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Geniuses of 2010
September 28, 2010 8:56 AM   Subscribe

The John D and Catherine T Macarthur Foundation has announced the 2010 $500,000 grant winners. Among the winners this year are David Simon, (Homicide:Life on the Streets, The Wire, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, The Corner, etc.) who has said he feels a bit awkward about the award, with something of a "nagging notion of shame pulling on my shirtsleeve."
posted by bearwife (52 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Including MeFi's own drewb. Congrats to all.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:59 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dude, you created the greatest drama in the history of American television. You earned it, OK?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:03 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love the idea behind the MacArthur grant. It's not "you did an awesome thing and here is your reward" but "you did an awesome thing and we want you to do more awesome things so don't worry about those quotidian things (which can be taken care of with money) for a while and just do your thing." It's not putting more feed in the cage but simply opening the door.
posted by griphus at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


$500,000 buys a lot of crab chips and quarter water.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought the point of the grant was to allow these people in unappreciated fields to work on their passion rather than have to get a "real job". Seems like giving one to David Simon took that from someone else. No matter how much you love "The Wire".
posted by smackfu at 9:06 AM on September 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


I’m obviously in an industry that pays well, and I’m on contract with HBO, so the money is not the most meaningful part of the fellowship.

That money would be terribly meaningful if he gave it to aspiring screenwriters or whatever.
posted by anniecat at 9:09 AM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Simon's typecast pretty hardcore now. I doubt he'd be able to go to simply show up at HBO and say "now I want to do a space opera/screwball comedy/political documentary" no matter how potentially good it would be. $500K can go a long way toward getting something done that he otherwise wouldn't be able to.
posted by griphus at 9:12 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


He doesn't have to spend it on himself and The Wire is good enough that I don't care if he does. There again I've never seen him happy and unbitter in an interview and I think I like him that way, so maybe make him spend it on the war on drugs and see what he comes up with when he's really pissed off.
posted by shinybaum at 9:14 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well done to bearwife for very nearly making this whole post without using the G word. Slipped in the title, but we non-Fellows can't be perfect, right?
posted by rusty at 9:14 AM on September 28, 2010


He totally deserves it. And he's completely right in feeling guilty.

I didn't think I could respect and admire this man anymore than I do already, but yet again he surprises with his level of ethical self-awareness.


So.... anyone got an address for David Simon, cos I think I know good place for it as an investment in an emerging etc etc...
posted by Skygazer at 9:21 AM on September 28, 2010


I'm a huge fan of the writer Yiyun Li, who also won one of the grants.
posted by matildaben at 9:30 AM on September 28, 2010


I thought the point of the grant was to allow these people in unappreciated fields to work on their passion rather than have to get a "real job".

I cannot speak for the artists who get the grant, but from what I know of most of the academics (again this is all talk at conferences), but most seemed to live rather comfortable burgher lifestyles that come with being a top researcher in your field. If you look at the ages of the winners, these aren't exactly grad students.

That said, $500,000 isn't chump change. If it means they can take a few years off and not have to turn out an undergraduate textbook, well that's the whole point of the award, isn't it?
posted by geoff. at 9:36 AM on September 28, 2010


Put it this way: One thing we were explicit about with "The Wire" was that the drug war was a total amoral fraud that mutated into an abusive campaign against America’s underclass, and that it needed to end. Now, the drug war is no closer to ending than it was when we started the series.

I disagree. Don't be hopeless Dave, this shit is on the downswing. Of course it's being replaced by a different war against a different class of Americans, but hey, one monster at a time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:39 AM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, anybody still watching Treme? The first episode put me to sleep, but I probably will catch up at some point.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:44 AM on September 28, 2010


> Seems like giving one to David Simon took [the ability to work on one's passion] from someone else.

David Simon didn't take that ability from anyone. It was given to him by the McArthur selection committee. What's more, we have absolutely no idea what he's going to do with the money. He could very easily turn around and decide to support someone else (or multiple someones).
posted by christonabike at 9:48 AM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Amazing and cool that so many Californians are among the winners. California may be on the skids but it's still a force to be reckoned with.
posted by blucevalo at 9:51 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, $500,000 isn't chump change.

I would argue that for scientists running a lab, a half mil over 5 years is approaching chump change. Basically for any collaborative endeavor, you can't do much for 100K a year. I think this why David Simon is thinking of charity, because it offers much more bang for buck to donate it than spend it on his own projects.
posted by acheekymonkey at 9:53 AM on September 28, 2010


So, anybody still watching Treme? The first episode put me to sleep, but I probably will catch up at some point.
posted by mrgrimm


It hasn't hit the heights of The Wire yet, but it's still a miraculous blend of truth and fiction that opens up a world few of us would ever see, with excellent naturalistic acting and ambitions far beyond almost anything else on television.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:56 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I disagree. Don't be hopeless Dave, this shit is on the downswing. Of course it's being replaced by a different war against a different class of Americans, but hey, one monster at a time.

Nadelmann from the Drug Policy Alliance said all that needs to be said about this: "the improved rhetoric is not matched by any fundamental shift in the budget or the broader thrust of the drug policy".

The Drug War isn't on the downswing yet, and it won't be until the money and policy follows the rhetoric. Call me when we're not locking up more non-violent "criminals" than China and Russia do, and when our drug prisoners don't outnumber the entire prison population of the whole of Western Europe.
posted by vorfeed at 10:06 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The link in the post has since expired, but Shannon Lee Dawdy's work has been on the blue before. (Historical archaeology is awesome.)
posted by Tesseractive at 10:08 AM on September 28, 2010


smackfu: "I thought the point of the grant was to allow these people in unappreciated fields to work on their passion rather than have to get a "real job". Seems like giving one to David Simon took that from someone else. No matter how much you love "The Wire"."

FWIW, The Wire never won an Emmy.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:16 AM on September 28, 2010


So, anybody still watching Treme? The first episode put me to sleep, but I probably will catch up at some point.

I watched the whole first season - it's not everyone's cup of tea, and if you are looking for The Wire: NOLA, then you will be disappointed. It's a delicate and unexpected show, even coming from Simon. If you can't tell, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
posted by muddgirl at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


FWIW, The Wire never won an Emmy.

I did not know this. No wonder no one really takes them seriously.

Maybe David Simon should've got John Hamm for one of the roles in The Wire. I'm thinking he would've been been pretty interesting as Bubbles or Stringer Bell...ho ho.

Not to take anything away from John Hamm, he's pretty awesome on Mad Men, and very funny when he hosts SNL.
posted by Skygazer at 10:32 AM on September 28, 2010


Amazing and cool that so many Californians are among the winners.

Yeah, I was actually a little annoyed that a big, sprawling state like California had so many recipients, because I could see how artists in poorer areas (the Appalachias, for example) could really use the money more.

Which is why I have to say "Yay, Rhode Island!" Two recipients from the smallest state. Way to represent.
posted by misha at 10:37 AM on September 28, 2010


$500k is not a lot for a lab-based scientist. However, it takes the pressure off you having to raise salary to buy out of teaching if you're a prof for a few years. It means you could go on sabbatical for a couple of years and work in someone elses lab, or go away and write those proposals/textbooks/papers you were so dying to do. You could buy a nice toy that you didnt have to justify to a granting agency.

Or you could employ 1.25 postdocs or 2.0 grad students for 5 years. Yes, all in, it costs that much. No, that's not what they get paid.

For people in other creative endeavors, what Mcarthurs mean is they dont have to worry about getting paid, so they can create.
posted by lalochezia at 10:45 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


David Simon didn't take that ability from anyone

Right, which is why the person you're quoting said "seems like giving one to David Simon …". No one is claiming that David Simon gave it to himself. They're faulting the MacArthur committee, not Simon.
posted by kenko at 10:47 AM on September 28, 2010


In the case of David Simon, as I said in another thread, I think the label 'genius' is more important than the money.

I'm not saying the TV or even David Simon need more promotion, but the idea that "television" and "genius" can even be considered in the same breath is something that far too many people have issues with.

Being told that television can be used as an artistic medium that could also serve a greater good is something that the world needs to be told (as evidenced by, say, nearly every thread mentioning TV on Metafilter), and even if that wasn't the Macarthur Foundation's intention, if that message is sent, then good for them.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:49 AM on September 28, 2010


Put me in the "disappointed" category that David Simon was selected. David Cromer, whom most MeFites wouldn't recognize, is the type of person who "deserves" this type of support - the money will actually make a difference in what he's able to create, and the breadth of audience he's able to reach. What is David Simon going to do, make another television show that pulls in seven figures for him? He's had a long, public career, there can't be to much question about what HE'LL be doing five years from now... The MacArthur Fellows are about the promise of the future; the accomplishments of the past are merely a ticket of entry to the race, no matter how much MeFi lusts after The Wire.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:55 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oooo, I know one of these people, but haven't seen him in almost 10 years. He was living on a grad student budget when I did know him; yay for things changing!
posted by not_on_display at 10:58 AM on September 28, 2010


What is David Simon going to do, make another television show that pulls in seven figures for him?

That's pretty reductive, both of television shows and of David Simon's career.
The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. There are three criteria for selection of Fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.
I don't see how Simon doesn't qualify based on those 3 criteria.
posted by muddgirl at 11:03 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Simon already has a patron in HBO. Who else would greenlight 5 seasons of The Wire that no one watched? Who else would have made Treme, which is even less popular than The Wire? Plus he surely made a good living off of the 7 season run of Homicide before The Wire. So it's really the 3rd criteria that people are questioning.
posted by smackfu at 11:15 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Exactly, smackfu, although the second is already in question because of his inability to return to the The Wire's level of quality, such as it was.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:21 AM on September 28, 2010


Exactly, smackfu, although the second is already in question because of his inability to return to the The Wire's level of quality, such as it was.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle


Oh my god I know. The Macarthur grants SHOULD be based on your personal taste. I'll write them a letter on your behalf.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:29 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Picking another Fellow, Marla Spivak also has another patron - she is a Distinguished McKnight Professor, which came with $100,000 to be expended over 5 years. Another example: Emmanuel Saez is the E. Morris Cox Professor of Economics (which is less well-documented but generally endowed chairs come with at least a salary).

It's just a Fellowship - a unique one, perhaps, but still a Fellowship. Are there people that I think are more deserving of the money? Perhaps, but then again I'm not on the awards committee, and I doubt I ever shall be in the position to decide.
posted by muddgirl at 11:31 AM on September 28, 2010


So, anybody still watching Treme? The first episode put me to sleep, but I probably will catch up at some point.
posted by mrgrimm

It hasn't hit the heights of The Wire yet, but it's still a miraculous blend of truth and fiction that opens up a world few of us would ever see, with excellent naturalistic acting and ambitions far beyond almost anything else on television.


It's also incredibly boring. It's no John from Cincinnati fall from formerly great heights, but's not good.
posted by xmutex at 11:37 AM on September 28, 2010


That money would be terribly meaningful if he gave it to aspiring screenwriters or whatever.

Since we seem to agree that he has no need for the money, I wouldn't be surprised if he donated it to a random charity. Chances are, that'd do more good than giving it to a random screenwriter.
posted by John Cohen at 12:34 PM on September 28, 2010


Every year I check the list for my name, every year I am disappointed. I guess you have to be a genius who does something.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:52 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's also incredibly boring. It's no John from Cincinnati fall from formerly great heights, but's not good.
posted by xmutex


I ended up hating John From Cincinnati as much as the next guy, but I completely disagree here.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:59 PM on September 28, 2010


To those asking/demanding he give it to charity, that is what he says is his first instinct, and he discusses doing so in one of the OP's links.

He also mentions the possibility of paying a writing staff before a show/project is picked up as well.
posted by haveanicesummer at 1:01 PM on September 28, 2010


I would be happiest if he gave it to someone he considered a genius and who needs the money.
posted by smackfu at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2010


There are three criteria for selection of Fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

See, that's where they get me. Seems to me in a bunch of cases the money is all but irrelevant to subsequent creative work.

Maybe they should have two categories, one where you get a shiny medal and the MacArthur's personal Thumbs Up, another where you get the dough.

Be fun to check out how past recipients have spent the money, in any event.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:20 PM on September 28, 2010


John Cohen: "Since we seem to agree that he has no need for the money, I wouldn't be surprised if he donated it to a random charity. "

I don't think the genius grant has ever pretended the point was to enrich struggling artists. I always thought the point was underwriting more geniusy stuff.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:28 PM on September 28, 2010


I don't think the genius grant has ever pretended the point was to enrich struggling artists. I always thought the point was underwriting more geniusy stuff.

You do that by giving the money to people who will spend it on their geniusy stuff, and it's even more effective when what it's spent on would otherwise have been basically impossible. Ken Vandermark is a good example; when he got the money he was able to finance a lot of bands, tours, and recording projects that would otherwise have been out of reach.

You haven't underwritten much if your recipient gives the money to charity (not that that's not worth doing).
posted by kenko at 2:00 PM on September 28, 2010


(Even the professors in the group can use the money to take leaves and focus on more research—it's not as if already having a job makes it irrelevant.)
posted by kenko at 2:01 PM on September 28, 2010


The Wire combined flawless writing and acting with a really propulsive narrative. Treme lacks the narrative, but to my eyes, isn't the lesser for it. It's a part love letter, part eulogy to New Orleans and for me, as an outsider, was enthralling.

I think I read once that when Ridley Scott was making Bladerunner he insisted that all of the shops and market stalls be fully realised, even if the camera only panned over them for half a second. What Ridley Scott was to set design, David Simon is to characters. There is no such thing as a 'supporting cast' in his shows. Everyone matters.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:42 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey, sort of a self-link, but my organization is going to have novelist Yiyun Li read next week. She was one of the few writers on the Macarthur list. Yiyun actually came to the US to attend graduate school in the sciences, but coincidentally took a few creative writing classes for fun--at the Iowa's Writers Workshop. Three books later, she's on the New Yorker's list of top 20 writers under 20.

Anways, the event is on Tuesday, the 5th at The Asian American Writers' Workshop at 7pm. We're at 112 W 27th Street, 6th floor, between 6th and 7th aves in NY.
posted by johnasdf at 4:09 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Surprised no one's started linking to info about the other recipients; a big part of the fun of the MacArthur announcement every year is finding out about previously unknown cool people. Here's the shop of winning stonecarver Nicholas Benson.
posted by mediareport at 4:29 PM on September 28, 2010


Oop, sorry, Tesseractive, missed that you linked another.
posted by mediareport at 5:23 PM on September 28, 2010


And yow, Elizabeth Turk's marble sculptures.
posted by mediareport at 5:34 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


John Cohen: "Since we seem to agree that he has no need for the money, I wouldn't be surprised if he donated it to a random charity. "

I don't think the genius grant has ever pretended the point was to enrich struggling artists. I always thought the point was underwriting more geniusy stuff.


I know.

That isn't really a response to what I said.

I was just making the observation that it's interesting for people to be moralizing against Simon getting the money, when that might lead to better consequences in the world.

Telling me about the purpose of the genius grant is not really relevant to that point.
posted by John Cohen at 6:14 PM on September 28, 2010


I ended up hating John From Cincinnati as much as the next guy, but I completely disagree here.

I also find Treme completely boring. And I have lived in and write about New Orleans.
posted by liketitanic at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2010


It's also incredibly boring. It's no John from Cincinnati fall from formerly great heights, but's not good.

Heh. I'm probably the only one here who liked John from Cincinnati better than The Wire.

Thanks for the comments on Treme. I'll check out ep2.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:51 PM on September 29, 2010


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