the wisdom of david simon: economic intelligence from the creator of the wire

I may be a bit slow to the proverbial party here (or there, or everywhere), but it’s only in the past week that I’ve become aware of the astute societal observations of David Simon.

Simon is best known as the writer/creator of The Wire, the unbelievably excellent and roundly appreciated “cop  show” that Simon says is really “a show about the end of American Empire.” Which seems quite a lot to take on, for an hour-long primetime television show. And so all the more impressive for the honest attempt.

A self-described socialist (but not a Marxist, he is quick to note), Simon was a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun for over a decade. Then he wrote a book, Homicide, which led to the cop show Homicide, which were both based on his journalistic observations working the beat in Baltimore.

As is portrayed with his shows, he has seen the ugly underbelly of our uber-capitalist society. And he is dead set on sharing that story, so that it can’t be (as easily) ignored.

In commenting about The Wire (and his new show Treme, about post-Katrina New Orleans), Simon doesn’t mince words when articulating the unfortunate truths of our capital-obsessed social economy. “Every single moment, on this planet, from here on out, human beings are worth less. Not more, less,” he told a crowd at Loyola College. It’s a simple, stark truth with some revealing implications. 

“We’re in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital. We don’t need us to generate wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value.”

From the war on drugs to the reform of education, our political system is built largely on hollow promises with barely enough durability to last until the next election.

“Both parties fear telling the truth. The collapse of all democratic integrity over taxes is near complete,” he states, noting that it was our taxes that funded American’s golden age of prosperity under Eisenhower. “Yet there isn’t a politician with balls enough to tell that truth because the whole system has been muddled by the rich. It’s been purchased.”

Simon likewise laments the current state of journalism, and its increasingly diminishing effect on popular culture and discourse. But is hopeful that through television, he can still affect change through story. “A TV show can’t hold people and institutions to account like good journalism can,” he admits. “But if I can make you care about a character, I may make you think a little longer about certain dynamics that might cause you to … be more willing to accept a critique of the prevailing political and social systems. Or not.”

At least, that is his hope with his new project and television series, Treme. “This show, if we do it right, is an argument for the city. For the idea of American urbanity, for the melting pot, for the idea that our future can’t be separated from the fact that we are all going to be increasingly compacted into urban areas, though we’re different in race and culture and religion. And what we make of that will determine the American future.”

It seems like, unfortunately, a lot to ask. But at least it’s an honest challenge. And one that we as a society are certainly capable of achieving. If we collectively choose to do so.

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Filed under Class, Community Investing, Economic Justice, Fair Taxation, Social Change

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