Email this article to a friend

The ITT List

Monday, Jan 14, 2008, 6:05 pm

The Wire in CJR

By Adam Doster
In anticipation of its final season, there has been a deluge of articles discussing The Wire (yes, the greatest TV show of all time), its iconoclastic creator David Simon, and his relationship with his former colleagues at the Baltimore Sun. While other articles have garnered more attention, I think this CJR cover story by Lawrence Lanahan provides the most through and balanced look at Simon's personal vendetta for Carrol and Marimow and his take on the the role of journalism more broadly.
For Simon, this dispute basically comes down to the complexity of urban problems. As he sees it, the “Philly model,” imported to the Sun by Carroll and Marimow, ignored the decades of economic, racial, political, and social disconnects underlying that complexity. When it spurred reform, it was reform that could not match the intransigence of the underlying patterns. The reporting itself was formidable, Simon says, but to him, homelessness, addiction, and violence aren’t the central problems. “Those are all the symptoms of the problem,” he says. “You can carve off a symptom and talk about how bad drugs are, and you can blame the police department for fucking up the drug war, but that’s kind of like coming up to a house hit by a hurricane and making a lot of voluminous notes about the fact that some roof tiles are off.”


Of course, the new addition to Simon's version of post-industrial Baltimore is the newsroom, which has some Wire fans concerned that Simon's personal biases will make it impossible for him to build the multi-dimensional characters for which the show is so revered.
There’s a danger, however, that the newsroom of the Sun will be a mere storyboard, whereas the show’s other venues are rich dioramas. No one who watches The Wire is interested merely in a battle of “good” reporters versus “bad” reporters at a declining paper; no, we want the details. We want the backstabbing, the compromises, the maneuvering. These, after all, are the engines of the rest of the show. And none of them can function correctly when the show’s characters carry giant neon signs displaying their archetypes.

Personally, I think Simon and company deserve a little more leeway. No character to this point, (except, of course, the short lived Lt. Marimow and and a select few others) has been shallow, and even with a condensed season, I don't expect Simon to start taking shortcuts now. I'd bet a night of drinks with McNulty that the characters will fill out as the stories progress.

Adam Doster, a contributing editor at In These Times, is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former reporter-blogger for Progress Illinois.

View Comments