In an effort to describe David Simon’s work on “The Wire,” critics have drawn parallels from Shakespeare to Dickens to David Chase of “The Sopranos.” But the reference point Simon often uses for his work is similar to how he describes contemporary American society: the Greek tragedy.
sean philip cotter
Both Simon and television critics have compared his widely acclaimed HBO drama “The Wire” to a Greek play, with its dark themes, social commentary and complete lack of hesitation to kill off characters.
Simon uses similar language to describe the state of modern America. He talks about “capitalism, which is sort of the ultimate Olympian god,” and has been, in his view, since the Reagan years.
Simon will speak at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.
He started out in 1983 as a crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun. His work evolved into two nonfiction books: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. These would serve as the basis for both “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” an NBC drama. Simon’s latest project — New Orleans jazz-centric drama “Treme,” also on HBO — will wrap up later this year.
Simon can draw upon his experience as a reporter for the Sun to address Week Six’s theme of “Crime and Punishment.” For example, he spent a year embedded in a police unit, and another embedded in the street culture of West Baltimore.
Simon has much to say on the week’s theme. He’s an outspoken critic of the “War on Drugs,” the policy that’s tried to crack down on illegal drug trade. Simon sees this policy as a kind of “social control,” as he puts it — one that has a basis in economic class and race.
In his eyes, this is just one of many ways the cards have increasingly become stacked against the poor and people of color. Through his website, Simon has excoriated the “systemic response” to the shooting of Trayvon Martin. He vehemently disagreed with the verdict of State of Florida v. George Zimmerman.
“Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American,” he wrote after the trial’s verdict came in.
In many of Simon’s interviews with publications like The New York Times, Slate, Vice and The Atlantic, he hits the same points over and over — as if by sheer repetition he’ll finally open Americans’ eyes to the great troubles of the time.
He channels Michael Sandel, Harvard University professor and Week Four speaker, in his criticism of the role of capitalism in society. Like Sandel, Simon thinks capitalism has expanded from its rightful place as a useful economic tool to the foundation upon which American society is based.
“Thematically, it’s about the very simple idea that, in this Postmodern world of ours, human beings — all of us — are worth less,” Simon said in an interview with Slate. “We’re worth less every day.”
This trend has come with the deindustrialization of the last 30 years; he’s referred to it as “the triumph of capitalism.” But at the same time, he’s not suggesting Americans so completely change this Greek tragedy.
“I’m not ready to throw capitalism out because there is scarcely an alternative,” Simon said. “I’m not a Marxist.”