Friday, August 29, 2008

Cynicism and The Wire

Thanks to the ubiquitous Dave Lull for sending me this essay. Of David Simon, the creator of The Wire, the authors conclude, 'He may think he's the crusading journalist exposing injustice, but he's really a cynic who takes pity on the poor, yet can't imagine a world where things could be different.' They say this because, though the city of Baltimore is the dark star of the show, all the positive initiatives that have happened there are ignored. They acknowledge there are virtuous characters in the show - McNulty, Freaman, Omar, Whalen, the Deacon and Cutty - but they are individuals helping individuals. The possibility of institutional change or reform is not even considered. They also acknowledge that this kind of balance is not an obligation on the artist - 'Shakespeare was not wrong because he did not write about good kings, Dante was not wrong because he wrote about hell...' This last point, of course, loses them the argument - why, then, is Simon wrong to use Baltimore in this way? However inaccurate he may be in providing detailed correspondences with the real city, he is entirely accurate in his portrayal of certain destructive eternals in human nature. Also, whatever initiatives are involved, the authors cannot possibly claim there is any hope of solving the drug problem in Baltimore or anywhere else. Simon may or may not be a cynic, but his belief that human beings are incorrigible is certainly not cynicism, it is absolute realism. What he is, without question, is an artist, one of the most interesting of  our age. The old left, the bienpensants, the chatterers, the progressives, like to say art should be subversive. But they run from the room screaming 'Cynicism!' when they are the ones being subverted.


  1. I agree with you, Bryan, and also with Simon. Although, in his case, I trust the tale more than the teller -- his personal remarks are off-putting, but in his script he transcends himself and it is art.

    "The poor will always be with us." He is simply showing the contemporary version, and he has it right. I've been jonesing to go to Baltimore for a while now (Edgar Allan Poe's grave is there, among other sites), but now it will have a deeper, darker resonance for me.

  2. Seen series two and am now halfway through series three. Agree with you there. People are just as they are and human nature is what it is. Dull platitudes put like that, but add great plots and characters and you have the art.

    Saying much more is really assessing fiction by the standards of non-fiction. A bit of a snarl-up, like saying that Bleak House offers a travesty of the legal profession because it fails to show the good works done by m'learned friends via the Freemasons and the Rotary Club.

    The autobiography of a chimpanzee is on the Guardian's list for its First Book Award, apparently. I suspect the chattering classes are doing quite well at sending themselves up, though they probably don't know it.