Also in The New Yorker, a profile of David Simon, the creator of my favorite television show of all time, The Wire.
The show’s title referred to the wiretap that a unit of the Baltimore police force was using to keep a local drug organization under surveillance. Ultimately, the term suggested more—the way that the show allowed viewers to eavesdrop on various recondite power plays, and the way that poverty, politics, and policing were interconnected in a struggling post-industrial city. In Simon’s view, “The Wire” was never “a cop show. We were always planning to move further and further out, to build a whole city.”
Simon makes it clear that the show’s ambitions were grand. “ ‘The Wire’ is dissent,” he says. “It is perhaps the only storytelling on television that overtly suggests that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right.” He also likes to say that “The Wire” is a story about the “decline of the American empire.” Simon’s belief in the show is a formidable thing, and it leads him into some ostentatious comparisons that he sometimes laughs at himself for and sometimes does not. Recently, he spoke at Loyola College, in Baltimore; he described the show in lofty terms that left many of the students in the audience puzzled—at least, those who had come hoping to hear how they might get a job in Hollywood. In creating “The Wire,” Simon said, he and his colleagues had “ripped off the Greeks: Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides. Not funny boy—not Aristophanes. We’ve basically taken the idea of Greek tragedy and applied it to the modern city-state.” He went on, “What we were trying to do was take the notion of Greek tragedy, of fated and doomed people, and instead of these Olympian gods, indifferent, venal, selfish, hurling lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no reason—instead of those guys whipping it on Oedipus or Achilles, it’s the postmodern institutions . . . those are the indifferent gods.”