(Balti)More Dirty Jobs
November 18, 2014 6:52 PM   Subscribe

As part of a his new CNN series Somebody's Gotta Do It, and partnered with the My Baltimore campaign, Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) is aiming to revamp Baltimore's image. However, Rowe might have pulled a McNulty earlier this month in referencing The Wire in launching his efforts, describing the PR work as "a straight-forward attempt to remind the masses that there's more to my hometown than heroin and gonorrhea." Learning not from Omar, Rowe was skewered by David Simon in a subsequent blog post. You can't even call this thing a war. He's not the only one with some ideas about what Baltimore means, but he's maybe the first to initiate an online firestorm. The Mike Rowe PR treatment has attracted some critics before, and the Dirty Jobs guy has been known to respond with some heat.
posted by pantarei70 (98 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is this our Generation's Gore Vidal/Norman Mailer feud? Or is that Swift/Perry?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:02 PM on November 18, 2014


He's not the only one with some ideas about what Baltimore means, but he's maybe the first to initiate an online firestorm.

He's not even the first this year.

Everyone in the region has an opinion about Baltimore - as a Washingtonian, it feels like the average opinion down here is cautiously positive and improving, though. For all of its many problems, Baltimore feels more vibrant and more full of possibilities as DC becomes suffocatingly expensive and sterile. The restaurants especially get a good amount of hype.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:15 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Is it possible for someone to assert on behalf of Baltimore’s charm and worth, while at the same time being grown-up enough to understand that other stories have an altogether different but essential purpose? Is it conceiveable that someone seeking higher office, or credit for civic improvement, or even a paid promoter’s fee might simply do the straight business of asserting for the best of Baltimore, without going to the trouble to pretend that there are not significant problems in this city and every American city that require redress? Is the universe sufficiently vast to contain both the empirical fact that a Faidley’s backfin crabcake is the world’s best and that Baltimore is the fifth most dangerous city in America?"

Wow, that penultimate paragraph is good stuff.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:18 PM on November 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


I thought the CityPaper writer, Baynard Woods, really pinned down why Rowe's shows accomplish nothing,
Whether a drug dealer, a cop, or a dock worker, you are controlled by forces that you cannot even see, much less control. And this is precisely what Rowe’s show avoids, focusing on the individual workers and the mechanics of their jobs, without contextualizing them. Simon has referred to these institutions as the inscrutible gods of his tragedy. Rowe takes the tragedy out of contemporary work, creating a world of noble, godless laborers.
posted by gladly at 7:19 PM on November 18, 2014 [34 favorites]


Wow, that's a lot of arguing. I actually find myself largely agreeing with Simon in general, but thinking that he's being overly hostile to Rowe. I'm sort of sick of Rowe's supposedly apolitical "aw shucks" dedication to the every-man, but I'm not sure that any of his writing to Simon actually said what Simon claims it said. However, I DO think that Rowe's attempts to unbiased treatments of work are fairly toxic. This is summarized most completely in the fact that he wants to guide people to dirty jobs (not necessarily bad) but doesn't ever advocate for higher wages or universal college education (at least not that I've seen or read, and I follow him on Facebook).
posted by codacorolla at 7:21 PM on November 18, 2014


What manner of bullshit is this?

If someone really thinks Rowe's tame post is "righteous indignation" they aren't paying attention.

Yeah, I'd fucking tear a strip off this prissy blogger, too. Holy fucking narcissism.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:25 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Mike Rowe, man. If there ever was a richie-rich silver spoon sonofabitch, it wasn't Mike Rowe. Born to hard-working middle-class parents, and grateful every day of his life for it, his career as a leading-man-good-looks and movie-trailer-announcing voice charming human being in Hollywood involves working side-by-side-with working and middle class people, of every race and ethnicity. He gets dirty, he gets beat, he shows people at home how these people earn their pay.

How fucking off-course are we where Mike Rowe is now the enemy?
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:26 PM on November 18, 2014 [49 favorites]


Because his apolitical stance to blue collar work serves to hide the real structural problems of the lower classes, and instead presents a valorized version of "hard work" without actually advocating for the improving the conditions of those who do that hard work.
posted by codacorolla at 7:31 PM on November 18, 2014 [56 favorites]


There's also the controversy over his remarks about Wal-Mart.
posted by clockworkjoe at 7:33 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


off topic: My favorite troll:

"Watched three episodes of the wire. Didn't get the appeal."
posted by The Ted at 7:38 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


And this is precisely what Rowe’s show avoids, focusing on the individual workers and the mechanics of their jobs, without contextualizing them

That's always been Rowe's schtick. I remember once he was talking about how OSHA was unnecessary, because workers can determine for themselves what is safe or unsafe and prepare accordingly.

Which is bullshit, because if mine workers knew enough about engineering to assess mine safety, they'd be engineers, not miners.

Mike Rowe is singularly oblivious to the many challenges the working class faces even as he lionizes them.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:38 PM on November 18, 2014 [31 favorites]


It makes sense that Rowe would have a good command of talking about how portrayal matters, considering his profession and success; that has nothing directly to do with being politically right-wing. There's no reason the two should be mutually exclusive.
posted by clockzero at 7:41 PM on November 18, 2014


instead presents a valorized version of "hard work" without actually advocating for the improving the conditions of those who do that hard work.

I think that's kind of reductionist and unfair, but I admit I am a fan of Mr Rowe. He's hosted TV, with TV's narrow guidelines about what constitutes entertainment, but he also founded a nonprofit educational organization, which seems like a pretty principled and committed thing to do.

Mike Rowe is singularly oblivious to the many challenges the working class faces even as he lionizes them.

I simply don't know if the first part of that is true or not, but it certainly is orthogonal to most everything I've read or heard about the guy. Then again, I only just now read about the Walmart thing, and you know: that seems not very admirable at all.

So I just don't know what to think, other than if lionizing people who do the hard and dirty work is something that gives them some pride, inspires the rest of us to respect them a bit more, and raises some awareness around the issues involved, all in the context of an entertainment program (which let's face it, it is), then I'm fine with that. Even if the charismatic host turns out to be a bit of a poseur somehow.

Trying to do something that has some aspect of doing good doesn't mean that you have to take it upon yourself to fix everything that's wrong with the world, or even your corner of it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:53 PM on November 18, 2014 [19 favorites]


Noted non-expert turns out not to be an expert; this is not news. Rowe is the voice of the people he has showcased, and a lot of them aren't engineers either and don't quite understand why all that PPE is required when it gets in the way of the job-doing. This is not a sin; he is, in fact, an incredibly accurate voice for the working class and to say he should voice their concerns according to some other standard than what they've told him is elitist.
posted by localroger at 8:11 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Mike Rowe is the exact opposite of a posturing, sensitive, outraged MeFi hipster. Bless him, said the atheist.
posted by umberto at 8:17 PM on November 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


Ah yes, David Simon, the posturing outraged hipster that he is.
posted by codacorolla at 8:31 PM on November 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


Because his apolitical stance to blue collar work serves to hide the real structural problems of the lower classes, and instead presents a valorized version of "hard work" without actually advocating for the improving the conditions of those who do that hard work.

I think there is actually a benefit to separating the two now and then. Extolling the virtues of taking on hard and demanding work and seeing it through is a good thing. If every time such work is spoken of, one is required to point out all the social, economic, class, and political struggles and problems that surround us all, over time what else can one learn but that hard work always means exploitation?

This one guy makes shows about people who have a job to do, a tough job, and they do it - every day. His work does not impede others from doing their own hard work fighting for better pay and conditions - I think it helps their case far more than it could ever hinder. It indirectly showcases the reasons why they should be better compensated to the public. If there is a dispute somewhere between labor and management about pay or conditions, these shows can help shape popular opinion by showing that these people work hard, and are not just saying 'gimme gimme gimme' because, well, doesn't everybody want more money? The fact that his shows focus on getting to know the people who do the work and see how they do it, and how you, the viewer, often are the beneficiaries of their hard work can give the public a reason to not just dismiss calls to improve the conditions and their compensation without a second thought, because now they've at least had a glimpse of what these people are doing out there every day.

I'm not saying that this show is some amazingly powerful social good. I don't agree with everything Mike Rowe has to say. I do think, however, that having his shows around is an overall a good thing to have.
posted by chambers at 8:37 PM on November 18, 2014 [28 favorites]


give the public a reason to not just dismiss calls to improve the conditions and their compensation without a second thought

How often does public input on such matters actually affect things other than through the kind of government regulation that Rowe apparently opposes? I admit that I've done no research but I'm pretty sure the answer is "virtually never".
posted by nicolas.bray at 8:48 PM on November 18, 2014


I remember once he was talking about how OSHA was unnecessary, because workers can determine for themselves what is safe or unsafe and prepare accordingly.

I work in desktop level IT. On time, I'm working on a plugged in, running, fans spinning computer and a manager comes in and asks, "Is that safe?"

"It's safe for me. It wouldn't be safe for you..."

I think OSHA is important and clearly I'm not (barring electrocution...) at the same risk as a miner, but I can kinda see where he's coming from on this.

If I'm asked to do something I consider unsafe to me or others, I'll just say flat out "No."

(Luckily, "officially," where I work encourages that attitude.)
posted by Cyrano at 8:50 PM on November 18, 2014


Well, I would agree if all that Rowe ever did was his light-hearted slice of life shows. And, before he started his Mike Rowe Works foundation that's probably exactly what I would say about him. However, following him for a while on Facebook has shown me that even though he preaches apoliticallity, his actions often have political consequences outside of what he has intended for them. As evidenced in his unflinching support of Walmart, that usually comes down on the anti-worker side.
posted by codacorolla at 8:57 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Mike Rowe is the exact opposite of a posturing, sensitive, outraged MeFi hipster.

Definitely opposite of a lot of opinions about WAL*MART, that's for sure.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:57 PM on November 18, 2014


How fucking off-course are we where Mike Rowe is now the enemy?

Mike Rowe has (IIRC, I'm not super-familiar) done a lot of good work showing the challenges and rewards of blue-collar working class labour. David Simon has done a lot of good work showing the systemic and structural problems that are - amongst many other things - killing blue-collar labour and providing few alternatives. Maybe neither of them are "the enemy".

If only someone had made a TV series dedicated to showing characters who are in the grey zone, often trying to do good and sometimes unwittingly failing. Then perhaps we could have a nuanced, adult discussion without trying to label someone "the enemy".
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:27 PM on November 18, 2014 [17 favorites]


I remember once he was talking about how OSHA was unnecessary, because workers can determine for themselves what is safe or unsafe and prepare accordingly.

With OSHA, workers can push back more easily when management says "Do it in this unsafe way." Which is part of why rates of workplace deaths and injuries have dropped.

* Since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has almost doubled.
* Worker deaths in America are down–on average, from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 12 a day in 2012.
* Worker injuries and illnesses are down–from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.4 per 100 in 2011.
citation

Presumably in 1970 workers also had opinions as to what was safe or unsafe, and this has not changed. What has changed was the implementation of OSHA.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:48 PM on November 18, 2014 [16 favorites]


Former Massey CEO indicted for mine blast that killed 29 people. Notably, the bulk of the potential jail time is from securities fraud. Also notable, the CEO found it more profitable to pay fines than to make the mine safer.

But naturally, the problem is that the CEO is facing any sort of jail time, because mine safety regulations are bad. According to the Mike Rowes of the world, it's the miners' fault that they died because they didn't properly assess the safety of their work and just walk off the job.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:21 PM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


Mike Rowe is also an opponent of the minimum wage.
posted by dhens at 12:51 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I work in desktop level IT. On time, I'm working on a plugged in, running, fans spinning computer and a manager comes in and asks, "Is that safe?"

"It's safe for me. It wouldn't be safe for you..."

I think OSHA is important and clearly I'm not (barring electrocution...) at the same risk as a miner, but I can kinda see where he's coming from on this.

If I'm asked to do something I consider unsafe to me or others, I'll just say flat out "No."

FFS, dirty jobs and the specific example of mining have nothing to do with the relative dangers in desktop IT. One of my "favorite" things to encounter in the IT field (OK, it happened with two hires) is older dudes with bad backs (one of them collecting VA checks because he's '80% disabled' but accepted a job with a variety of push/pull/lift requirements) who insist on lifting enormous UPS units and such onto racks by themselves, and then "throw their backs out" and call out sick the next day. Or people who insist on coming to work sick, in positions like IT that involve lots of interaction but are often woefully understaffed, and then spread the sick to everyone in their heroic effort to not call out.

My first job was at a pizza restaurant and I was 17 at the time. OSHA required me to be 18 in order to operate the dough mixer (enormous, powerful mixer) and the rolling machine (enormous, powerful hand-crushing machine). They asked me to use the equipment anyway, and the nature of operating that equipment meant that you worked an exploitative 7-3 shift on a Saturday morning / afternoon after working "6 to Close" the Friday night before. "Close" could mean anything from 12AM to 3AM. And this was Chuck E. Cheese, FFS. I didn't get a raise or anything for operating this equipment, just more hours to save up for my eventual move out, because in crappy minimum wage jobs everyone fight for hours before they even get to talking about benefits and pay. When I first started I made less than minimum wage for 90 days, which was an "opportunity wage" meant to somewhat punish younger employees (under 20 I believe) who might otherwise snag a job and get trained in lieu of a 20+ year old, and then quit within two weeks after saving up enough money for Lollapallooza or whatever.

Luckily I did jump into phone-based tech support shortly after, but long story short, there was a whole cycle of exploitation just tied up in that silly little kitchen job and I wasn't necessarily the best person to decide I should be operating that equipment while completely exhausted, completely unsupervised for about 3 hours until the restaurant actually opened (and management showed up) at 10AM.

Using that dough roller was kind of like standing in front of an office shredder all day except you had to get your fingers into the mix a hell of a lot more (and I had plenty of close calls, you become a ninja at pulling your fingers away), coming in at 7AM after working until 1-2AM the "night" before. I can appreciate that someone thought of these regulations, I just wish you didn't have to "play along" and ignore them (especially when you're just starting out in the workforce and don't want to rock the boat) in order to keep a job and not become the local rabble-rouser.
posted by aydeejones at 1:54 AM on November 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


Ultimately I find the "aw shucks, we don't need OSHA" attitude to be toxic and it does bring out a sort of elitist sense of "now I feel why the electoral college was created in an intuitive sense, because people will gladly vote themselves into oblivion via ignorance of history and repeating bad history as many times as possible out of their own short-sighted lust for convenience, waving off the nagging doubters who warn them of previous misfortune, crap, we're so screwed..."

I would find it "elitist" to refuse to acknowledge the necessity of workplace safety regulations simply to appear "everyman." I know myself pretty well I think, and if I were standing there in Mike's shoes and someone said something to the effect of "regulations bad!" I would say something like "that's what you say now," and there would be a totally every-man ha-ha-chuckle way to illustrate that you don't quite agree without having to be a dick about it.

There is a certain perception of elitism in being for example an engineer making a lot more money in a lot more comfort (though not always) and using models and historical data and physics that transcend an average Joe's whole understanding of everything ever taught in school, to demonstrate why some blue collar guys can't work until XYZ is fixed. Ultimately I think we need more protective "nanny state" maternalism than ever, but people also need to understand on some level why somebody more qualified than them at making a decision should be in charge of that decision, it definitely shouldn't come across as witchcraft from mysterious outsiders that ultimately end in tragedy, like the story of the traditional faith-healers Sierra Leone who refused MSF assistance and ended up spreading the virus disastrously, dying in the process, and spreading the virus even in death in the form of a very ill-advised funeral preparation.

Naturally, many of these safety decisions are also financial in nature too, and that should be easy enough to explain, and workers in certain scenarios simply don't have the right to decide to put themselves in unacceptable levels of danger that not only could maim or ruin them, but endanger the company's interests if you end up triggering 200 wrongful death lawsuits or what have you because you decided to override someone else's call.
posted by aydeejones at 2:17 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Rowe is from Baltimore? Interesting, so is John Waters. So what is it about that area that brings folks to lionize 'dirty' jobs?
posted by sammyo at 3:46 AM on November 19, 2014


If I'm asked to do something I consider unsafe to me or others, I'll just say flat out "No."

After reading back from my lame quip, I've gotta defend at least the spirit of osha. Just at a "volunteer" worksite, where a "pro" was installing a security cam as a favor for the club. Good guy, always seemed levelheaded.

Drilling as far as he could reach standing on the top of a 14 foot ladder leaning over barely in balance.

Not only will "workers" and a baby-step up "supervisor" as someone to do something they "get away with" 99% of the time, they will cry the biggest tears at the wake when "the big dummy" slips.

I've made sarcastic "what would osha say" jokes often enough while wielding a unguarded power tool, but "workers" are far far from the best custodian of their own safety.
posted by sammyo at 4:10 AM on November 19, 2014


Oh and I suggested adding a couple bricks at the top of the ladder, 'for reach'...
posted by sammyo at 4:11 AM on November 19, 2014


Wow, I haven't seen Metafilter this torn over a public figure since Lady Gaga.
posted by zardoz at 4:26 AM on November 19, 2014


I spent a decade working in Baltimore, in dirty jobs of my own, and I never watched The Wire, because I found it tiresome and because I worked in neighborhoods where those things were visible, so why would I want to go home from a neighborhood full of drooping, hopeless methodonians and spend my time watching a gritty show about…what I just escaped on the MARC train?

The problem with The Wire isn't that it's not Baltimore. It was a Baltimore, out of a whole lot of Baltimores. It's that that's all of the mass portrayal of Baltimore anyone is likely to get. NYC gets gritty crime dramas…and workplace comedies, or family life comedies, or reality shows. Baltimore got an end-of-the-world bleak crime show and a reality show about a shitty bakery where they make inedible cakes out of sawdust for stupid assholes who want to pay a fortune for a sawdust cake in the shape of a Ravens shoe or an UnderArmor logo.

There's so much more, as there are in a lot of cities, but people get this whole "oh, Baltimore is a city that—" vibe because they saw something in a movie. Baltimore isn't John Waters' Baltimore, and hasn't been for decades (run out the poor folks to build precious little Canton and you lose the amusing blue-collarisms, too). Baltimore isn't The Wire, or Homicide, but TV is not a good steward over the wild diversity of even a small and relatively poor city. I get Rowe's complaint, and I get Simon's, too, and rather than having to do the worn-out routine of picking a side and looking hard to discredit the other, I have to wonder why the response to something like this can't be an instinct to create more.

I ran two of Baltimore's most-beloved landmarks, and in my role in that, particularly when I was spooling out Baltimore history to auschlander Yankee fans in town for a ball game, I encountered The Wire over and over and over in questions, and I tried to tell more stories and share more about what's good about Baltimore. It wasn't about the old grandmotherly saw about saying something nice if one's going to say something, it ought to be nice—it's just that people miss out when they think a TV show is telling the story of a place. A story, yes, but one of many.

Amusingly, though, it's dirty jobs that brought me into the city in the first place. Not the show, as I'm not like you rich folks with your cable TV, but a transition from a long career in the DC Metro spook business to one as a building contractor, then a mosaic engineer, then a fancy janitor, then—and so on. When I decided I couldn't work at a desk in a cubicle in a field of cubicles in a building of fields of cubicles anymore, I took up the trades, hung out my handyman sign, and started building and fixing things, and most of my work was out of Baltimore or surrounds, and man, there is a hell of a lot of Baltimore that you'll never see on TV, in the same way that's true of Philadelphia, or Charlotte, or Irvine, or Wheeling, or St. Elmo, Illinois, or wherever.

So little storytelling, alas, but that's television for you. Shallow medium, no matter what the snoits on This American Life want to tell you in that eye-rolling smartest-kids-in-the-room contrarian way. Being gritty isn't so hard, but telling compelling stories about everybody involved is tricky, and everybody is involved.

Still, Baltimore's the city that crippled me, too, on a dirty job, but that taught me a lesson about agency, too. Did myself an injury with permanent nerve damage because of my failure to properly oversee my own safety in the face of orders from on-high, and because I forgot, for a moment, that the nanny state method won't work unless the worker is vigilant. OSHA is there to be invoked, but because we've created this bullshit culture where the people who actually build things and make things and do things are the most afraid of losing their jobs, people hurt themselves for their idiot bosses. In my case, I could have refused the project, walked away, and been poor for a while, but I'm a tradesman, the world will always require my labor, particularly since everyone's so useless at doing anything but pushing digits, and I could have not done myself an injury that means I'm pretty much the enemy of all chairs. I just still believed, on some level, the old fear narrative that the bosses need us to believe so that we'll stay down and docile for scraps, and hurt myself in the process. One lives and one learns. Call it lionizing, call it insincere, but push the value of the worker and…workers value themselves. Huh.

Le patron a besoin de toi, tu n'as pas besoin de lui.

Rowe's not perfect, and no one's ever, ever going to live up to the nonsensical ideal set by the self-deputized critics of the world. You can be perfect in every way but one or two and you'll be discredited because you're not faithful to one inflexible system of political proof or another, and the work you do will be discredited, too, no matter how good it is. Rowe is a relatively trivial TV star from a relatively trivial reality show with some not-always-fully-fleshed ideas on things, and let me tell you—he's done more for the dignity of working people than most. He's not always on target, but grow up. There are no cartoon superheroes.

Simon's a fine storyteller, but it's the same story over and over. We know about the ugly underside of Baltimore, about the corruption, about the vice and the discord and the dysfunction. We don't need airy happy talk or PR for the tourism industry, but there's more Baltimore than Simon's Baltimore. Why is it so bad to point that out and ask if there is another narrative?

Also, citing Faidley's as the world's best anything is like saying you'll get the best cheesesteak at Pat's or Geno's, for chrissakes. C'mon.
posted by sonascope at 5:07 AM on November 19, 2014 [21 favorites]


but there's more Baltimore than Simon's Baltimore. Why is it so bad to point that out and ask if there is another narrative?

because literally every other narrative about anything in American life is not about the poor and disenfranchised and the underclass. They got The Wire. And for some that is too much I guess?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:24 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


For once, I read the comments:

Saying The Wire gives an unbalanced appraisal of what Baltimore is for most people is like saying James Cameron didn't do enough in Titanic about what a good time the survivors had in NYC once they arrived.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:28 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


what else can one learn but that hard work always means exploitation?

What indeed?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:39 AM on November 19, 2014


Mike Rowe, man. If there ever was a richie-rich silver spoon sonofabitch, it wasn't Mike Rowe. Born to hard-working middle-class parents, and grateful every day of his life for it, his career as a leading-man-good-looks and movie-trailer-announcing voice charming human being in Hollywood involves working side-by-side-with working and middle class people,

So, I got to looking up Mike Rowe, and it's funny: what does it take for a college educated opera singer and TV announcer to be spokesman for the "working class?" Because, here's another funny thing, Mike Rowe says Baltimore is his "hometown", and he may have been born there in 1961. But, he grew up in Essex outside of Baltimore, where a lot of white people moved after the MLK riots of 1968, where Gov. Spiro Agnew called up the *entire* Maryland national guard and, when that wasn't enough, had federal troops patrolling the city: think Ferguson on the scale of what used to be a major city. This is what got Agnew on the presidential ticket: here was someone willing to stand up against the violent negro.

So, what does it take for a kid who grew up in Baltimore county to be invited to participate in a modest PR campaign
...the people in charge of nurturing Baltimore’s reputation as a destination city. Now, after extensive surveys and multiple focus groups, I’ve been invited to participate in a modest PR campaign called “My Baltimore,” a straight-forward attempt to remind the masses that there’s more to my hometown than heroin and gonorrhea....

Obviously, I’ve got some some contacts back home, but I’d love to see what other suggestions might appear under this post. As always, I want to feature mostly anonymous people who love what they do – this time, in the great city of Baltimore. I’m hoping to put together an authentic hour that celebrates my hometown through the eyes of those who live there and “gotta do it.”

If you know anyone in Baltimore that fits the bill – let me know asap. (Sorry, no pushers or pimps. You guys have had enough press.)
to promote Baltimore as a "destination" city? Now, mind you, it wasn't entirely the riots *at all*, but they coincide nicely with the beginning of the national liquidation of heavy industry, in particular, ship building and steel making in the Baltimore area. And, after the riots, instead of rebuilding Baltimore, they (who are they?) redoubled investments in the suburbs and liquidated the industry (and almost the port) which made Baltimore a city at all, leaving a shell of a city populated by the blacks, and white people too ignorant and unemployable to move out to the county i.e. John Water's Baltimore, along with the remnants of Baltimore's blue blood banking and insurance class, safely ensconced in Roland Park (Anne Tyler's Baltimore.) Incidentally, John Waters is connected to old time Black and Decker money, but that's neither here nor there.

"Pimps" and "pushers" need not apply. So, what does it take?
posted by ennui.bz at 5:49 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Mister sonascope, I sincerely do not believe you would have been injured if you had taken a job as a transvestite consuming [redacted] on a John Waters extravaganza.

(wait, stop, what am I talking about, my only experience with Baltimore is a short stop at a jewish deli on a run to DC, there was a small holocaust memorial nearby, but do take care)
posted by sammyo at 5:49 AM on November 19, 2014


a long career in the DC Metro spook business

Wait what? sonascope was JACK RYAN?????
posted by sammyo at 5:53 AM on November 19, 2014


They got The Wire. And for some that is too much I guess?

So that that's it? That's the narrative they get? Just The Wire? Just that one?

To each their own, but I think that's not enough.

When we were building the mosaic wall at the American Visionary Art Museum in 2006-2007, a project in which kids from shelters, drug treatment programs, halfway houses, and rehabilitation projects would be brought into our studio for several hours a day to work on a huge artwork that is now a part of the city's architectural heritage, I heard the Wire stories, and I heard the John Waters stories, and I heard…well, human stories and I watched kids progress from slouching, angry, resentful archetypes to engaged, involved, optimistic people, if only for their time with us.

"What am I supposed to do here?" asked one of the kids, puzzling over a collection of pieces of mirror and stained glass sitting in a pile on the table.

"Well, what do you think should go there?" asked our artist and educator.

"Umm," the kid said, and started to piece together color and reflection into something, tentatively experimenting with his materials, looking back for instructions, and getting none beyond basic technique, started to play. Over the next six months, he changed from a scowling, suspicious character into just a kid, with a tough history, to be sure, but a kid. I'm sure that the omnicritics will find something horribly first-world or mansplainey or otherwise unforgivable in the process, but I watched kids who'd never been asked what they thought about the world, with guarded, insecure personalities borne out of that sort of treatment, find that they could find what was beautiful in their world and lay it out in glass.

They're not going to rise out of the grit through mosaic, statistically speaking, but some of our kids took the little bump of energy that they got from these moments of insulation from old expectations and moved on and moved up because, while there's nothing about art that is magic, seeing that you can make something instead of just shrugging and taking what you get has an effect.

Just this year, when I was teaching mosaic as part of an afterschool program in a budget-blighted Baltimore school so poor that you had to bring your own fucking toilet paper, soap, and paper towels to use the damn bathroom (while, notably, less than a mile away, the rich school in the rich neighborhood shared no such paucity) I struggled through some raucous classes that taxed my patience, but in the end, a few kids were changed, if only for that brief stretch, and got to see the power of agency. Will this carry them onto something better? Probably not, or maybe, or yes. When the project was too frustrating, I'd remind myself that, like the kid from the mosaic project at the museum who took working on that project as a reason to reach out and to feel proud, so that he can say "no" when it needs to be said, a little change is better than none.

I think The Wire is fine. It's good storytelling even if it's too freaking dismal for my tastes. It's just that if that's the only narrative you're going to offer to people who need to see their own strength, you're shorting them of a very good thing, and shorting a lot of people of the possibility of dignity. I don't accept that The Wire is a good narrative for the "underclass" or the "disenfranchised" or whatever pop culture catchphrase we use (it was "at risk kids" when we were doing the mosaic, and we always had to shake our heads about the inbuilt sense of doom in such designations), even though it's probably illuminating of the political and sociocultural framework in which its stories happen. It's fine storytelling, but why is it the only thing?

Why assume asking for more narrative means asking for less of what we already have?

Add more, be more, tell more, see more, play more, dream more, help more, Balti—
posted by sonascope at 6:05 AM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


If I'm asked to do something I consider unsafe to me or others, I'll just say flat out "No."

In many, if not most, blue collar situations saying "no" would get you fired. That's crappy and wrong, but it's why we need OSHA and workplace safety laws. Part of my job is construction management and oversight on big projects, and I get pushback on safety both from contractors (which I expected, because they want to make money and safety can slow them down) and from the workers (which I didn't expect, but there is a really strong "get it done" culture and people are willing sometimes to take extraordinary risks for very little reward).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:07 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I spent a decade working in Baltimore, in dirty jobs of my own, and I never watched The Wire, because I found it tiresome and because I worked in neighborhoods where those things were visible, so why would I want to go home from a neighborhood full of drooping, hopeless methodonians and spend my time watching a gritty show about…what I just escaped on the MARC train?

I grew up in a Baltimore neighborhood where, probably, the *only* jobs were dealing. My sister chased a junkie out of her room one night with a baseball bat. There's a 'Homicide' episode based on a brutal killing (of a child), where the body was found around the block. You should watch 'The Wire,' it's not bad TV and you get little authentic glimpses of Baltimore (not the accents though, if they really went for authentic it would have had to be subtitled.) But, Baltimore in 'The Wire' is really standing in for America. If you are looking for a TV show which lays out how this country actually works, you'd be hard pressed to find anything else really.

Mike Rowe is a paid flack for the thugs and gangsters who run this country. He may be a decent guy, fuck if i know, but the guys cutting his checks aren't.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:14 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, I got to looking up Mike Rowe, and it's funny: what does it take for a college educated opera singer and TV announcer to be spokesman for the "working class?"

It takes people reconsidering their old ideas, that's what. Is Bruce Springsteen not a reasonable voice for the working class when he hasn't held a regular job in forty years? Can white people not advocate for the rights and value of people of color? Why are we so obsessed with maintaining ideological purity that we can't judge the value of something by its effect on the culture as a whole rather than argue over whether people have a right to speak?

Is rich white David Simon from a rich white outskirt of the rich white end of DC more entitled to have a voice on the subject than rich white Mike Rowe? It's worth noting that Essex is a rundown blue-collar satellite community only marginally less blighted than Dundalk and has been ever since the collapse of shipbuilding in Baltimore, and was never the white-flight destination that, say, Howard County was, but what does it really matter? Simon is also a public media figure paid by corporate interests to tell stories.

All noted. What about the ideas?
posted by sonascope at 6:24 AM on November 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


Also, y'all are missing out. Thomas Dolby is the new man to hate in Baltimore.

Don't these people know that everything they're doing is wrong, wrong, wrong!?
posted by sonascope at 6:30 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


All noted. What about the ideas?

What about the ideas? Mike Rowe says Wal-Mart is good and the minimum wage and OSHA regulations are bad. Regardless of who he is or who's paying him, saying that these positions are pro-worker is self-evidently nonsense.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:34 AM on November 19, 2014 [13 favorites]


I have been following/arguing online with Mike Rowe for awhile.

I was watching a lot of Dirty Jobs marathons on cable in the wee hours (with a new baby who would. not. sleep.) and kind of got hooked. At around the same time, I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, and wound up posting a question on the Dirty Jobs Message Board about the role of work, income inequality, and something vaguely social-justice-y about how little society values "dirty work" that I thought the Dirty Jobs guy might have some comment on. I was shocked when he responded quickly and vehemently -- and a pretty lengthy back-and-forth ensued wherein he expressed some disdain for the likes of Ehrenreich, much criticism for unions, and admiration for the philosophy of Ayn Rand. I was kind of taken aback -- so I've been loosely following this guy for awhile since he simultaneously fascinates me and horrifies me.

As for his foundation, it seemed to me initially a great idea to support trade school education. But then it became clear his scholarships would solely be offered to select for-profit trade schools that have worked out promotional deals with Mike Rowe. Ah.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:39 AM on November 19, 2014 [13 favorites]


(one of them collecting VA checks because he's '80% disabled' but accepted a job with a variety of push/pull/lift requirements)

Hey, just to clarify, "disabled" in a VA context doesn't necessarily refer to physical ailments.
posted by Gymnopedist at 6:40 AM on November 19, 2014


What about the ideas? Mike Rowe says Wal-Mart is good and the minimum wage and OSHA regulations are bad. Regardless of who he is or who's paying him, saying that these positions are pro-worker is self-evidently nonsense.

He says that right here, in the context of the portrayal of Baltimore and the back and forth with David Simon? Where was that in what I read?

Or are we just only allowed to engage on every single aspect of a person at once, as if no one's ever had both good ideas and bad ideas about the world? By all means, burn the witch!
posted by sonascope at 6:43 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


P.S. Ad hominem.
posted by sonascope at 6:43 AM on November 19, 2014


mosaic as part of an afterschool program in a budget-blighted

If walmart helps with various programs, well that's good. but... but... We need vastly more art, music, science in schools. There's an expose on cnn about the value of a college education, well not having a degree myself I don't disagree, (although I did a video in jr high on epistemology in not a prestige district). There should be big bonuses and liberal arts budgets at the "at risk" schools. Getting all the kids in the inner city/country/world a literate education should be a major major priority.

The school scenes in The Wire had real moments of hope. Too bad it didn't trigger in the psyche of the nation/"leaders"/civic minded folks a feeling of truly needing to fix all the elements of brokenness surrounding those moments of a mosaic spark.
posted by sammyo at 6:50 AM on November 19, 2014


Mike vs The Doll.

take a beat

wait for it

...

"oh the indignity of it"
posted by sammyo at 6:56 AM on November 19, 2014


He says that right here, in the context of the portrayal of Baltimore and the back and forth with David Simon? Where was that in what I read?

Perhaps you should read the rest of the thread, and not simply the one back and forth with David Simon. As noted, many, many times throughout, Rowe's ideology is a lot different than the humble workman like persona he puts on for TV.

was shocked when he responded quickly and vehemently -- and a pretty lengthy back-and-forth ensued wherein he expressed some disdain for the likes of Ehrenreich, much criticism for unions, and admiration for the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Following him on Facebook has shown me many of these instances, where a fan poses honest critique and he responds like a bully. He's only a nice guy so long as you're agreeing with him.
posted by codacorolla at 6:57 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Or are we just only allowed to engage on every single aspect of a person at once, as if no one's ever had both good ideas and bad ideas about the world? By all means, burn the witch!

Well, maybe the context of Rowe's other institutionally sanctioned work would lead us to take a less sanguine view of his latest institutionally sanctioned booster project, but apparently nothing resembles a witch-hunt quite like saying a guy's politics are suspect because facts and evidence show them to be so.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:00 AM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


Simon is also a public media figure paid by corporate interests to tell stories.

P.S. this is a ludicrous equivocation
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:08 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


The school scenes in The Wire had real moments of hope. Too bad it didn't trigger in the psyche of the nation/"leaders"/civic minded folks a feeling of truly needing to fix all the elements of brokenness surrounding those moments of a mosaic spark.

The organization I worked with teaching mosaic (a private organization serving schools) was noteworthy in broadening their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) into STEAM, with A(rts) added in, and I'm a bad arts advocate in that I don't buy the art-is-magic mythos that seems to pervade the arts, but I think that arts work on a lot of levels, a major of which is that learning to make things is learning to make things. Ultimately, all but a tiny fraction of kids will have to make their way with something other than art, but encouraging a hands-on reality is a big deal.
posted by sonascope at 7:12 AM on November 19, 2014


Well, maybe the context of Rowe's other institutionally sanctioned work would lead us to take a less sanguine view of his latest institutionally sanctioned booster project, but apparently nothing resembles a witch-hunt quite like saying a guy's politics are suspect because facts and evidence show them to be so.

So the response to an effort to broaden the public image of Baltimore beyond Homicide and The Wire is to declare that it's automatically invalid because some disapprove of what they presume to be bad politics and not because of the actual content of that effort? Whatever works for you, I guess, but good luck finding that perfect savior whose ideas aren't sullied by their actual humanity. As for me, I'll take the good, I'll give voice and criticism to the bad, and do my part to move things along where I can, at least until some earnest advocate for ideological purity decides to dox me for the devil I am in my black little soul. It's not like it's possible for people to change their minds, anyway.

Yeesh.
posted by sonascope at 7:27 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


The first 30 years of my working life were spent working with my hands at various levels of skill. In general, workers are the least able to judge whether a given piece of protective gear is important for a given task. They're not stupid; they would just rather be comfortable, and if they're allowed to get away with not using the gear for a while, they become resistant to any suggestion that they should use it. After all, they haven't been hurt by not using it, so they must be smart enough to not get hurt. The reality is that they just haven't encountered one of the conditions (fatigue, distraction, unexpected variation in materials, equipment failure, etc.) that leave them vulnerable. Add in management pressure to get more done in a shift, and the resistance stiffens to outright hostility toward safety practices. This is why it is crucial that management impose safe work practices. Since few managers will do so without being required to, OSHA is necessary. Safety HAS TO BE imposed from above.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:35 AM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


So the response to an effort to broaden the public image of Baltimore beyond Homicide and The Wire is to declare that it's automatically invalid because some disapprove of what they presume to be bad politics and not because of the actual content of that effort? Whatever works for you, I guess, but good luck finding that perfect savior whose ideas aren't sullied by their actual humanity. As for me, I'll take the good, I'll give voice and criticism to the bad, and do my part to move things along where I can, at least until some earnest advocate for ideological purity decides to dox me for the devil I am in my black little soul. It's not like it's possible for people to change their minds, anyway.

This is ridiculous, and shows that you haven't actually been reading the discussion in the thread.
posted by codacorolla at 7:37 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


From his Ted Talk:
13:00 Safety -- safety first? Going back to, you know, OSHA and PETA and the Humane Society: what if OSHA got it wrong? I mean -- this is heresy, what I'm about to say -- but what if it's really safety third? Right? (Laughter) No, I mean really. What I mean to say is I value my safety on these crazy jobs as much as the people that I'm working with, but the ones who really get it done, they're not out there talking about safety first. They know that other things come first -- the business of doing the work comes first, the business of getting it done.

13:39 And I'll never forget, up in the Bering Sea, I was on a crab boat with the "Deadliest Catch" guys -- which I also work on -- in the first season. We're about 100 miles off the coast of Russia: 50-foot seas, big waves, green water coming over the wheelhouse, right? Most hazardous environment I'd ever seen, and I was back with a guy, lashing the pots down. So, I'm 40 feet off the deck, which is like looking down at the top of your shoe, you know, and it's doing this in the ocean. Unspeakably dangerous.

14:07 I scamper down, I go into the wheelhouse and I say, with some level of incredulity, "Captain, OSHA."

14:13 And he says, "OSHA? Ocean." And he points out there. (Laughter) But in that moment, what he said next can't be repeated in the lower 48. It can't be repeated on any factory floor or any construction site. But he looked at me, and he said, "Son" -- he's my age, by the way, he calls me son, I love that -- he says, "Son, I'm a captain of a crab boat. My responsibility is not to get you home alive. My responsibility is to get you home rich." (Laughter) You want to get home alive, that's on you. And for the rest of that day, safety first.
Putting the OSHA comment in context might help (or not).
posted by zinon at 7:40 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


So the response to an effort to broaden the public image of Baltimore beyond Homicide and The Wire is to declare that it's automatically invalid because some disapprove of what they presume to be bad politics and not because of the actual content of that effort?

Nope. Not at all.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:40 AM on November 19, 2014


The Wire isn't about fucking Baltimore. It's not "look at what shit Baltimore is, the TV series". I live in Philadelphia; I just moved from Jersey City, where I worked in New York City. The Wire is as much about those cities as it is about Baltimore. Although it involves Baltimore accents and slang or whatever, none of that's what I remember about the show, because Baltimore wasn't what The Wire was ultimately fucking about.

It's not an "end-of-the-world bleak crime show", either. It's not about the end of the world, and it's not really about crime, either. Maybe it was in season 1, but even then it was far more about the inextricability of individuals from systems, where law and crime were equally broken. And then it became about how everything else was just as broken.

The division between David Simon and Mike Rowe is, Mike Rowe is saying "We're gonna make Baltimore look good again! We're gonna remind everybody that laborers are great and valuable!" To which David Simon responds, "That's great and all, but the problems I wrote about still exist, and the problem isn't just that people think Baltimore is grimy. The problem is that America is broken in a way that can't be fixed without fixing the underlying problems."

The Wire was bleak, sure. But it wasn't about the end of the world. If anything, it was about the end of this notion that the problem with America is just people aren't going to church enough, or putting in a little too little elbow grease, or saying howdy enough to their neighbors. The brutality of The Wire was showing people within a bunch of different institutions, trying again and again to do something different, and coming up against the apathy or outright hostility of the system which was designed, in theory, to do well by them.

This obviously makes a lot of people extraordinarily uncomfortable, and it goddamn should! It's disturbing as fuck! But it's also pretty undeniably true, and it's fucking horrible, and if I had my way it would be the national dialogue from now until basically forever, until the problem was finally fixed.

Mike Rowe is not a bad person, but he's sniping against the single greatest realist semi-documentary about what the fundamental problem with America is, and he comes off looking petty for it. All the people here jumping to Rowe's defense and attacking David Simon — "hipster?" really? fucking really? — sound just as petty. The fact that Rowe has a history of saying/doing some really stupid things as far as "liking workers" is concerned is just icing on the cake; if he were Christ himself, I'd still say that there's a major problem with going after a show whose perspective was as incisive and encompassing as The Wire's, especially in that it serves to attack the notion that we ought to be criticizing the institutions that are failing us. It's pro-establishment in an age where the establishment fucking sucks. Yeah. I think there's a pretty big problem with that.

Of course, Jesus would freaking love The Wire, so that hypothetical case is moot.
posted by rorgy at 7:42 AM on November 19, 2014 [14 favorites]


As someone who has lived in MD my whole life, I didn't need the Wire to tell me that Baltimore was mostly stds and heroin.
posted by empath at 7:42 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


sonascope, I want to marry you. You said everything I wanted to say.

As a born-and-bred Baltimorean, I've had this argument over and over for years now. I went to law school in DC, and when I would tell people that I was taking a job in Baltimore, they (who were taking jobs in DC and NYC) would invariably say, "You're going to work in Baltimore? You're going to get killed! Haven't you watched The Wire?" And I would have to (AGAIN) explain that The Wire presents one man's fictionalized view of one aspect of Baltimore from 30 years ago when he was working the crime beat, and that Baltimore is also lots of other things like Ace of Cakes and great music and great food fantastic museums and weird people. And no one ever believed me. I don't care if The Wire was the greatest show ever to appear on television -- it has placed Baltimore on the defensive for over a decade now with no sign of stopping. Yes, there are bad things happening in the city -- but there are bad things in every city, and in many rural areas.

The really weird thing about The Wire is that people make the assumption that Baltimore Is Really Like That, when nobody assumes, for instance, that all of Albuquerque is meth dealers because Breaking Bad was set there. Maybe it's a testament to David Simon's writing, that it seems so realistic, I don't know. My point is that, whatever the show was "really" about, whatever story it wanted to be telling, whatever axe David Simon had to grind, the end result is that people think Baltimore is a shithole and it's not (or rather, not more than any American city).

I had the opportunity last year to speak to Baltimore's police commissioner. He said that, from his point of view, The Wire is the worst thing that ever happened to Baltimore, because it's just so bad for morale on the police force. They are doing all sorts of things to improve the relationship between police and residents, cutting down on violent crime, doing all sorts of things right, and all they hear about it how Baltimore is a cesspool because someone watched two episodes of The Wire.

This isn't David Simon's fault, really - he had his story he wanted to tell. I don't know that it's anyone's fault, but it's damned unfair to the city I call home.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:57 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not sure where I fall on the argument between Rowe and Simon (I've never seen an episode of Dirty Jobs but I know who he is), I would like to point out--as someone who is a fan of The Wire--that if people are visiting your city or not visiting your city because they want to see or avoid what they saw on The Wire, that is crazy problematic. It's almost like disaster tourism. "Ooh, if we go to Baltimore, we might see the grittiness of that television show!" That sounds really awful and no wonder Baltimore would go on the defensive.
posted by Kitteh at 8:01 AM on November 19, 2014


eople think Baltimore is a shithole and it's not (or rather, not more than any American city)

Shithole is an extremely subjective label, but Baltimore is near the top for violent crime, so it's not really the same as any American city.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:05 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I mean, the overall vibe I get from the vociferous Defenders of Baltimore here is that they really want certain things to be true or not be true, therefore those things are/are not true. That's human psychology, I guess, but you don't need to spend so much ink on it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:07 AM on November 19, 2014


What I'm hearing is, 'Baltimore, like every other American city, isn't all shitty! for example, if you're white or educated or have some money its great! There's coffee shops and restaurants and a downtown' which is like, yeah, I know that because every other piece of culture tells me that.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:10 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. "Baltimore IS shitty - just accept it and shut the hell up already."

No, sorry.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:14 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


So Baltimore isn't shitty? Strange. I thought it was a city in America.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:17 AM on November 19, 2014


See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. "Baltimore IS shitty - just accept it and shut the hell up already."

No, sorry.


One of the reasons The Wire is so great is because American culture is a culture of Cheerleading: everything's going to turn out alright, you just gotta believe, the "good guys" win(, there even are "good guys"), follow your bliss, etc. The Wire doesn't cheerlead, which makes it refreshing to me, but neither is it an unremitting picture of the bleakness of Baltimore. What it is is an unremitting picture of the bleakness of the downtrodden, and those people exist everywhere (in America, at least), and while I'll assume good enough faith on your part to not want them to just "go away and stop bringing down the reputation of our city, already," it is pretty shitty to be so strident about wanting that depiction to go away. The show never, ever pretends to be showing the entirety of even every character's experience, let alone that of the entire city, whatever that might mean. It is showing a specific thing, that thing being the structural factors keeping shitty things shitty. Your critique of it lacks sophistication, I am sorry to say.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:31 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, it's not shitty. See my earlier comment. Baltimore, like other American cities, has its share of problems of crime and drugs. Maybe more than its share. But my point is that saying "I saw the Wire and know that Baltimore is shitty" doesn't tell the story. And your comment of "Baltimore is fine if you're white and educated" is missing the point as well.

Reducing Baltimore to one thing ignores what is going on in the city every day. It ignores things like my friend from high school who organized a children's choir in one of the poorest and roughest neighborhoods in Baltimore. It ignores the great charter schools that are working to get kids out of poverty and into college. It ignores that we have two excellent and FREE museums where you'll often find people of different racial and economic backgrounds.

These things may not make Baltimore unique, but we don't have to have these conversations about St. Louis or Detroit or Oakland or New York. People seem to accept that those are complicated cities with mixes of good and bad. But mention Baltimore and people say "Oh, the Wire - drugs and violent crime" like a Pavlovian reaction. It gets annoying.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:34 AM on November 19, 2014


See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. "Baltimore IS shitty - just accept it and shut the hell up already."

It's closer to, "Parts of Baltimore, like nearly every other American city, are shitty, and there are people living in those parts of the city who shouldn't be ignored or have their struggles minimized for the sake of a tourism campaign." David Simon would probably add that it's capitalism that keeps Baltimore shitty and will ultimately result in the demise of the American city, but I'm not truly qualified to speak for him.
posted by gladly at 8:35 AM on November 19, 2014


Hey look, I live in Philadelphia. I lived in Philly for four years before I moved away and I resented being in proximity to NYC, which literally every single NYC MeFite can tell you because I would not shut up about my loathing for that execrable place. I am so so happy to be living in Philadelphia again like you guys would not even believe.

Philadelphia has got a lot of problems. In a bunch of ways, it is really really shitty. If somebody were to make a show about the many ways in which it fails its citizens, I wouldn't be like, "No, nope! I walk down Broad Street every day and nobody ever arrests meeeeeee!" If anything, I'd rather Philly be pressured more about the ways in which it's hugely problematic, because my liking this city means I would like to see it get even better over time.

David Simon obviously loves the shit out of Baltimore, which is why he made a show that treats all of its citizens, even the ones who compose its most blatant criminal elements, like they're human beings who are worth loving and caring about and empathizing with. It's a show in which even the most sociopathic and terrifying of killers are easy to comprehend as human, not monstrous in the least.
posted by rorgy at 8:36 AM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


Steely-eyed Missile Man - To be clear, I'm not criticizing the show. I'm criticizing those who (a) see the show as only being about a cesspool of a city with drugs and violent crime, and (b) therefore assume that Baltimore is those things and only those things. So, for me, Simon's response of "well the show's not really about that" falls flat, because lots of people think it is. Some people are just incapable of nuance.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:36 AM on November 19, 2014


So, for me, Simon's response of "well the show's not really about that" falls flat, because lots of people think it is. Some people are just incapable of nuance.

What is Simon supposed to say? "The show's not really about that" is completely accurate. Are we going to hold him responsible for other people failing to see that?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


What is Simon supposed to say? "The show's not really about that" is completely accurate. Are we going to hold him responsible for other people failing to see that?

Yeah, I mean, people are dumb. What are you gonna do? I'm not an art-is-magic guy, either, far from it. I would love to say that we "really need" shows like The Wire to demonstrate that the systems that are ostensibly there to make things better in reality only serve as a pressure valve/band aid to keep the shittiness of American life bottled up and away from the affluent, but I don't believe that art can change the world. I don't think The Wire will make a damned bit of difference as far as that goes for many reasons, not least of which that people by and large don't get nuance, as Ben Trismegistus complains. I'm glad it's there, though, because I do get it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:45 AM on November 19, 2014


The really weird thing about The Wire is that people make the assumption that Baltimore Is Really Like That, when nobody assumes, for instance, that all of Albuquerque is meth dealers because Breaking Bad was set there.

Why is this weird? The Wire features poor black people and virtually everybody in America is somewhat racist, even the enlightened liberals who watch and love the show. The Wire had plenty of portrayals of middle-class professional people (white and black) living in nice homes, but most white people are terrified of poor black people so just a few of them are enough to be a "thing" (and Baltimore has more than just a few).
posted by leopard at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well at least Baltimore got on TV. I grew up a couple miles down the street from Camden. That story isn't even told.

Yeah and you could easily change every reference of Baltimore to Philadelphia in the Wire and it would be exactly the same show. I think people who conflate The Wire with Baltimore do not look at their own backyard. If you spent time in an American city, and you don't recognize The Wire, then you need to leave your gentrified world for a bit and see what its like.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


So, does this mean that every American city has crab cakes, lake trout, and pit beef?
posted by FJT at 9:37 AM on November 19, 2014


So, does this mean that every American city has crab cakes, lake trout, and pit beef?

Huh? None of that stuff features heavily in The Wire, not sure what your point is. McNulty could have bought everyone cheesesteaks and it would be the exact same show.

I feel like some of this is a divide between actually having seen the show and not having seen the show, especially since it's so high-profile that even if you haven't seen it, you think you know what it's about. Before I watched The Wire I thought it was a huge bummer everything-is-fucked crime drama too, but it's not really like that. I mean, that's definitely part of it, but I'd say it's more the people who didn't see the show who have those ideas about Baltimore because of the show's reputation than something people actually got from watching the show.
posted by dialetheia at 9:51 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


McNulty could have bought everyone cheesesteaks and it would be the exact same show.

Nah, to be proper Philadelphian, it would be roast pork on a Liscio's roll.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:58 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Breaking Bad was pure fiction, whereas The Wire was derived from things Simon saw as a reporter. It's obviously not a documentary, but I can see why people may be misled into thinking The Wire represented the "real" Baltimore more closely than Breaking Bad represented the real Albuquerque.

I still think it's lazy stereotyping, and that Simon had no particular duty to paint the city in a certain way for his fictional TV show, but I just don't think the comparison between the two shows works in the way it's been put forth here.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:16 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


So, does this mean that every American city has crab cakes, lake trout, and pit beef?

remember that interminable scene in Season Two where Ziggy discourses on the iron correlation between the way crab cakes are made in Baltimore and the tragic decline of organized labor in America
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:30 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]



Is rich white David Simon from a rich white outskirt of the rich white end of DC more entitled to have a voice on the subject than rich white Mike Rowe? It's worth noting that Essex is a rundown blue-collar satellite community only marginally less blighted than Dundalk and has been ever since the collapse of shipbuilding in Baltimore, and was never the white-flight destination that, say, Howard County was, but what does it really matter? Simon is also a public media figure paid by corporate interests to tell stories.

All noted. What about the ideas?


Mike Rowe gets to be Mr. Blue Collar because he's white and can put on a "Reagan Democrat" performance. He's the 'git r done' guy, same slogan almost, just without the clown nose. Essex, I'm sure, is full of "pimps" and "dealers" but if you can't hear the dog-whistle, straight and true, in that letter from Mike Rowe, well then whatever.

Because, when it comes down to it, Rowe isn't pimping for manufacturing or industry in Baltimore, this PR gig is about Baltimore as a "destination." You know, the going on three decades of real estate scams in the inner harbor that were supposed to revitalize Baltimore? Puuhleaze.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:46 AM on November 19, 2014


14:13 And he says, "OSHA? Ocean." And he points out there. (Laughter) But in that moment, what he said next can't be repeated in the lower 48. It can't be repeated on any factory floor or any construction site. But he looked at me, and he said, "Son" -- he's my age, by the way, he calls me son, I love that -- he says, "Son, I'm a captain of a crab boat. My responsibility is not to get you home alive. My responsibility is to get you home rich." (Laughter) You want to get home alive, that's on you. And for the rest of that day, safety first.

Putting the OSHA comment in context might help (or not).


The context is that the crab boat captain is willing to kill his employees to make a buck and Mike Rowe thinks that's nifty. How is the captain any different from the gangster characters in The Wire? Answer: He's not. He's a gangster and (likely) a thug when the camera isn't turned on. But he's white and has the law on his side.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:58 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Baltimore has been trying to rebrand itself as a tourism destination for quite awhile now. Nothing new about that.

And yes, whenever I go to other places I'm asked if "it's really like that."

People need to leave their gentrified world, or whatever, but you cannot downplay The Wire's impact on what people think of Baltimore.
posted by josher71 at 11:00 AM on November 19, 2014


Also: Essex is a shithole.
posted by josher71 at 11:01 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I still think it's lazy stereotyping, and that Simon had no particular duty to paint the city in a certain way for his fictional TV show

You really think The Wire is lazy stereotyping? Gosh, everyone knows the stereotype of the openly gay thugged out robber of drug dealers.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:21 AM on November 19, 2014


MisantropicPainforest: You really think The Wire is lazy stereotyping?

No, I think people extrapolating from the show to believe things about the real-life Baltimore is lazy stereotyping.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:25 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


When he was first introduced, I never though I would end up liking and feeling sorry for Pryzbylewski.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:25 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


people extrapolating from the show to believe things about the real-life Baltimore is lazy stereotyping

Sorry, I know I'm repeating myself, but it's funny that no one extrapolating from the show thinks that Baltimore is full of white dock workers losing their jobs, or full of middle-class police officers, teachers, social workers, reporters, and aspiring political figures. I bet people don't even think that it's full of smart drug gang leaders. It's like their extrapolation module only works in one very particular direction.
posted by leopard at 12:03 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I know I'm repeating myself, but it's funny that no one extrapolating from the show thinks that Baltimore is full of white dock workers losing their jobs, or full of middle-class police officers, teachers, social workers, reporters, and aspiring political figures. I bet people don't even think that it's full of smart drug gang leaders.

Are you speaking from evidence, or just what "you bet"? I mean, like I said, I'm willing to believe that people lazily extrapolate from The Wire, but I don't think anyone has really shown it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:08 PM on November 19, 2014


leopard: It's like their extrapolation module only works in one very particular direction.

Probably fair to say it works more in the one direction than others, but I've certainly had friends joke about going down to the docks to meet Frank Sobotka and Horseface.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:10 PM on November 19, 2014


but I don't think anyone has really shown it.

What kind of evidence do you need?
posted by josher71 at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2014


I'm assuming that when someone asks a Baltimorean (?) "is it really like that?" they don't mean "do politicians in Baltimore really play politics?" or "do the leaders of the police force really try to cover their ass?" or "do blue-collar workers really face a tougher job market than they did in the past?" or "do newspaper reporters there really face pressures to do a shittier job?"

They mean "is it really a scary place where people are addicted to drugs, people can get shot dead on the street, and children grow up in tough homes without much hope?"

And I'm happy to admit that I could just be projecting here -- the only person whose mental states I have direct access to is me -- but it seems to me that people generalize differently about the drugs and the murder and the hopelessness because (a) they're scarier and (b) they're heavily associated with blackness.
posted by leopard at 12:19 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Baltimorean" is correct, but of course "Baltimoron" has its charms.
posted by josher71 at 12:29 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


leopard, I'll back you up here. On hearing I'm from Baltimore, no one has ever commented on any aspect of The Wire except the drugs and the crime.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:29 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


These things may not make Baltimore unique, but we don't have to have these conversations about St. Louis or Detroit or Oakland or New York.

Are you kidding? People from Oakland and Detroit have these conversations all the time. With people who live fifteen minutes away, even. St. Louis doesn't get a lot of attention for anything on a national scale (strong associations with Oakland probably diminish somewhat too as you leave the West Coast) but I'm told much of it has a similar "why would you even live there?" notoriety if you talk to, say, middle class white people in the surrounding area. Crime in New York was a national topic in the 70s (when the rates were high) - it's not now but the city is in fact nowhere close to a leader in violence now, plus of course it has a massive propaganda machine running. I'm sure The Wire does contribute to Baltimore's widespread reputation as a fucked-up place, which might otherwise have also been a regional thing. Among people I talk to I think it's associated with both crime and political corruption, but I know a lot of people who actually watched The Wire. But trust me, people all over America know which cities are All About Black People Doing Crimes.
posted by atoxyl at 2:06 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


"These things may not make Baltimore unique, but we don't have to have these conversations about St. Louis or Detroit or Oakland or New York."

I grew up outside of Detroit so lemme give you a hearty, "Bwahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahhahaha." People come to Detroit specifically to see the ruins.

Simon embedded with the Baltimore cops for a year when writing Homicide; many of the scenes in the Wire are based on that and his other non-fiction book, The Corner.

Just from knowing Detroit, I'm sure there are parts of Baltimore that are, or were, like the Wire. And I know I can get annoyed at the outsized view of Detroit as a collapsing, apocalyptic rot, but that doesn't mean that I'm pissed at Charlie LeDuff for only talking about the most fucked up parts.
posted by klangklangston at 7:59 PM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


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