In (Moderate) Defense of David Simon

It’s been a big week for powerful dudes in the entertainment industry saying things they later regret, and David Simon is no exception. Yesterday, the New York Times published an interview with him in which Simon appears to be the hipsteryest hipster who ever hipstered, saying that if folks weren’t there from the beginning with The Wire, he’s annoyed by their interpretations: “I do have a certain amused contempt for the number of people who walk sideways into the thing and act like they were there all along…I’m indifferent to who thinks Omar is really cool now, or that this is the best scene or this is the best season. It was conceived of as a whole, and we did it as a whole. For people to be picking it apart now like it’s a deck of cards or like they were there the whole time or they understood it the whole time — it’s wearying.”

Fortunately, Simon seems to have recognized that contempt for your audience is not the best marketing strategy, because he called up Alan Sepinwall and attempted a clarification. This part of the interview strikes me as the most compelling:

You can watch it any way you want. I know I’m not allowed to speak for how people want to watch “The Wire.” But let me put it on its head and ask, am I allowed to say what I think has value in the piece for me, and for the other people who worked on the show? For us, telling us how cool Omar was four years after the entire thing is on the page — if that’s the point, then our ambitions were pretty stunted to begin with. I was asked a question about what I thought about the show’s longevity, and about the “Wire” mania that was going on in March when the brackets sprung up, and I answered to that. Other people’s mileage may vary and will vary, but if you’re asking me whether or not that stuff is meaningful, I think in some ways it diminishes “The Wire.” if you go online, you’ll find some people who made very smart critiques of that nonsense. I read those and went, “Yeah, man, those guys get it, and the fellows wasting time breaking this thing down to its components, what a shame.” I would have loved to see an idea or an argument that the show undertook come up in any of that bracketology, and it never does. Once you get done arguing over who’s the coolest, or what scene makes you laugh the hardest, there’s no room left to argue any of the things…

While I don’t think that breaking down Omar’s badassdom and discussing bureaucratic cultures are mutually exclusive enterprises, I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to this kind of frustration. Vulture’s drama derby, even if I found the way it treated gender to be kind of a problem, was one of the only brackets I’ve ever seen that was specifically set up to award intellectual ambition in television. What we want to watch, and the kind of reaction that’s buzzy and memeable don’t always go hand in hand. I think it’s somewhat overweening to suggest that The Wire can only be approached with the Utmost Seriousness, but I can also understand what it must feel like to see The Wire‘s declining ratings and some of the shallower reactions to its legacy and wonder whether it’s worth trying to build something that complex—or on a critical end, trying to plumb certain depths.