Pandemic: An Interview with The Wire creator David Simon

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Thanks for the text version, Danny. I’m one of the few who really prefers to read than listen to a podcast. Much appreciated.


I actually just re-watched The Wire. Having loved and lauded it back in its day, I’m bummed to admit — I got problems.

McNutty is an anti-hero, sure. A classic HBO-style antihero of his time, specifically. And antiheroism runs through the whole show — everyone’s an antihero. I get it. That’s the point.

But it’s still a very different watching experience today — the glorification (yes, “glorification”) of cop violence, the white-writer-room depiction of Black underclass culture, the lazy racial trope/stereotypes.

When I talk with friends about this, the OG fans insist it’s empirically still good television. But even that — I’m not so sure. It may have always been white-boy-does-Black “realism”. I think we got hoodwinked.

But I dunno. I’m genuinely interested in hearing other opinions on this.

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I confess, I’ve not seen The Wire (besides bits of episodes). But David Simon’s work on Twitter is fucking magical.


Thanks for the interview. Simon’s balance of tough insight and humility as seen here shows up in all his projects.


I got a promo quite from David Simon for a book project I was working on. We had some schedule pressure and weren’t able to give him a sensible amount of time. He was the nicest, most accommodating person throughout and absolutely went above and beyond for us. He was a celebrated showrunner at the time and he’s answering emails when he’s on vacation for a project he has no stake in… An absolute wonderful experience throughout. Can’t say enough good things about him.


I put the attitudes toward the police you describe in the context of when the show was made (and perhaps how it had to be pitched to HBO at the time). Strange though it is to say given how recent it was, The Wire was made in very different time – the Cheney Regency was awful and discouraging in its own way but, as Simon hints at in this interview, he thought that new and more subtle dangers were threatening society while the old, blunt and stupid ones – while still present --were on the wane.

Whatever issues you might have with the show (and I think they’re worth discussing), it’s still great and groundbreaking storytelling about how our neoliberal globalist institutions crush anyone who try to reform them or challenge them. Individuals, heroes and anti-heroes are actually beside the point.

I also don’t remember a lot of racial stereotyping – to the contrary, I’d never seen characters from that milieu like Stringer Bell or Bubbles portrayed before, and they were both central to the plot (that’s putting aside the strong African-American characters – benevolent or malicious or in-between – who operate in “respectable” societal roles). Some of the Black “underworld” characters (Snoop comes to mind) were playing themselves. Could you point out some examples of lazy stereotyping of the “street/corner” Black characters?


Was greatly disappointed by The Plot Against America. It could have been so much more than what it was.

The craftsmanship was superb as in all his productions, and the performances were great, but I agree it was a bit disappointing. It hewed too closely to the book, which was great but did its job and didn’t need to be reproduced verbatim. On-screen, the first episode was a generic kitchen-sink realist drama about life in the 1930s, and Simon never took the opportunity to do what he does best and go beyond the family to examine the larger and more wide-ranging mechanisms of authoritarianism and oppression.

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He was right, CoronaVirus branded dope was found by the DEA back in May

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Highly recommend you read the two real life books he wrote before he made the wire. He embedded himself for a year each in both the baltimore pd and then also a certain area of drug corners in baltimore exactly like where the wire is set. Over the year he got to know the people trying to live their lives in the midst of the drug scene very well. He even cast one of them in a role in the wire (brother mouzone’s bodyguard). The families and individuals he focuses on have some real stories that you recognise very obviously when you watch the wire. In fact, both books are arguably more horrific and haunting.

Same with the wire cops, there are some real life situations and characters with their names hardly changed.

That’s why it mostly seems authentic, it wasn’t all just made up in a writer’s room. It seems like he really did his homework on this show, far more than most other writers - and the actors who worked on it all agree as well btw.

Is it glorifying violence? I don’t think so, it rarely shows the violence to be effective, rather it’s the painstaking surveillance and detective work that gets any real results. The violent cops are usually the stupid ones.

But yeah I agree mcnutty’s character is a bit OTT and also jumps the shark a bit in the final season with the fake serial killer bit. That would be my main criticism.


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