unions, the schools, the prisons, the city council, the press...

Plus the writing, storytelling, and acting are all first rate.
posted by taliaferro at 9:50 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thank you, gerryblog.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:58 PM on December 17, 2009


last year I tried watching the first couple episodes and it seemed like any other cop show.

Oh, yeah. You have to get past the first 3 or 4 episodes. Though after the fact, the 2nd episode is pretty good.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:01 PM on December 17, 2009


Thanks guys. I generally trust Metafilter's overall opinion enough that I was sure there must be more to it. I guess I just needed a bit of motivation to pick it up again.

To be honest I don't remember one single plot point from the first 2 or 3 episodes. Anyone tell me if I should go back and sit through them again, or will I be able to pick up where I left off (generally I consider myself quick to catch on .......)?
posted by mannequito at 10:13 PM on December 17, 2009


mannequito: David Simon (creator of The Wire) addresses this sort-of in the linked article:

Speaking about how he finds debates over which season is the "best" to miss the point: "But it’s like, to me, season 1 is the weakest. It created the crucible, the core values of what we were going to build beyond. It did everything it was supposed to do, but to me something happens in seasons 3, 4, and 5 and it’s informed by everything you’ve seen in 36 or 48 or 60 episodes."

I watched the first 4 episodes of season 1 when they initially aired, and I thought, "this seems like a well-done cop show." I stopped watching, finding nothing new there. When HBO replayed the first season a few months later, I decided to give it another try. Immediately, I found that those first episodes were more gripping than the first time I'd watched them -- there was something more going on with these characters, with this show. It wasn't just about the good guys trying to catch the bad guys. The cop show cliches weren't just cliches. Simon and co. were, I think, playing with expectations a bit. Trying to ease people in to what would end up being a show unlike any other cop show ever done. (Although, to be fair, I haven't seen The Shield, and I hear that's pretty good.) The show is incredibly densely written, so even in those first "weak" episodes, there's a lot going on that you'll miss on your first, second, even third viewing. Not like "clues" or anything, but just the subtleties of the characters, etc.

As to whether you should start from the beginning or some later point: from the beginning, absolutely. I don't think there's a single MOMENT of the show that is not required watching, and starting midway through season 1 is like walking in late to a play: yeah, you can probably pick up most of the things, but you'll never get a sense of the whole. The first episodes are also really, really important for setting up the various "factions" and seeing who they are and how they work: the Barksdale crew, high end and low end, the police upper management, Daniels and his "special unit" (not a double entendre :), McNulty's own particular brand of fuckupitude, Omar... And also if you don't see where some of these characters start, the really complex and beautifully drawn developments they go through won't mean as much to you. I mean, some of the characters in season 1, if I told you where they were in season 3, 4, 5, it would blow your mind. And yet, as remarkable as their developments are, they are totally believable and compelling. So, yes, watch the show from episode 1, minute 1. And watch with your full attention -- this isn't a show where you put it on in the background while you clean the house or balance your checkbook. In my opinion, it's something you need to focus on, not only because it has so many layers and so much going on, but because it will be so, so, SO rewarding in the end.

If you can't tell, I fucking love this show with a deep and abiding passion.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:38 PM on December 17, 2009


mannequito,

Just tossing another drop in the bucket at this point, but the near-universal consensus (as evidenced by the replies you've gotten) is that the first 3-5 episodes are okay, and then your mind is absolutely and you're hooked for life. Whether this is by design as some above have said, or accident, I don't know, but it seems to be true for virtually every viewer.

So go back and watch those first 4 again and let it run. You'll be glad you did.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:31 PM on December 17, 2009


Oh, no, I wouldn’t guess that about you. I think of you as being, besides a writer, more of a critic and an observer.
It’s one thing to recognize capitalism for the powerful economic tool it is and to acknowledge that, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with it and, hey, thank God we have it. There’s not a lot else that can produce mass wealth with the dexterity that capitalism can. But to mistake it for a social framework is an incredible intellectual corruption and it’s one that the West has accepted as a given since 1980—since Reagan. Human beings—in this country in particular—are worth less and less. When capitalism triumphs unequivocally, labor is diminished. It’s a zero-sum game. People paid a much higher tax rate when Eisenhower was president, a much higher tax rate for the benefit of society, and all of us had more of a sense that we were included. But this is not what you really want to talk about, I know.

Well, no, I do want to talk about this. It isn’t technically about writing, but it’s very relevant to your writing.
I guess what I’m saying is that the overall theme was: We’ve given ourselves over to the Olympian god that is capitalism and now we’re reaping the whirlwind. This is the America that unencumbered capitalism has built. It’s the America that we deserve because we let it happen. We don’t deserve anything better. The Wire was trying to take the scales from people’s eyes and say, “This is what you’ve built. Take a look at it.” It’s an accurate portrayal of the problems inherent in American cities.
Hell yes! I think part of what made the show so thrilling was that it was specifically built to go after the current social order. There was a lot of anger there, finely honed, and used with scalpel precision. Well... until the last season where all that anger flowed over. I tell everyone I know to stop watching after the 4th season and just read the recaps if they want to know what happened to the characters. Everyone I've told that too has watched the 5th season anyway and then tells me they wish they hadn't.

But yeah, part of what makes that show such great art is its clear political agenda. For me, anyway.
posted by Kattullus at 11:48 PM on December 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


moxiedoll, I agree that pilots always seem to suck in intra-show comparisons, even for the best shows. So what's different about movies that for them sequels are worse?
posted by NortonDC at 11:48 PM on December 17, 2009


...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.

Amen to *that*. Simon fudges a bit in the interview about planning everything out, I think, but that little quote is perfect.
posted by mediareport at 5:46 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and for Quietgal:

Simon: A lot of what The Wire was about sounds cynical to people. I think it’s very cynical about institutions and their ability to reform. I don’t deny that, but I don’t think it’s at all cynical about people.

On the contrary—it’s very empathetic and human.

Which is why it’s watchable. It embraces the idea of everybody’s humanity at the same time that it says, “Oh yeah, we’re fucked, but we’re fucked together in our own way and we fucked ourselves.”

posted by mediareport at 5:50 AM on December 18, 2009


Metafilter: we’re fucked, but we’re fucked together in our own way and we fucked ourselves.
posted by The White Hat at 6:02 AM on December 18, 2009


mannequito: I also recommend watching with the subtitles on, so that you can figure out who's who faster.
posted by cider at 6:46 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The worst part of The Wire is when it ends. I wish I could watch it all again for the first time. Mannequito: consider yourself lucky.
posted by mike_bling at 9:13 AM on December 18, 2009


mannequito: I also recommend watching with the subtitles on, so that you can figure out who's who faster.

Definitely. Maybe it's cheating, but the subtitles really help to understand the colloquialisms, too.
posted by Pax at 9:19 AM on December 18, 2009


By far the best TV show I've seen in years. You can take your Law & Order, CSI, 24 and their ilk and shove it. I damn near become a zealot when talking about The Wire.
posted by arcticseal at 10:19 AM on December 18, 2009


Worth less and less as people, you mean?
As human beings. Some of us are going to get more money and be worth more. There are some people who are destined for celebrity or wealth or power, but by and large, the average American, the average person in the world on planet earth, is worth less and less. That’s the triumph of capital, and that is the problem. You look at that, and you think that’s what we’ve come to and that’s where we’re going and it’s like, “Can you tell me another bedtime story about how people are special and every one of us matters? Can you tell me that shit?”

“Tell me again about that boxer who came out of the ghetto and became the champ.”

“And what about that musician whose genius was never recognized? What about him? And, oh yeah, somebody else overcame addiction. That’s great. Tell me that one again.” Listen, I don’t mind a victory if it’s earned. But if all you do is victory, if that’s your whole dramatic construct and that’s 90 percent of American television—

Amen.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:44 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


. . . annnnnnd there goes my afternoon.
posted by CommonSense at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2009


God, I could quote this endlessly. I've thought about this bit today:
You worked with some great crime-fiction writers on The Wire. You’re also married to an excellent crime novelist named Laura Lippman. What do you think about the treatment of crime fiction by the literary establishment? I talked about this in an interview with Elmore Leonard earlier this year. I think that it’s really ghettoized.
It is ghettoized, but the funny part is that these writers wouldn’t want to walk out of the ghetto if they could. Now, I’m sure they would all love to be recognized for the literary merits of what they do. I’m not saying that. They’re not without professional pride. Richard Price, of course, began with literary cred and has not relinquished it. Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos and Laura, they began as crime novelists. Price began as a young literary lion and has nonetheless taken the milieu of crime as part of his demimonde. But what’s common to all of them is that they’re looking for the fault lines in society. They’re using crime to do it because that’s where these things are readily apparent. It’s where money and vanity and fraud and intellect and cultural dissonance all manage to show themselves in very blunt and fundamental ways. It’s a great bunch of tools in your toolbox.

And it’s true, crime fiction often addresses serious problems in American society with much more insight and attention than literature-literature does.
Yes, what’s really notable about American crime fiction is how much more the best of it has managed to get to in terms of society and politics and economics—and how little the literary world has managed to address itself to those things. I was on this panel with this guy Walter Benn Michaels at the New York Public Library, and I didn’t dig it because he was basically using The Wire as a cudgel to beat up on literary fiction. But I don’t want to beat up on anybody. I don’t want to generalize, because there are some good literary novels. There’s also a lot of navel-gazing—and there’s a lot of navel-gazing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I find that stuff unreadable and a waste of my time, but there’s a lot of good stuff, too. And then there’s a lot of really smart stuff and there’s a lot of crap in crime writing.

Sure.
There’s no reason to generalize. But the highest end of crime writing is doing everything right now that literary fiction claims for itself. That is true. And much of what passes for quality literary fiction is not accomplishing very much at all that I find to have merit. So that’s my opinion. But having said that, this panelist took it to an extreme where he was literally saying, “Can we just write about economics and money and politics?” He was saying that literary fiction should be like The Wire, which is nice and flattering, but then he was saying, “Can we stop writing about slavery? Can we stop writing about the Holocaust?” He was basically saying that writing about cultural identity is bullshit. But it’s like, I don’t buy that either. I couldn’t write effectively about people if these sort of core 20th-century experiences or 18th-century experiences that still influence us were not part of who we are.
He's just so damn wonderfully reasonable!
posted by Kattullus at 12:03 PM on December 18, 2009


You are concerned... about the security... of your shit... but not about social security.
posted by Foosnark at 1:52 PM on December 18, 2009


I've watched the first three seasons of The Wire via Netflix. We're taking a hiatus for Holiday movies, which is good because I want to let season 3 settle in.

This show, while perhaps cynical, puts a human face on "big city" crime. The struggle is real, the warfare on the streets, in the classroom, at the election booth, is all real. A murder reported on the news is real. The Wire shows that level of humanity--D wants to get out, Brother Mizone reads Harpers (!), Stringer takes community college classes, Bubs wants to get straight, but has nowhere to get straight, etc.

I think it is interesting that Simon considers it a bit insulting, or improper, to compare The Wire to Dickens because he thinks Dickens sells out in the end with the rich uncle (which is kind of bs). I would compare this series to Tale of Two Cities, much in the way that there are several little threads of detail floating around that somehow, miraculously come together. The interwoven nature of the beast is partially what this show is trying to demonstrate. At least to me.
posted by fyrebelley at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2009


Here's how you know we're coming out of a Golden Age of American TV: the three great HBO shows (Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos) are not only better in most ways than almost all preceding TV dramas, but they're far deeper than they're given credit for by even their most fawning critic-fans.

Deadwood is the most complex consideration of interconnectedness, social group formation, and the evolution and workings of language ever to air on TV (and for my money it's the best depiction and explanation of natural selection in any medium), never mind its literally unprecedented theatrical language. The Sopranos carried out a sustained assault on middle-class cultural consumption and self-aggrandizing Boomer mythmaking - while working in parallel as a vicious ongoing spoof of Bill and Hillary Clinton's America. Fans and critics turned on The Wire and David Simon during Season 5 as the show started dropkicking the self-involved news media and somnolent viewing/reading public week after week - and Simon had to explain the newspaper plot to the newspaper critics. Pathetic.

(Hell, even Dexter is probably most interesting depiction of high-functioning autism and the loneliness of the 'gifted' child I've ever seen. Even our second-tier Good Drama manages to far outstrip its critics.)

Excellent interview (or rather, a very middling interview that reads well because of its extraordinary subject), but for me it mainly drives home the creator/audience expectation mismatch in modern TV. I suppose I have my own preoccupations to thank, alas.
posted by waxbanks at 10:15 PM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


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