The Wire and Baltimore

11 Nov
November 11, 2014

It seems that despite the most temperate reply possible, I’ve been drawn into another absurdist debate about whether The Wire, or Homicide, or perhaps even The Corner is good or bad for Baltimore.  This time, the righteous indignation about the tarnish applied to my city’s reputation is from a gentleman named Mike Rowe.  A Baltimore native, he is employed elsewhere in this great diaspora of television and he has now assumed the mantle of defender of my city’s reputation.

Mr. Rowe marks his displeasure with our work by reductively describing it as a depiction of “drug dealers” and “pimps” that is sufficient to convince anyone that Baltimore is a mere cesspool, certain and fixed.  In this simplicity, he joins, by late count, a few business leaders, several political aspirants and at least two police commissioners in decrying narratives that don’t provide the imagery with which Baltimore wishes to adorn itself.

Having been specifically directed to Mr. Rowe’s remarks and asked for comment by the Baltimore City Paper, here is the sum of my entire response.  It is distinct from the writing of any City Paper essayist and it alone represents my position.   The City Paper‘s arguments necessarily remain its own; they do not coincide with mine at points.  I wrote:

“Speaking for the collective that worked on the narratives in question, we undertook to tell those stories as best we could in the hope that they would be honest and relevant to the whole of our city, to our divided American society and to the fundamental necessity that is our shared future. We even operated with some hope that such storytelling might help lead to redress and reconsideration of certain policies and priorities.

“On a personal level, that’s simply my job. It was my job as a reporter and as an author. It is my job still and I take it seriously.

“Certainly, there are other meaningful uses for narrative and imagery, and civic boosterism is one such laudable purpose. That is the job of others and I understand that they, too, take their labors seriously.

“As a Baltimorean fully vested in the city’s future, I can respect and support such efforts and purposes, even should others demonstrate less understanding and respect for the role of storytelling as a means of offering dissent and opening civic and societal debate.” 

Exactly what did I claim here?

1)  That our narratives were undertaken in earnest and to an ethical and professional purpose, and that my colleagues and I believe the narratives address fundamental issues and concerns that ought to be addressed.  And, oh yeah, we take our role as storytellers seriously.

2)  That these are not the only narratives and images that can represent the city, and that civic boosterism or promotion is also a laudable goal undertaken by equally serious and committed people.

3)  That as we are Baltimoreans, living here and vested in our collective future, we support efforts to improve the city’s image.  Rather than critique Mr. Rowe’s fledgling endeavors in any way — and certainly with less reductive cynicism than his depiction of our own efforts — we find it easy to support and encourage him.

And for this, there are now people with their asses in the air, including Mr. Rowe who has already fired off more verbiage?  Really?  Is there a cognitive problem here?

Mr. Rowe got a careful, polite reply because he managed to critique our storytelling without, say, the bombast of a city council president who actually used her post to attempt to pass official proclamations against The Wire (What business does any government have sanctioning or opposing narrative?), or a police commissioner who demanded apologies for the narrative  (Not enough for him to dislike or critique a story, he instead demands that those who would tell a tale not to his liking actually apologize for doing so?), or a mayor who wanted to be governor and actually attempted to use his administrative authority to alter or prohibit the narrative itself. (Will you change the story or quit the story, or do I keep holding up your film permits?)

Over the years, telling these tales in which we believed proved, at points, a source of direct conflict with city officials who were willing to do far more than merely vent their personal displeasure as critique.   In those instances, yes, I felt obliged to defend with some vigor the legitimate right to tell a story that serves interests other than the glorification of Baltimore and its present administrations.

Here, though, I read carefully and understood what Mr. Rowe did and did not argue.  And my comments were proportioned to make clear that there was plenty of room for his good efforts on behalf of the city, that such efforts easily obtain my support, and that those efforts did not, in my mind, necessarily conflict with the concurrent responsibility by others to use narrative and imagery to tell hard truths about our city, our nation, and our national priorities and policies.  That’s the sum of what went back over the transom.

Too much?  If Mr. Rowe can dish out his caricatures about who populates The Wire and Homicide — pimps and dealers and junkies, oh my! — yet finds himself unable to endure the brutalities of the above reply, he boasts a sensitivity that I fear cannot long endure in the town of his birth.   After all, the only phrase I offered in critique of Mr. Rowe’s performance, rather than in direct support of his effort on behalf of Baltimore, was to note his apparent lack of understanding for the role of storytelling that doesn’t affirm what those in power wish to have said about just how swell they’ve administered things.  For that, you can’t rely on political leaders, or celebrity promotional campaigns, or any deep reservoir of empathy from many of those whose lives are arrayed on the right and profitable side of a status quo.  For that, some measure of dissent is required.

Any insult from Mr. Rowe’s remarks may well have been unintended; however, the pimps and dealers and drug addicts that this gentleman so easily and hastily conjured to lament our narratives are, of course, a minority of the characters actually depicted in those stories.  But in focusing on those few stereotypes, Mr. Rowe was clearly raising an argument that I find familiar and disturbing:  That an undeserving portion of Baltimore has been chronicled at the expense of a Baltimore more deserving of attention, and that the America left behind by deindustrialization, poverty and the depredations of the drug war should just quiet the fuck down while we sell more of the America that has not been so marginalized.

Mr. Rowe, there are literally hundreds of television narratives — sitcoms and reality shows and comic-book dramas and cops-and-robbers affirmations of law and order out there, shows about the America in which human beings are still valued and in which capital still operates to the advantage of the many.  By contrast, there was, for a brief time, one little-watched drama on one pay channel that tried to tell a story in that part of the nation where those things are no longer close to fucking true.  That story happened to be set in the city of Baltimore;  Mr. Rowe now asserts that as far as he is concerned it was one story too many.

I do indeed find that stance offensive, parochial and myopic.  Telling only the pretty, affirming stories has a cost, too.  Telling tales in which the poor and marginalized  — including those who live and work amid an underground economy that is, in fact, the largest employer in Baltimore city — are rendered as human rather than as merely the chow for avenging cops has, at least, some small chance of perhaps slowing the war on the underclass now ongoing in this country.  If it is tough work that Mr. Rowe chronicles — and I understand it’s his stock in trade — then the ease with which he throws judgment across the chasm between the two Baltimores has perhaps denied him some fresh material, and some real insight into one of the hardest, most destructive and self-destructive occupations in one of America’s largest growth industries.  The drug war doesn’t endure as it has for 60-odd years without people being fed a media diet of contempt for dealers and pimps and addicts in the precise terms that Mr. Rowe feels so comfortable venting.  We don’t become the most incarcerative society in the history of mankind without so easily dehumanizing  those who are consigned to the parts of our city that Mr. Rowe, the Greater Baltimore Committee and aspiring politicians might struggle to sell as authentic or charming.

Moreover, I hold the audience for our harsher narratives — and indeed for other, warmer storytelling about Baltimore — in much higher regard than Mr. Rowe, apparently.  I think viewers are smart enough to understand that these stories represent certain quadrants of my city, but not all of Baltimore, and even more certainly not the whole of the  metropolitan area.  They are stories about one America, long and purposely ignored and isolated, and while set in Baltimore, they are applicable to East St. Louis or South Chicago or North Philadelphia.  Anyone who thinks The Wire is all of Baltimore is as much a fool as anyone who can be shown a crabcake and convinced that the Inner Harbor is all of the city.  Pretending otherwise — from either end — is a mug’s game.

My question  — and given how regularly I have to deal with this dynamic, I think it a fair one — is simply this:  Is it possible for someone to assert on behalf of Baltimore’s charm and worth, while at the same time being grown-up enough to understand that other stories have an altogether different but essential purpose?  Is it conceiveable that someone seeking higher office, or credit for civic improvement, or even a paid promoter’s fee might simply do the straight business of asserting for the best of Baltimore, without going to the trouble to pretend that there are not significant problems in this city and every American city that require redress?  Is the universe sufficiently vast to contain both the empirical fact that a Faidley’s backfin crabcake is the world’s best and that Baltimore is the fifth most dangerous city in America?   Can it be that Brooks Robinson is indeed the superior third baseman to Mike Schmidt, while at the same time credible that as many as half the African-American males under the age of forty in my city are unable to find or are no longer even seeking legitimate, full-time work?  Does a walk around the harbor’s growing promenade suggest hope in the city’s planning and execution in a way that the failure to educate most public school graduates to participate in city’s legitimate economy does not?  Is it possible to speak well of Baltimore, sincerely, while allowing certain truths to stand?

Not yet, apparently.  And for some folks, maybe never.

 

135 replies
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  1. Emmett Pepper says:

    I write just to say that I can be counted as someone who sought out living in Baltimore, predominantly due to The Wire.

    In 2010, when I was living in Washington, DC, for school, I watched The Wire in its entirety (yes I was one of the blasted late-comers to the show). The Wire made me feel affection for Baltimore, and to root for it. I made a bit of a pilgrimage there after finishing the series when there was a concert I wanted to see. I drove around to look at some of the filming locations, went to the fantastic American Visionary Art Museum, ate some great Korean food across the street from a housing project, and went to the avant garde loft concert. It was The Wire, combined with the great art scene in Baltimore that brought me there to learn of all the great stuff going on. I felt a connection to the place. I started looking for jobs there once graduation approached and began to plan to work for an organization in Annapolis and commute from Baltimore. I ultimately wasn’t able to do it, because I had another job offer came through while waiting to hear back from the one in Annapolis, and I had to say “yes.”

    A year later I saw a job opening in my field in Baltimore. I got a second interview for that one and even started looking at real estate listings there. I didn’t end up getting that job, but I still think of Baltimore as one of a handful of cities that I would like to live in if life presented the opportunity. And this is not “in spite of” having watched the show, it is *because* I watched it.

    Reply
  2. derek seymour nz says:

    Off topic, but does anyone else find Cedric Daniels eating crab with his tie over his shoulder really annoying (series 3, ep 2 37:20seconds)? What a tight ass

    Reply
  3. Georgie says:

    Through the lens of fundamental morality, the question of how much society can get away with rendering the “lessers” of our society as either invisible, undesirable or “less-than-human” (or a host of other ugly stereotypes), can somewhat be viewed as simply repeating an age-old pattern of the types of collective hearts that have eventually brought about the collapses of ALL major empires, throughout history. For my exhibit A, I give you the ancient Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Specifically, as described in the “The Book Of Kings”. To the degree that they practiced “justice and mercy” toward the “have-nots”, they thrived. But every time they lost sight of the extreme importance of taking care of that part of their society, they repeatedly paid an astronomically huge price! Destruction! Again and again!

    So with his basic question, I tend to believe Mr. Rowe “accidentally” exposes a very myopic, and ultimately “deadly-for-us-all” outlook. On a scale much, much bigger than just “how it makes Baltimore look”, isolating ourselves from the lowest of society, while trying to maintain focus only on the most desirable is an accidental sign of collective moral corruption. And that particular weakness has literally brought down empires! And right now it’s not looking exactly great for America’s future in that particular respect!

    Attempting to hide from or avoid seeing those at the bottom rungs of our society, is not a sign of THEIR moral failures. It’s much more-so a clear-cut sign of OURS. “Lack of justice and mercy.” And history has been very, very unkind to nations guilty of that “crime”!

    So, either we develop the capacity to unashamedly start showing the progress that we’re collectively enabling the lowest of our society to make or we doom ourselves, in the long run. …like so many empires before.

    Forget the target, Mike Rowe’s critique morally misses the entire side of the barn.

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  4. derek seymour says:

    I’ve been re watching season 2. its made me really curious about Baltimore. Earlier I was checking out out Locust point on Google street-view. I’d love to visit to see the place first hand

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  5. Jjoe says:

    I visted Baltimore twice. Why? Because of Homicide and The Wire. My second visit was longer. My son I visited locations from both shows.

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  6. Andrew L. says:

    So… who won?

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  7. brandon a. salus says:

    When i think of Baltimore I dont think of the Wire any more than John Waters, blue crabs, Camden stadium and my cousins in Columbia.

    But when i think of our country, our United States, I immediately think of the Wire.
    I once heard you call it a treatise on the end of the American empire. that sounds about right.

    Its about a deep love for people doing the best they can in the face of crushing institutions, insane laws, and a painful past, and dwindling opportunity. IMHO>

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  8. Kevin says:

    Here is the problem with Mr. David Simon. If Moody’s rated integrity, he’ll be whatever the highest level, AAA+. But in entertainment, that level of artistic integrity must be shielded by mega hits. And by mega hits, i mean 18 wheeler flat beds of benjamins being driven in per hour (see George Lucas). David Simon is the white Spike Lee. If Mr. Simon had made the man a gazillion dollars, no one would fuck with him. See Bill Cosby and his alleged 30 plus years of raping women. See Bill O’Reilly and his sexual harassment allegations. The list goes on. Because the man didnt put out the call and said Mr. Simon is unfuckwittable, Mr. Simon is the go to guy that phony ass chumps go to to piggy back on his integrity because they lack it, and because they know DS isnt nursing on the man’s nuts.

    The sad thing about the wire is that everyday its becoming not just on the fringe shit, its rather the gameplan to get ahead in america. I dont mean drug lord storylines, i mean the hundreds of subtle things that contextualize thr grey matter, that make a cop alittle corrupt, or a dope fiend at moments a little heroic. The momenrs where you take money you arent suppose to take, or fucking that chick just cause you can get away with it, or picking on a kid just cause, or stealing shit just to.help your own or so on and so forth. I could be wrong but those who are super sensitive about this show are the ones who feel guilt because somewhere along their path, they did something to get ahead, or sold out or whatever the case where this show makes it hard on their conscience. As Andre 3000 rapped, they aint nothing but a bunch of macaroni fools: m-pastas.

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    • Tony says:

      I think what Kevin was hinting at is interesting. Is David Simon a protected interest? In show business, there is a holy trinity of sales, ratings, and awards. Look at the Sopranos, who had the holy trinity. When Italian American groups protested the show, what happened? They eventually went away and the Sopranos still portrayed the same negative stereotypes those advocate groups protested against. is it far fetched to believe that someone at HBO or close to the producers of the show made timely donations for which due to the success of the show they could afford? Probably and possibly. Not to say the Wire wasn’t a successful show, but it wasn’t a homerun in terms of ratings and revenue generated and prestigious awards won. If it had been, and their coffers were filled for which they made timely donations to the I love Baltimore fund or the committee to re-elect Mr “Paid for and bought by”, I am quite sure most of these critiques of David Simon or the Wire wouldn’t have happened.

      Reply
      • David Simon says:

        Look, the HBO execs who keep me shooting film while pulling these numbers are the modern equivalent of the Medicis as far as I’m concerned. I’ve gone as long as you can making television without much of a first-run audience. So god bless HBO and Time Warner.

        As for community participation on the part of our productions, we don’t do that in response to shakedowns or guilt trips or politicians with their hands out. But we do it as much as we can. And the non-profits in Baltimore and New Orleans know that we do it as much as we can. And whatever publicity comes to us is usually only enough to leverage a specific event; we do not publicly claim credit for our contributions and donations otherwise. Why not? Because the Talmud says that the greatest charity is that which is given anonymously or without regard to personal standing. And, of course, without hope of recompense or quid pro quo.

        I can tell you that a mayor of Baltimore once tried to shake us down for a charitable donation to one of his pet projects, saying that it was the least we could do. I informed him that it wasn’t the least we could do, but it was actually less than we had already done. He was confused and I told him to call two other organizations who had already received considerably more in direct donations and raised money, without the shakedown. The mayor was astonished that we had never publicized our commitment so as to maximize the P.R. benefit in the city.

        I hate the fucking gamesmanship in this stuff. Do it because it is the right thing and because you have the leverage and the opportunity to do so. Don’t do it as maneuver. Not saying that any other show has, just saying I hate the gamesmanship. It’s either charity or it’s something else.

        Reply
  9. Nick says:

    So we know Baltimore (in common with many other places) has problems that need addressing – can we get to a discussion on how to address inappropriate incarceration and lack of living wage employment?

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  10. Jay A. Kelley says:

    We seem to be ignoring the 800lbs Gorilla in the room here. It’s FICTION. Many of you may be willing to write these misconceptions off as poor American’s who don’t know any better, but I am not. I mean what’s next? Are we going to start complaining that replicants are buying up all the best women’s shoes, or that X-Wings are responsible for Global warming?

    This show may have some very loose basis in Baltimore, but it is at its heart fictional entertainment. Even Mike Rowe, who I admire greatly, treated the American people like mindless waifs.. Saying that the only Baltimore they know is from the Wire and it makes the city look bad.

    SERIOUSLY?!!?! IT”S FICTION.

    If we cannot depend on the American people to understand the difference between Real and Make believe… We are all deep in the weeds.

    For God’s sake stop worrying about who’s doing drugs, or the skin trade and start looking at something far more serious. The same people who cannot tell the difference between the Wire and CNN are also voting for your elected officials.

    Don’t accept this. FIGHT IT.. Yell about it.. Don’t say “well the Wire is only a small part of Baltimore” instead say “WHAT?! Are you serious? Put down the cheetoes, do some REAL research and learn about the city you lazy idiot!”

    Or something along those lines. 🙂

    Seriously.. We need to demand more of one another.

    Jay

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Art is the lie that makes us see the truth. So said Pablo Picasso.

      I’m not actually calling The Wire art. I’m just using a notable quote in reply to your conviction that the line between truth and fictional narrative is so easily drawn.

      There was more truth in “Huck Finn” than in most of the history books about the United States written until that time. And there was more power in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” than in the racial polemics of our political classes at the time of its publication. Nothing I’ve ever touched is remotely comparable to the first book, or as remotely important as the second, understand. But if I thought I’d left journalism twenty years ago merely for a chance to entertain people, I’d fucking kill myself

      Reply
    • kt says:

      The problem with that assertion is that despite being technically fiction and presumably altered enough in details to avoid liability, almost every character in THE WIRE is inspired by a real person or a real type of person, and many of the events that take place actually happened, or something like them actually happened. And anyone who has ever lived in Baltimore or known something about the city can very clearly see the parallels.

      That is really where the local criticism came in at the time. Certain politicians could recognize themselves in the show and they did not find it flattering. Of course, rather than amend the behavior being criticized, they attacked the show as “negative”. I do not believe that these people actually cared all that much that the drug war and economy were being accurately portrayed, they cared that the politics were. And it’s become a silly trope articles use as a hook ever since. Here’s my question: if THE WIRE was so bad for Baltimore then why do people keep using it to get hits on their articles?!

      Reply
      • Jay A. Kelley says:

        Money I suppose. I came to your site thru Mike Rowe, so this debate has had helped you both in that regard. I’ve read Mr. Rowe’s post (both of them) a couple times. He seems to like your show quite a bit. But he thinks people are using your program to draw conclusions on what the area is like. So he’s apparently going to throw his hat into the ring to offer another perspective. Sounds reasonable.

        You seem to have a problem with the fact that he is less than flattering to certain types of people that you represent on your show. I.E. Pimps, hookers, etc. I cannot speak for him, but I don’t think you are too far off the mark. I get the feeling he believes these people have the power to make choices, and therefore their status as victims or anything of the like is questionable. I think he leans right a little here.

        Like I said much earlier, I prefer to focus on the fact that you both seem to care, and you both want to make a difference.

        I’m making a LOT of assumptions here and odds are I am massively full of shit.. So I’ll stop now.

        Jay

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          A minority of the characters are “dealers, pimps and whores.” The rest are not that at all. And those that do live outside the law are, we hope, portrayed with greater complexity than such labels.

          For Mr. Rowe to reduce it to such namecalling is too telling for me.

          Reply
        • Rike Mowe says:

          Jay, IMHO, Mr. Rowe has never actually watched The Wire. Homicide, perhaps. In Mr. Rowe’s initial posting he did not say anything about actually liking The Wire. He called it “popular” which may be praise but it doesn’t actually speak as to whether or not he truly liked the show, or even watched it. For example, obviously the NFL is extremely popular but, IMO, it is an awful television show. In his second posting he talked about what a great achievement the show was but didn’t really say anything, IMO, that told me actually liked the show. His third posting just kinda restated what he claimed was the great praise from his second posting. The fact that he chose to reductively characterize the show the way he did tells me that he never did actually watch the show or he watched it but wasn’t able to truly grasp or appreciate the themes. At the time of his second and third postings, IMO, he had realized that he messed up and tried to throw in his “praise” of the show as to somehow absolve himself. Just my theory though…

          Reply
        • Rike Mowe says:

          OR Mr. Rowe didn’t feel he said anything wrong or reductive and just simply does feel that pimps, whores and pushers *have* gotten enough press already.

          Reply
  11. Eva says:

    I was born, raised and educated in Baltimore. By education, I am referring to the many years spent in the amazing schools and colleges in this beautiful city that I LOVE with all of my heart. I travel quite extensively and whether I am in Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, South America or even the Caribbean, I am always confronted by a person who upon discovering my roots expresses to me how ‘gross’ Baltimore is. When I ask them why they think this, they almost always mention ‘The Wire.’ It breaks my heart every single time. I am a great lover of art and literature and I truly appreciate what you have done Mr. Simon, but it is my great fear that the black eye that you have bestowed on Baltimore will take decades to heal.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Do they use the word “gross”? That is a remarkable phrase for anyone other than an American. I travel extensively as well and I don’t think I have ever heard that phrase uttered as a pejorative by anyone other than Americans.

      In my travels, I have experienced some of what you describe. When I probe further, the replies become decidedly more nuanced and reassuring. Specifically, I always ask if they believe that The Wire is a depiction of all of Baltimore, or even most of the city. No, they almost always reply, of course not. Just the poor part of America. Often they use the term “ghetto” specifically. Almost to a man, they quickly acknowledge that they understand the drama to be centered on a specific socioeconomic portion of an American city, and they actually assume that great wealth resides elsewhere in that city, as they assume that the United States is a country of notable accumulated wealth overall.

      Which is to say that upon asking even a single question of most people after they mention The Wire, I have found that the vast majority of them are able to place the show and its narrative in very precise and accurate context. I am quite surprised that your experience is so dramatically different from my own.

      Reply
    • Rike Mowe says:

      Get one thing straight. David Simon didn’t bestow ANY black eye’s on Baltimore. Homicide and The Wire (I won’t include The Corner since it was non-fiction) were stories. Even the people who are asking you “is Baltimore really like that?” can’t, in my estimation – because it’s unfathomable to me – literally think that is all there is to the city. More than likely, like Mr. Rowe, they’ve never truly watched the show.

      Also, for the record, I lost a little bit of respect for Mr. Rowe due to the way in which this whole little pseudo feud was conducted. Not just because Mr. Rowe stupidly decided to use Homicide and The Wire as jumping off points for this PR campaign but also because of his use of facebook during the “argument”. The comments he is getting on his Facebook page are beyond cringe worthy and I would be incredibly embarrassed if I were him. I would have gained a great deal of respect for Mr. Rowe if he had engaged you here at you blog. It makes me sad how many people who, simply because they feel the need to stick up for Mr. Rowe, now profess to have a poor opinion of Mr. Simon and, more importantly his work – without even viewing.

      Reply
      • Eva says:

        I did not mention Mr. Rowe in my reply. I simply mentioned my experiences abroad (which, by the way, are all true). I am sorry that you all feel the need to be so defensive. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so sensitive, but it is quite tiresome dealing with these conversations abroad . I am not an idiot, I have a double major in English and History as well as an MBA and I would rather not be treated like one by the likes of you all. I can’t deny what I have experienced abroad– people associating my beloved hometown with the city depicted in The Wire. Thanks!

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          I can’t speak for Mr. Mowe. But I know my own comments were defensive only in the sense that my experiences overseas with regard to Baltimore and The Wire are decidedly different from your own. Given that an argument against the net civic effect of my creative work has been joined here, I seem to have only two rational responses. I can apologize for the work if I believe the work to have done such damage and done so heedlessly, or I can defend it if I believe otherwise. I can’t for the life of me convince myself that an apology for The Wire is in order, or I would certainly offer one. But I’m not sure it isn’t unreasonable for you to chastise me as defensive for, well, defending that for which I am responsible and which is, in fact, being attacked. Not defending its quality or execution or whatever. I leave that to critics and viewers and whoever. But simply defending its purpose and its necessity as narrative.

          As to anyone being treated like an idiot, I’ve looked back on my comments and I don’t think I’ve personalized my reply to you in any way. I’ve expressed surprise that your experience overseas is so different from my own, and I’ve explained the context of my own encounters, overall. I’m sorry if you took any insult from that. None was intended, and there is no need on your part, to feel, well, defensive about posting here. Your comment was welcome.

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        • Rilke Mowe says:

          Sorry Eva,

          I wasn’t questioning whether not people actually said those things to you but I was questioning whether statements/questions, like those made to you, should be taken seriously.

          I made my comments before I saw and read Mr. Simon’s response to you. If I had seen Mr. Simon’s response I probably would not have bothered to respond.

          I’m just not sure what to make of someone who would actually believe that the city of Baltimore, as a whole, is represented in it’s entirety based on viewing The Wire and then would hold the city as a whole in a negative light because of it. And as Mr. Simon pointed out, if you simply ask a few follow up questions, for clarification, you’ll find that, certainly, most people understand that The Wire was a representation of different parts of the city.

          I’m not from Baltimore but I am from Maryland (Silver Spring, as is Mr. Simon originally). I’m in the military however so I haven’t actually lived in MD for many years, since before The Wire started airing in fact. But I have lived in all four corners of this country, and in the middle, as well as Europe and, unfortunately, the people I’ve encountered in my travels are much more like the Lisa Kudrow character in the clip Mr. Simon posted earlier this week. I admit I do tend to get a little defensive when it comes to The Wire and David Simon. The show, as well as The Corner, absolutely altered my world view and, I think, helped to make me a better and more conscientious person. So yeah, I tend to be incredulous when I run across people who might try to minimize the show in any way, real or preceived on my part.

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          • Eva says:

            I too must apologize for my defensive stance. As a lover of literature, I understand the need for verisimilitude in writing. The Wire was an excellent depiction of a postage stamp area in Baltimore City, unfortunately most people in the States and abroad don’t understand that. I am also a young Cancer survivor treated at The University of Maryland, it is a shame that there aren’t more programs depicting the amazing hospitals and doctors in our own back yard. Funny, people never mention those in my travels. Thanks for the healthy debate, gentlemen. 🙂

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              Okay, you slipped a gross inaccuracy there that I have to counter. The Wire did more than depict a “postage stamp” area in Baltimore city. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Whole tracts of the city, say West Baltimore from Edmondson Village all the way to the MLK Boulevard and from Reisterstown Road around to Frederick Road are economically depressed. East Baltimore from the Fallsway out to Armistead Gardens and from Clifton Park down to just above Patterson Park is in the same condition. Let’s add in Westport, Cherry Hill, Curtis Bay and portions of Brooklyn on the southside have been struggling for years. Northwest all the way past Belevedere is in similar shape.

              About half of Baltimore city’s geography is economically sound. This would include the Inner Harbor around to Fell’s Point, the Southeast, portions of the Northeast (although there again, neighborhoods around Cedonia or Govans are struggling, too) and Northwest beyond Belvedere. There are other near-downtown neighborhoods – Bolton Hill, Ridgely’s Delight, the South Baltimore peninsula, some blocks near Union Square and of course the Charles Street north-south corridor through Mt. Vernon and Charles Village and upinto west Waverly and Hampden — that are quite vibrant.

              Honestly, Ms. Eva, I think that “postage stamp” remark just revealed you a bit. I hope not. But it’s almost willfully myopic to assert for half a city that is economically viable and eminently liveable while seeing the other full half of that city, which is not, in miniature. No wonder that a more nuanced assessment of Baltimore’s strengths and problems never finds your ears. You’ve managed to shunt the city’s fundamental problems onto a postage stamp. We are talking hundreds of square blocks of an American city consigned to life outside the legitimate economic model. And you’ve managed to fit it all on to your stamp.

              Baltimore has some of the highest rates of narcotics use and addiction in America, according to DAWN statistics based on hospital admissions. It has the fifth highest homicide rate in the U.S. It is the seventh highest overall for violent crime. It is one of the most undereducated cities in the country by virtue of a public school system that graduates slightly over 50 percent of its students when expulsions and the student withdrawal rates are calculated honestly, and at all but the citywide high schools, the educational level of graduates is sadly marginal in terms of preparing graduates for any higher education. Actual full-time employment for adult African-American males under 40 is probably about 50 percent. And since 1980 the city has lost a seventh of its population. More than 12000 derelict homes remain, and that’s after a complete demolition of about as many others. The largest private employer, either equal to Johns Hopkins University or just behind it, may well be the illegal drug trade.

              If all this happened because of the goings-on within a “postage stamp,” then what a remarkably dominant stamp that small little precinct must be to cause such havoc.

              Your assessment of what people told you about “The Wire” overseas is your own, of course, and you are entitled to it. And you are entitled to your own opinions. But no one, as Mr. Moynihan so famously noted, is entitled to their own facts, and in trying to ridiculously marginalize the world of The Wire out of its actual and substantive proportions you have perfectly demonstrated the reason that Mr. Rowe’s initial comments are so destructive to public discourse about urban American and its future. You seem to be saying — as did he — that significant, entrenched problems of the American city, its present and its future are minor and of less consequence than that which remains viable, and you seem to be suggesting that it’s a bad thing that this “postage stamp” gets so much attention.

              If you’ve been back to Baltimore in the last thirty years and truly explored the city, you could not offer such a callous, dishonest phrase. Unless of course you only maneuvered through half of the city, the half that you found welcoming and pleasant to you, personally. But elsewhere there is another Baltimore, as physically large and fixed as your own, and ignoring it makes you part of the problem, I’m sorry to say. “Postage stamp,” really got me. That was just wrong of you. Damn near half of our city lives near or at the margins.

              Reply
            • kt says:

              Hey, Harpo films is producing an HBO film about Henrietta Lacks. Although I don’t know if exploring the ethics of the Johns Hopkins medicine & research programs was really what you were getting at here.

              Actually, since you bring it up, I’d love to see any kind of fictionalized or documentary portrayal, in film or TV, of the Hopkins research program and its history (can you imagine — I feel like I’m gonna get put on some kind of watchlist just for typing this). One unfortunate factor in the success of hospitals and doctors in this region is that due to the widespread poverty, there are serious public health issues to be studied, and plenty of people willing to participate in clinical trials for a few bucks and a warm bed. Few A-grade first class research institutions have Hopkin’s advantage (odd as it may seem to dub it that) of being geographically placed in the middle of a Third-World case study pool.

              Not just Hopkins, but generally, hospitals thrive here because so many people are chronically ill since they never could afford proper health care or insurance, or are injured as a side effect of the drug war, etc. That is not something that speaks all that highly of Baltimore, if you really delve into it.

              Reply
              • katie says:

                So looking forward to that Lacks movie. Yeah, there are definitely issues of “who owns my parts” that haven’t been reconciled.

                Eva, I had cancer too, also have been successfully treated (so far) and while I think my docs are da bomb, I don’t think they need any additional help in the PR department. Mr. Simon is giving voice to those who don’t have a place at the table (mixing metaphors, I know), not those who have already have the means to afford top-notch PR and millions in lobbyists annually.

                Reply
                • kt says:

                  I haven’t heard much about the movie since the property was acquired, so I hope that doesn’t mean it’s stalled. I’m looking forward to it too.

                  Reply
    • kt says:

      I find this unlikely considering that THE WIRE has not even aired on most of those continents. Unless DVD sales in South America are through the roof…

      Reply
      • Eva says:

        Have you ever even been to any of these countries?

        Reply
      • Eva says:

        Have you ever even been to these continents? Have you heard of the internet or Apple TV.?Duh

        Reply
        • kt says:

          I apologize, I misread your original comment. For some reason, I thought you were saying you OFTEN encounter people who say this. It seemed unlikely to me that everyone you meet everywhere you go happened to have heard of a show that was not broadcast or advertised in their region.

          I see you were actually clearly saying there is ONE person in most places you go. Gotcha – and sorry about that.

          I don’t mean this to sound callous but frankly I don’t think it’s such a bad thing if international folks see the “gross” side of Baltimore. I think that’s a bit of a judgmental way for them to put it, and I think THE WIRE is trying to be more compassionate and complex than that, but the truth is there are aspects of Baltimore that are not pretty to look at or hear about. Nonetheless, they are the reality, and in my opinion it does no good to ignore them. Our murder rate remains the same whether we choose to examine the reasons why or not.

          As for our international image — Baltimore was recently ranked the 36th most dangerous city in the world. So I’m sorry to say, they already know and they didn’t need a television show to tell them (although if they wanna know WHY, they might wanna watch).

          Reply
  12. Andy says:

    Mr. Simon,

    Had Mr. Rowe presented his argument without the hyperbole of “drug addicts, pimps and prostitutes,” would it have been better received?

    I think both of you make great points that are somewhat lost in this medium. You tell stories of the underclass, but, the fear is that many fail to understand the points you are trying to make. Both The Wire and The Corner tell a story of a Baltimore that is struggling with itself, but it highlights drug use and incredible violence. Do you fear that sometimes people are lost in this? I encourage people to watch The Corner to get a better grasp of what is going on in Baltimore, but the popularity of The Wire, with the extreme violence perpetrated upon Stringer Bell and by Chris Partlow and Snoop, displaces much of the empathy we may feel.

    Like Mr. Rowe, I don’t live in Baltimore anymore. When people ask me about Baltimore, and if it’s really like The Wire, I say “yes,” because having once worked in law enforcement, I can tell you The Wire certainly illustrates a large part of Baltimore’s narrative. Unfortunately, it’s not a complete narrative. It doesn’t tell the story of those trying to make Baltimore a better place for the school kids featured in season 4, or the efforts of others to bring legitimat jobs back to town.

    Either way, I think the two of you should try a more personal medium….a face to face conversation.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      The Wire is about what it is about. It is not about what it isn’t about. Same is true for The Corner, or Homicide, or Treme, or Generation Kill, or presently, Show Me A Hero. No story is about everything. If a story attempts to be about everything, it will be about nothing.

      This goes for all storytelling. Including that of Mr. Rowe, of course.

      I, for one, am interested in the America that has been left behind and what that means for all of us. Others can be interested in what they wish. I will make a small point, however, that comes from personal memory. Years ago, the Baltimore Sun had a poverty beat in which one reporter in the newsroom was assigned to cover the dynamics of poverty, the agencies charged with addressing poverty and the policies undertaken by those agencies, as well as the issues surrounding deprivation in Baltimore and Maryland. A new editor in chief at The Sun, a fellow of a more conservative bent, decided that the poverty beat was depressing. On arriving in Baltimore from another city, he dined and socialized with many in Baltimore who were enthusiastic about the good work that they were doing to alleviate poverty and economic disparity here. There should be more stories about them, and their good works.

      Can you guess what happened? The poverty beat was renamed the non-profits beat and a new reporter was assigned to heavily cover the efforts of the new editor’s favorite dinner companions. The poor did not disappear from Baltimore. Economic disparity widened. The drug war continued unabated. State incarceration rates climbed dramatically. But the Baltimore Sun had replaced much of its reporting on the poor with some good news about nice people.

      In that true parable, you might find a portion of my answer to your question.

      Mr. Rowe would certainly have engendered less concern from me had he managed to assert for the stories he wished to tell without doing his utmost to stereotype and marginalize the America that stands apart from his narratives. But regardless, there is nothing that convinces me that the stories we have told should not exist, or need to be specifically countered. Let other stories be told? Of course. Always. Have The Wire or our other work be part of a varied depiction of reality? Certainly. Of course, Baltimore has already been the subject of a considerable amount of storytelling that has nothing to do with The Wire, or Homicide. And it will continue to be. And that is its own, inevitable solution, and a viable one, as opposed to, say, arguing against the imagery and narrative of those tales that don’t suit the purpose of ambitious political leaders, acquisitive business and real estate interests, paid celebrity boosters and people who are otherwise content with the status quo in this city. That’s not an argument for a better Baltimore, just an argument for more of what the last fifty years of neglect and indifference have wrought in large tracts of our city.

      Reply
  13. Ben says:

    Forgive the brown-nosing, but how does a mere mortal go about becoming half the writer you are?

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      It is unforgivable. I could send that email to a hundred other writers without hesitation.

      Reply
      • Ben says:

        And what advice do you think they might give?

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Read widely. Now, ass to chair. Stare at the paper. Try again. Make it better. Rewrite. Again. And Again.

          At least I hope that would be their advice. I would hate to think that the writers who are far better than me got there with all the ease and simplicity that eludes me. I want to think that beads of blood form on their foreheads as they stare at the page. Otherwise, I’m even worse at this than I think….

          Reply
  14. Jay A. Kelley says:

    Both men work in the entertainment industry. Let’s not make more of this than it is. Entertainment. I have an original idea. Given our current political atmosphere, why don’t you two kids try to do something unique? David, take up Mike on his offer, go have beer, and both of you focus on ways you can work together instead of this childish arguing.

    I have more than enough people running around mass media telling me why they are right and the other guy is wrong. Frankly, I am tired of it. It shows laziness. It’s always easier to fight than to put the goal first. You both seem to care about Baltimore, so do something with that. Show our politicians and the people in Ferguson (about 10 miles from me) how it’s supposed to be done.

    Or keep it up and I’ll turn this car around. I will!

    Jay

    Reply
  15. FliesFishy says:

    I think your points about defending the rights and really the importance of telling story that run against the PR sensitivities of persons in authority/privilege. This is a VERY strange PR undertaking for Mr. Rowe and some of his underlying ideas/language has an agenda that is hilariously creepy/awful/ineptly disguised as morality. It’s victorian lurid.

    I found Mike Rowe’s language way more offensive than anything he said about the show. Quite frankly I find it hard to get through to his criticism of narrative when he’s basically implying that ‘pimps’, ‘hookers’ ‘whores’, heroin addicts, and people with gonorrhea (which I’m just going to say, seems bizarrely specific to me) are not fully people.

    They don’t deserve to have their stories told if it will besmirch his opinion of the city. But also that these are categorically these are peoples stories that he understands and can write off (as what exploitation? Like to what end? Because the ratings and cash were better than a Kardashian video game?)
    Anyway, you fought your own battle on that.

    But I guess I wished it bothered everyone a little more that those words are inherently dehumanizing. Ostensibly he’s put himself in the positions of City Benefactor and the way he defines that if your narrative doesn’t fit his “authentic” narrative then don’t bother him.

    (‘No pushers or pimps. You guys have had enough press.”)

    I’m not sure that they have because apparently Mike Rowe’s ability to empathize with them is non-existent. It’s disturbing. Even more so if has claimed to enjoy the show. I don’t know what he was enjoying except possibly the stupid strip club settings .

    To claim you enjoy something and volunteer for a PR campaigned, which you cite as designed specifically to refute it’s contribution to civic discussion, seems a dubious set of claims.

    I think it would be worth it for Mike Rowe to reexamine the premise that those people are less “authentic” than he is. And whether this campaign is really aimed at enforcing that idea.

    Here what I’m getting out of Mike Rowe’s PR campaign. Mike Rowe is a fairly uninformed narcissist who has a suspicious level of interest in denying the humanity of people “beneath him”. And a curious tendency to embellish other people’s work with some pretty unsavory ideas.

    I didn’t see Homicide but I don’t recall a storyline in the Wire about a tourist who rolled into town bought drugs, “finds a whore” (ahhhhhhh!), and then gets murdered. But I’m glad to know that Mike Rowe is really worried about his well being.

    That guy he can empathize with. That guy needs to be directed to the safer parts of this city. Where you can safely have the best of both worlds without ever having to stop and think – hey is it possible this dealer is caught in a situation that is all but impossible to escape that has nothing to do with his moral character?

    Or hey is this “whore” maybe not in it for the awesome sexual adventures and high death risk but possibly the victim of a system of sexual exploitation and semi-enslavement? I sure hope she doesn’t have gonorrhea. Because that could really mess up the tourist’s life.

    And YEAH, the tourist is definitely the one that ends up dead in this scenario. When he’s been preyed on by these bloodthirsty, press-happy, scumbags and there name to cook up storylines that net them huge ratings and profits.

    Why would anyone suggest that his PR campaign is on behalf of a hypothetical tourist who wants to continue benefitting from a system in which they dehumanize and exploit the poverty of people beneath them and they really don’t want to be told that those people might be people of infinite variety some with feelings as real as his own.

    And some with hilariously misguided ideas…which also might feel familiar to him.

    Anyway that can’t be true! He loves THE WIRE.

    But I’m going to go ahead and give Mr. Rowe some free PR advice, because I love him. I’m mean I haven’t seen anything he’s done but I love him. And I’m concerned about him. As a storyteller himself, it might be useful for him to just write something down and then examine how and why he feels that way. For example before he publishes it.

    It’s possible, that he could prevent unwittingly embarrassing himself. It might also make him a much better and more thoughtful storyteller to question his own POV. But I assume he is genuine in his care for the city and has room in his heart to examine what it might be like to be a person who is essentially commodified or viewed as disposable.

    And that for someone who wants to help the city to use words as tacit acts of oppression is maybe not something that anyone in the city is benefiting from – least of all him.

    Cause I feel super bummed this dude is on TV. Crazy letter to CNN writing bummed .

    Reply
    • FliesFishy says:

      My apologies. Mr. Simon and several others had actually gotten into the dehumanizing language in the comments already. Sorry I went off on a rant after reading the original postings but with only having looked at a few comments. Comments sections seem like a very unwieldily place to have a discussion about anything because of all the repetition, my apologies for contributing to that. Is an EDIT button if possible?

      Reply
  16. Chuck Melton says:

    Honest,y, for as gifted as a story teller as you are, I’d really have hoped that you had better reading comprehension skills. Mike Rowe asserted that there is a large number of people that have had their image of Baltimore colored by your wonderful work. This is an indisputable fact. Rowe then said that he wants to help portray other views of the city.

    I can understand being defensive of your argument, but assigning intent to out of context comments and building a strawman argument against someone that wants to do something good leaves you looking douchey and out of touch.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Disagree. Mr. Rowe’s characterizations of pimps, whores, drug dealers and Baltimore as a great place to get shot and riddled with veneral disease is the hyperbole of someone who is using contempt to marginalize a portion of Baltimore that we took care to chronicle with somewhat more human empathy. I found his words to be contemptuous — not of The Wire, and certainly not of me. But of people from an America other than the one that Mr. Rowe wants to exalt? Yes, definitely.

      That is what I found offensive. If you can’t see a distinction, and can’t see Mr. Rowe’s words for their actual intent, your concerns about reading comprehension are misdirected.

      Reply
  17. Chris Baird says:

    Mr. Simon,

    What a well crafted, pointed response to Mr. Rowe’s comments. I watched both Homicide and The Wire, and have since visited Baltimore and enjoyed my time there without fear that the whole of the city is populated by pimps, whores, and other miscreants. I am intelligent enough to understand that one story, one narrative, does not represent all stories or all narratives.

    With that said, respectfully, Mike Schmidt > Brooks Robinson. Every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

    Regards,
    C. Baird

    Reply
  18. James says:

    Surely, in some alternate universe, there is an episode of Dirty Jobs were Mike works for a week at the Towers.

    Reply
  19. Cattie says:

    The Wire was a tale of an blue collar city ravaged by unfettered capitalism. It realistically portrayed survival in a city with failing schools, the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, the criminalization of disease and the politicians who built their careers on their misery. The love people had for the characters in this show negated the Reagan stereotypes of the poor and in my opinion created an early dialogue about the insanity of the war on drugs.

    As a lifetime resident of Baltimore who yesterday attended a funeral for a 21 year who overdosed while awaiting treatment which was to begin next week, I applaud your work and hope you continue to write the tales of everyman during the death of our empire.

    Reply
  20. David Larsson says:

    I understand that Mr. Rowe’s critique is deeply admired by that journalism felolw, Dean Wormer. Dean Martin, too. Keep the sordid stories coming, Mr. City Editor.

    Reply
  21. Rob Bell says:

    I really don’t understand why this guy feels David is bound to tell a certain type of story. I also don’t think The Wire was a completely cynical or negative depiction of Baltimore. It was obviously about EVERY city. The other America that exists in EVERY city. But let’s say the show was JUST ABOUT BALTIMORE. Even if that were the case, many characters on the show were extremely good people (Lt. Daniels, Lester, Bubbles) and they had struggles with institutions as they tried to do the right thing.

    It’s simply not accurate to say that there is absolutely nothing positive about The Wire. Why point out societal problems that are ignored by the status quo, or problems in general for that matter, unless you’re trying to draw attention to it (which would at least shine a light on the problem and communicate that such a problem is something to work against)?

    While the socio-political issues explored are extremely complex and invidious, it is not

    Sometimes, you can tell a nice, positive, upbeat story. The Wire never said you can’t or shouldn’t and Mr. Simon hasn’t said that either. However, to say that a certain narrative highlighting problems that are typically brushed off with a “oh, what a shame” by most of us is inaccurate is the very thing that a teller of such a narrative is struggling against by trying to tell the story. In other words, the noise and criticism that comes when these stories (specifically those of The Wire) are told is part of the problem itself: people deny these problems even exist because it doesn’t effect them personally, and stick to a status quo view of everything.

    This is a silly non-issue.

    Reply
  22. James says:

    You are both being unnecessarily defensive.

    Reply
    • BC says:

      I agree. This is all very silly. The Wire told great stories. It told important stories. There remain untold stories. Mike Rowe will tell some – in a different style and one might argue that, due to the format, the stories won’t be as deep or as impactful. That’s OK. More stories are better than fewer.

      But there can be no doubt The Wire was extremely successful. And no one can doubt that some viewers – maybe many many viewers – experience media and fail to recognize that other sources of experience (other media as well as direct, personal experience) are necessary to synthesize a complete picture of a place. They accept the stories they are told as the only stories. That’s why more stories and a great diversity of stories are important.

      Let’s not get defensive if one painter says that the existing paintings of a scene – despite their genius and their eye-opening impact – are not the last word; that additional perspectives on the scene – from a different angle, with different light – might also open some eyes. Disagree with his interpretation of your painting. But recognize that, no matter how well each painter accomplishes his vision, neither he nor you can completely control the impact your paintings have on every viewer.

      Reply
      • David Simon says:

        Terrible, half-assed metaphor, but okay, I’ll bite:

        How about this? How about an honest painter shows up, puts his canvas on the easel and paints his own fucking picture. How about that? Offer the imagery he thinks needs to be seen, the narrative he believes to be true and necessary, and don’t worry about wandering through the museum and deciding which paintings have a shade too much whore or too much pimp in the palate for the museum’s own good, or for the community’s benefit.

        Mr. Rowe did not restrain himself in his reductive assessments. He saw only whores and pimps and dealers and a Baltimore that he thinks needs to be ignored or countered — not augmented by other imagery, not placed in proper context, but countered. Nothing in my comments fails to give him the benefit of the doubt as to his own intents and purposes; while nothing in his comments suggests that storytelling that runs counter to his purpose offers him any content beyond crude depictions of human depravity. He went there, cynically and willingly.

        Dear Mr. Rowe, paint any picture you want. Use the canvas to your very purpose. Create something new. Provide new insight and vision. But a preamble in which the artist feels the need to run around wailing that other paintings are not the last word, that their subject matter is distasteful or depraved, and, hey, wait until you see my prettier pictures? Really? That’s what we need?

        Nothing is the last word. Ever. That’s obvious and assumed. So how about just painting — doing your best work, creating the imagery you think needs be seen? How about presuming that there is room in the museum for any and everyone, instead of crying about something hanging on the next wall, or explaining why it’s a problem for the museum, or cringing because someone who wanders past and looks at a disturbing image might not fully understand it or contextualize it?

        Too much class for some folks, I know.

        Reply
        • kt says:

          I think Mr. Rowe may not have actually watched the show, b/c of this emphasis on “pimps”. Correct me if I’m wrong — are there even any pimps in THE WIRE? Certainly in the background somewhere — or the backstory of some of the characters. There were some strip-club owners. But I do not recall an actual scene where a prostitute’s wares were peddled by another person who then received a cut of the money.

          Maybe I’m forgetting something, but if this is the ONLY impression of characters that a viewer came away with, wouldn’t it have had to be a prominent theme? Are we counting the dead girls at the beginning of season 2? If so, we never met the pimp they were presumably being shuttled to. Am I the only one nitpicking about this? Heh.

          There are not even any main characters that are prostitutes, just a few background players in Hamsterdam and those girls in the box, who hardly had any choice in the matter and whom were dead before they appeared on screen.

          But, y’know, sold into sex slavery or not, I guess that’s their own fault for being criminals! Thanks for reminding us of the good old-fashioned values of human decency and community that should prevent us from feeling compassion for or interest in stories like that, Mr. Rowe.

          Reply
  23. kt says:

    Lord spare me another “Baltimore is more than just THE WIRE!” essay. They are rapidly becoming more of a cliché than the ever-present “I’m a white middle-class person who wants to raise my kids in the sweet rowhome I got at a steal in a gentrifying neighborhood, but I can’t walk from Patterson Park to Canton without being reminded that poverty exists” fear blogs.

    Look, I love Barry Levinson movies, but I don’t come away from them thinking Baltimore is nothing but Jewish dudes who came of age in the 1950s to a rockin’ pop and R&B soundtrack, and a lot of complex intersectional class issues. Nor do John Waters’s delightful films convince me that the city is entirely composed of bee-hived eccentrics and sexual deviants (emphasis on “entirely”).

    If you wanna read about Roland Park, there’s always Anne Tyler.

    I don’t think any one of these writers, or you, Mr. Simon, have ever purported to be representing all aspects of Baltimore. No one writer, or book, or movie, or tv show can do that. Baltimore is a wonderful city with a rich history. She makes a great muse. The camera loves her, but she looks different from every angle. And she’s got a lot of stories up her sleeve that haven’t been told yet at all. That’s true of any city, really.

    Expecting rah-rah pro-business tourism propaganda from a Simon piece is like expecting Anne Tyler to write a book about the corner. Let us render unto each writer their own perspective, their own interests, and their own strengths.

    THE WIRE brought Baltimore a lot of international press, a good chunk of money put into the local economy, and a precedent (and crew talent base) for other movies and shows to film here. Is that so worthy of disdain? I don’t believe it scares tourists away. It’s depicting areas that tourists never go to anyway. (Hell, I have had more than one out of town friend actually request “THE WIRE tour”, and it was so embarrassing that I couldn’t even begin to explain to them that apparently they didn’t understand the show.)

    As for scaring potential residents away…well, I think addressing the actual problems of the city would solve that issue more readily than attacking a television show that depicted them.

    Reply
  24. Stevep says:

    I love the Wire..great drama, mostly produced by homegrown film talent. However, so much modern discourse is based on mind numbing narratives that have little to do with complex realities. Unfortunately in the media and the general public “The Wire” has become the narrative for Baltimore..as in “You know, like The Wire….”. The complex stories and characters do get lost in this process. Mr. Simon and his excellent show are certainly not to blame for this problem..but sometimes it gets real old.

    Reply
  25. PY says:

    By the way, Mike Rowe is from the COUNTY

    Reply
  26. Sebastian Sassi says:

    As someone who spent seven years in a gritty SW Baltimore neighborhood chasing the dream of urban renewal, someone who risked life and limb, sanity and fiscal health, someone who saw the depravity of the drug war and its fallout first hand for a very long time…I still haven’t read a version of the “we just need the positive stories too” narrative that doesn’t make me want to put my boot through my computer screen.

    Mike Rowe’s a respectable guy and I’m glad he’s giving Bawlmer some love, but he needs to do it without denigrating the efforts of people who tell it like it is.

    Reply
  27. Mike says:

    Baltimore, at least when I lived there a long time ago, was a city where even a privileged kid like me saw a little more of some darker realities than I have living 16 years in Chicago.

    I was a middle-class kid who grew up in the burbs and went to college in Baltimore. I lived in Medfield and worked at the liquor store at The Rotunda (now evolved into The Wine Source). I made deliveries for the store so I got to meet and see all kinds of different people, rich and poor.

    I honestly don’t think my experiences with others have been as interesting, challenging or rewarding since my years in Baltimore. Maybe it’s because I was young and working retail. Maybe it’s because I was there from 1990-1995. For me, back then, it was a place where I was much more likely to bump into and interact with people completely different than me. That’s harder to experience in Chicago, or at least where I’ve lived in Chicago. I treasure my years in Baltimore.

    Watching The Wire was a big deal. Even though it obviously reminded me of Baltimore, it was much larger than Baltimore to me. After Homicide, I think I was a bit unprepared for The Wire. My wife is a teacher in a Chicago public high school, so that season in particular, while somewhat of a confirmation, was still sad and infuriating to me. And the drug dealers … they reminded me of Deandre, a real person I’d read about 20 years before. They reminded me of the drug dealing kids in my ex-girlfriend’s neighborhood when I first moved to Chicago in 1996. They’d hold the door for you when walking into a store, like anyone else. One of them said something inappropriate to my girlfriend and she took him aside (away from his friends) and shamed him into apologizing to her.

    The crying out in The Wire is the cry of someone who loves cities and America far more than most politicians do.

    Anyone who claims The Wire is damaging to the city’s civic pride is either doing so out of self-interest or is as dumb as a box of rocks. What I find far more tragic than criticism of the show, is that it didn’t have the viewership.

    Reply
  28. Michael says:

    Pardon if I am incorrect, but I suspect “nation were those things” is not quite what you intended to print.

    Reply
  29. Vincent Vizachero says:

    It is clear from this back-and-forth that David Simon has a very clear grasp on what he we was thinking when he wrote “The Wire”. It is also clear that Simon has a less firm grasp on how people perceive what he wrote.

    Reply
  30. Amy C. says:

    The Wire is an American tale, with Baltimore merely being a particular place chosen in a particular time to tell that tale. There are dozens of American cities that could have been chosen instead. I do not think that anyone should feel singled out, unless they truly missed the point of the story.

    Reply
  31. Charles Wagner says:

    I think that there was absolutely nothing wrong with your riposte to Rowe – except for the last line. “Not yet, apparently. And for some folks, maybe never” could have been “Of course there is. And I challenge Mike Rowe to come back to his native city to help solve the city’s problems and move the city forward.”

    Reply
    • Charles Wagner says:

      Just read Rowe’s blog post “After, After The Wire.”. I can see why you ended your blog post the way you did. He came off as flippant at the end.

      Reply
  32. Tom T says:

    This quote shows how out of tune Mr. Simon is: “They are stories about one America, long and purposely ignored and isolated, and while set in Baltimore, they are applicable to East St. Louis or South Chicago or North Philadelphia. Anyone who thinks The Wire is all of Baltimore is as much a fool as anyone who can be shown a crabcake and convinced that the Inner Harbor is all of the city. Pretending otherwise — from either end — is a mug’s game.”

    Reply
    • Bazarov says:

      Care to argue how this quote proves Simon to be “out of tune?” Or are we just throwing rocks?

      Reply
    • John Purcell says:

      Out of tune? The Wire reflects life as the creator sees it. It’s still fiction. It only happens to be set in Baltimore because it has to be set somewhere…

      Reply
  33. The Other Tim says:

    So an acceptance of his offer to buy you a beer won’t be forthcoming? (Offer extended to Baynard Woods of CP as well.)

    Reply
  34. Chris says:

    Hello Mr. Simon,

    I appreciate the thoughts you expressed here. It’s a strongly articulated argument, and I enjoyed seeing your perspective.

    You have received numerous accolades for your work, all of them deserved. The quality, and the story-telling stand on their own.

    I never had a problem with you exposing those realities of our City to a National / World audience. As you state above, this could have been set in numerous other locales with the themes remaining the same.

    The issues you covered, need to be looked at and addressed – not swept under the carpet.

    Where I would disagree with you, is your estimation that much of your audience understands there is more to Baltimore, and the Baltimore Metro as a whole vs. what they were exposed to on the show.

    If we could poll The Wire viewers as a whole, I would guess it would be a minimal percentage which would realize that the Baltimore Metro (Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County) is one of the most affluent areas of the country in-terms of education (13.8% had advanced degrees as of 2009 – good for 5th highest in the country, and the schools are top-rated) and wealth (MD’s median income highest in the country).

    Or that Baltimore’s industries are now less about steel and shipping; and more about BioSciences, Educational Technology, and all the Financial Services jobs (such as T.Rowe Price, and Legg Mason). (Of course also Federal jobs.)

    By measurements of the Metro as a whole, Baltimore has much in-common with cities like Seattle, Denver, and Atlanta. That is clearly not the perception of Charm City as a whole Nationally.

    I never thought it was your responsibility to show the positive side of Baltimore and the Metro. You were telling a telling a factual story about the problems which do exist.

    Also, if the City / Metro was negatively impacted perception wise by the realities you showed – that was also not your responsibility. The City / Metro / State / US as a whole should be working to reverse those realities vs. shooting you as the messenger.

    On a separate topic, I think it is also interesting to note that unlike many American cities, Baltimore is not incorporated into the surrounding County. I wish a larger study could be done on the impact of that.

    Reply
    • CyberVinnie says:

      “Where I would disagree with you, is your estimation that much of your audience understands there is more to Baltimore…”

      What show were you watching? There was more to D’Angelo, and Stringer, and Omar, and McNulty, and Bubbles, and all of the other characters in The Wire, so of course the audience understands there is more to Baltimore. I mean isn’t that one of the points of the story? You can’t stereotype someone simply because they do drugs or sell drugs or walk a beat — there’s more to them than just that. Just like there’s more to Baltimore than just the low risers.

      Reply
      • Chris says:

        The fact that the characters had depth, doesn’t mean the audience realizes there is more to Baltimore.

        Look at the comments of any article about the City. It can be something as simple as a travel guide; and there are always numerous comments about all of Baltimore being The Wire.

        Nationally, there is very little knowledge about the strengths of the Metro as a whole. That has nothing to do with Simon, or the show. It’s a failure of the leaders of the Metro (and the State), to properly articulate the positives which do exist.

        Reply
  35. SLB says:

    I think the creative endeavor you undertook to depict the truest stories of Baltimore’s untold victims is certainly one way to introduce non-Baltimoreans to life here in this city (which seems not all that unique to other urban settings). In every place there are those that are marginalized (and those who aren’t) and a host of societal challenges, i.e. drug wars, that urban areas large and small must somehow navigate. The question is why? As a creative you could write about anything, anyone, anywhere you choose. The real question about The Wire is why did you choose that story to be told in that way? All of us who live in Baltimore are well aware of it’s sore spots, it’s bruises…they’ve been true to us long before The Wire’s story was told to the rest of the nation. And I suspect that if the stories of The Wire had been set in any other town (real or fictional) it wouldn’t have made them less believable. Baltimore, however, had already built a reputation told through the statistics of crime fueled by drugs. The Wire’s story served to reinforce that truth and lend credibility to the corruption and the crime numbers. If we ever hope as a city to overcome these ills, it will be through the support (financial and otherwise) from non-Baltimoreans who chose to invest in this city. What truly becomes marginalized in this instance is the depictions of positive change that are just as truthful and worthy of creative storytelling. It’s not simply PR, it’s what every large urban area relies on to attract support needed to address real challenges like crime, drug trade, abandoned neighborhoods and blight. Any story has an intended purpose, the question is what was yours? If it was to impress upon viewers how riddled the city is with drugs, crime and corruption then mission accomplished. If anything, the debate about The Wire continues solely because your work (independent of viewers and ratings) is so powerful and effective that it’s helped fuel Baltimore’s brand as a city sicker than most.

    Reply
  36. redux says:

    The contrast between the world of MR and DS as seen through their respective eyes could not be more profound. DS has explained something which was there all the time, but remains invisible, story untold, and yet leaves its fingerprints on our society.

    MR probably has a more top down approach to get his content, which is to talk to people directly, see how they interact with their world. The societal forces remain unseen. Are the people interviewed the most profound stories to be told, or are they the ones most agreeable to networks of marketers and salesmen? Is there a greater purpose there, other than to promote something which is beneficial to both parties? The phony references to him selling his own show makes it very difficult to believe that he has anything worth while saying.

    Reply
  37. Phil says:

    I would argue that Mike Rowe didn’t actually assert to the contrary many of the points you defended. I think the main issue taken with the words and actions of Mr. Rowe was that Baltimore has an image problem. Almost anyone who is from Baltimore and travels and tells those they meet that they are from Baltimore are asked, “Is Baltimore really like ‘The Wire?'” It’s not the fault of the show of which many Baltimoreans, myself and Mike Rowe included, are fans. But as many people have very little context to place Baltimore, they rely on what they know: Homicide and The Wire (and Roc, if we want to be fair). So when people who do not know our fair city think Baltimore, they think about the stories that aren’t so pretty and adopt these thoughts as their perception of us.
    Nothing you said here is incorrect. The not-so-pretty stories MUST be told. It is essential to bring about discussion and change. But Mike Rowe never really said anything to the contrary. Just that he wants to show a different side of Baltimore, so that maybe people who are not connected with Baltimore can have more than what is already available to them on which to base their perceptions.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      I would reply to your argument by saying again that I have been precise: I have affirmed for Mr. Rowe’s storytelling, and I have only been critical on a single point of his reply: His clear attempt to marginalize our narratives as the stories of “drug dealers” and “pimps” which, of course, is an attempt to undermine the substance of those narratives.

      He could accomplished his goals without that hyperbole. He chose to go there.

      Reply
      • Phil says:

        Mr. Simon,
        I truly appreciate your response. I really do. The fact that David Simon responded to me is “up there” on my list of cool shit that’s happened to me.
        I still respectfully disagree with the original intent of what Mike Rowe wanted to do, and while I understand that it seems an affront to your excellent product, what he is attempting to do didn’t (at least, originally) try to put said product on trial or demean your superb body of work.
        I am a fan of both what you have done and what Mr. Rowe is trying to do. I see no reason for dissent between either of you. Much has been made of what seems like mole hills, but I suppose that is the way things are in today’s society. I don’t think he meant to “go there” in the light in which he is being portrayed. Nor do I think that you “went” anywhere that the people of Baltimore would object to, myself included. I do however understand your taking issue with, in my eyes, is something that only SEEMS to put your fabulous work under a microscope it doesn’t need to be under.
        Thank you for taking the time to respond, I truly appreciate it as a fan and as a citizen invested in the finest city America has to offer via its history, its people, its neighborhoods, and its charm. Keep up the great work.
        Phil Turner

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          I understand the distinction you are trying to make.

          You are misunderstanding the distinction that matters to me: I don’t care whether or not Mr. Rowe likes or dislikes the work I do. He is entitled to any opinion or no opinion. I do not feel at all put upon by anything he says about my narratives.

          I am offended at the manner in which he characterizes some of the characters who populate that work and his denigration of them as the inconsequential or derogatory “other” who are undeserving of anyone’s narrative. That isn’t a critique of my work and I don’t take it so. That is a critique of the other Baltimore, the other America. It is a clarion call to continue to ignore the portion of our society that has been systematically ignored by our media culture as humanity, and merely chronicled for its pathology, for decades now. That attitude is part of what has led to our war against the poor and our prison-industrial complex.

          If Mr. Rowe is all about improving Baltimore’s image and that is the purpose here, then I am with him. He needs to assert for that and work for that. If he can only improve the city’s image by attempting to argue against other narratives that have other purposes, and by suggesting that too much attention has been directed at those parts of Baltimore where, in fact, very little societal attention and commitment is ever directed, then no.

          Does it make more sense now?

          Reply
          • BC says:

            I posted a reply to a comment further up the page before reading the rest. So I’d like to expand on my prior comments here.

            Mr. Rowe stated that your two shows “convinced millions of Americans that Baltimore is a fantastic place to buy drugs, find a whore, or get murdered. Better yet…all three at once! ” The very fact that so many people ask Baltimoreans if Baltimore is really like that (and they DO ask that question) means they are more apt than we would like to think to accept stories depicting some aspect of a place as being the sum-total or the entirety of that place. Even if you did not INTEND for them to think of The Wire as the entirety of “the Baltimore experience”, they are inclined that way. Not everyone. But, sadly, many.

            Art has some unintended consequences. Fortunately, your art has also had some profound INTENDED consequences. It hasn’t been stated otherwise in this whole affair.

            Mr. Rowe did not state that the series were ONLY about drugs and whores and murder. But (and he did not state this) long after the details of the stories of the individual characters are forgotten, the overall impression of the city remains negative for many and without the recognition that there are many other stories left untold – stories The Wire was not responsible to tell.

            As I stated in my earlier post, more stories are better than fewer. Mr. Rowe believes his stories can help flesh out a more complete picture of Baltimore – an ADDITION to your stories. To promote his mission, he needs to make his vision appear important. So he contrasts it with The Wire. Why? Because it is an important body of work and one with broad awareness. Consider it a compliment rather than a slight.

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              Mr. Rowe saw no need to more carefully or fully categorize the characters in the work than he did, to even imply that there was other human content beyond whores and pimps and drug dealers. He was reductive and deliberately so. Having you reach for more context after the fact scarcely paints his performance in a better light.

              I do not require a better opinion of my work from Mr. Rowe. He is entitled to any opinions he has, whatever they are. Nor would I presume to argue with his critique of the show. I do care that he uses the currency of classist stereotypes as his currency of marginalization. Get it?

              The difference here is elemental and you are really missing it:

              It is no matter what anyone thinks of The Wire, or of me, for that matter. It matters to me that by sneering at the other America and categorizing its citizens in the most reductive and contemptuous way possible — whores, pimps, dealers — Mr. Rowe thinks he can sufficiently invalidate the need to examine portions of my city that are otherwise ignored and bypassed consistently.

              Mr. Rowe could have come to town, praised what he loves about Baltimore and asserted for its assets, and no worries. He could pursue the laudable goal of exalting Baltimore without proceeding as he did, without suggesting that storytelling about the America that is not working, that is no longer operating on viable economic or political terms, is merely about whores and dealers and pimps — and therefore, by implication, of no social or ethical value as imagery and idea. But no, he went there. You wish to dismiss his choice and imply that he meant no affront to that portion of my city that needs all the attention and redress it can get. Nah, son. Not buying it.

              Mr. Rowe has my support for telling whatever aspirational stories about Baltimore he can execute. Sincerely. And similarly, he has my contempt for feeling the need to denigrate stories that do not suit his purposes or that complicate his message by virtue of their very existence.

              As for what the audience thinks or doesn’t think — no writer can tell an honest tale while worried about what the most ignorant reader or viewer will glean from his efforts. There are racists who take The Wire’s depiction of the inner city as grist for their mill. Can’t stop them. There are libertarians who take the drama’s critique of bad government as evidence of the need for less government or no government. Can’t help that. And there are assholes who glance at a drama that tries to contend with actual political and economic problems in urban America and then think, stupidly and simplistically, that it’s just a study in human depravity rather than an examination of anything systemic. That it’s all about whores and pimps and dealers, despite the fact that those characters are, in fact, a minority of the complete cast and are being rendered in the same human terms as lawyers or cops or teachers or longshoremen. Can’t write anything that’s worth a damn with such viewers in mind. Gotta write what’s true and hope it finds thinking people. Or, stay silent and write about what I don’t think actually matters to anyone.

              Reply
              • Adam says:

                In your case, you might go further, I think, and say that you can’t write for media consumers looking for great storytelling, but only for those who really want to look at the many civic actions we do and don’t take (and take for granted), and the (perhaps unintentionally, but nevertheless effectively) disharmonious impact of many of those actions.

                So I would say on your behalf… for those who look to the Wire primarily as an example of great storytelling: can’t help that.

                Reply
          • Phil says:

            Mr. Simon,
            If you are not put upon by what Mike Rowe thinks about your narratives, then why the blog post? Why the defensiveness? Are not your characters part of your story telling (to use a more accessible form of the term)?
            So if Mike Rowe, or much of America (I have no hard evidence for this statement, just personal experience and the experiences of others who have shared the same) says your stories are mostly of those of drug dealers and pimps (and I agree, they are also of cops, politicians, teachers, dock workers, and various other professionals in Baltimore) why jump to defend your work? You told me you don’t care about what Mr. Rowe says about the tales you spin. So why the article? Why fan the fires given oxygen by The City Paper? Why continue the dialogue? Why not just not care?
            Your actions and writings, while appreciated (I am a huge fan) continue to perplex.
            A fan boiling down a complex story, even in a flippant manner, to the stories of those who might be viewed as less than savory to the average public eye, even when he misses the intended point of the author, is indeed entitled to his views.
            Phil

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              When the commentary is offensive, and the issue matters, one is obliged to play defense.

              You might consider for how long, and against how much officialdom, we had to contend in order to make The Wire. There were a number of people in authority, with vested interests — ambitious political leaders, real estate developers, inert police commanders, those vested in the maintenance of the drug war’s status quo — who had many reasons to argue against the work being completed. The mayor at one point actually held up filming permits.

              Have you thought for a minute about what it means to assert for the right to publish, or film, or create something political, something that is at points dissent from the narrative that everything is swell, that those administering the status quo are doing so coherently, that our society is going to be just fine?

              Yes, The Wire is done. It stands. But what about the next political assertion by a storyteller that is not wholly popular with authority? And the one after? Not my projects, specifically, but any storyteller? The Wire has been off the air for nearly seven years now and still the argument continues to be joined about whether its narratives were good or bad for Baltimore. Have you wondered for a moment what it says about the health of any democracy’s marketplace of ideas that people are actually arguing, years later, over whether a story that dissented from general affirmation with the status quo was a good or bad thing? Not whether other stories should be allowed to contradict that dissent — we are all in agreement that any and every narrative should be given its due — but that there was a dissent from status quo so disturbing that we should bemoan its civic effect?

              I’m not from the entertainment industry. I am part of it now as an accidental adventure in a medium other than the one for which I was trained. I was a journalist. I think as a journalist. And when any asshole gets up on his hind legs to suggest that there is a story, a political narrative in particular, that can be dismissed because it doesn’t reflect a reality that he values — a tale fit for whores and dealers and addicts, say — my ears prick up. As a newspaperman, I found that many of the stories that readers complained about the newspaper publishing were simply the ones that brought the harshest reality to their doorstep, obliging them to acknowledge that they were living in a world with unresolved conflict and dissonant human agendas. And there were many times when people argued against even the newspaper’s exercise of the right to publish such material. I see no difference with television drama.

              If Mr. Rowe or anyone else can’t manage to assert for their own narratives and imagery without implying that other, contravening narratives are insubstantial or detrimental, then they get my attention. Right now I am in Yonkers, filming a true story about a disturbing time in the racial politics of another American city. Are there a few Mike Rowes in Yonkers who want to argue that this miniseries, by conjuring a time when Yonkers fared poorly in the public light, will be a civic liability? No doubt. There are always people who have any number of arguments against the pursuit of all manner of storytelling. And yet America still needs to contemplate its racial history and its political processes because the issues that Yonkers once confronted are still unresolved nationally. The moment that we start arguing whether stories, if they are rooted in some measure of truth, are good or bad for our collective civic interest is a moment that we begin to potentially create a chilling effect on the free flow of debate and argument. Mr. Rowe’s performance was reactionary, and again, I don’t give two fucks about any critique he has of The Wire, or me; but his diminution of the humanity depicted in the work — scum of the earth as he so narrowly described them — was, to me, very telling.

              If you can’t parse the difference here — and the importance of the distinction — after all of the above, I probably can’t help you going forward. But I’ve been precise. Mr. Rowe should tell his stories; he has my entire support in this. It seems to me that if he’s a class act, he can advocate for his stories without declaring that other narratives are problematic, or merely depraved, or that their message needs to be muted or countered. I distrust anyone who thinks we need to start thinking or talking about muting anything in the marketplace of ideas. And I’ve had my fill of people telling me that shit for the last decade — and not merely ordinary viewers, but people with the power to prevent stories from being told and who, indeed, attempted to wield that power using the same argument that Mr. Rowe has now joined so heedlessly.

              Reply
              • Phil says:

                It is Mr. Rowe’s reductiveness that has upset you. I get it. It was difficult enough to tell your stories and for them to be reduced from something so complex and overarching to a story of pimps, drug dealers and gonorrhea must be slight to your craft. I understand.
                I understand this because I understand what it’s like to have Baltimore, my city, reduced to “The Wire” so many damn times by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. And it’s not just The Wire. The Ravens are all murderers and wife-beaters and that must be what Baltimore is like. The Orioles are all on steroids and are cheaters and that must be what Baltimore is like. Thanks to that ridiculous documentary on heroin that PBS produced, all Baltimoreans are on heroin. That must be what Baltimore is like. It is a slight to our city and our city must be defended.
                And I suppose that’s what Mike Rowe is trying to do. In that light, he perhaps should have been less reductive in his comments about your show. But I still don’t think he meant to demean your work. I just think he is tired of Baltimore being reduced to the unsavory characters on your show, and the problems I listed above.
                You, of course, have a right to defend your work. Carry on, and thank you for the discourse. I’m sure I’ve enjoyed it more than you have, and I have appreciated the opportunity to have a discussion with you.
                Phil

                Reply
                • David Simon says:

                  Again, I don’t care at all about the “slight to my craft.” I care about the reduction being used to argue against the necessity and purpose of the storytelling, and to caricature such storytelling — not merely my own, but any narrative or imagery that dissents from civic affirmation — as somehow invalid and inappropriate in a civic sense.

                  But thank you as well for the discussion.

                  Reply
    • Jeff, Syracuse NY says:

      Bruce Springsteen wrote a song from the perspective a guy who returned home from War (having gone in the first place only because he believed he had no other choice), having lost friends, brothers really…as well as some of his own soul to find his country has turned his back on him…he can’t find work, his sacrifices for his country were not appreciated by large groups of people……..and Ronald Reagan greedily snapped up the song and used it as some sort of patriotic anthem at rallies to talk about how great this country is. People misinterpret and misrepresent things like that all the time. I’ve been to Camden yards once. that’s my entire Baltimore experience. I love The Wire. I loved Homicide. If David Simon, George Pelecanos, Eric OVermyer, the late David Mills, Richard Price, etc. wrote a show about city bus drivers or dairy farmers, I’d probably love that too. But I’m not dumb enough to believe that I understand all that Baltimore is simply by watching a tv show. If you reveal you’re from Baltimore, and someone says “Is it really like the show The Wire”…i think you can go ahead and assume you’re not talking to a deep thinker.

      The fact is, I work in Syracuse, NY. And while The Wire was set in Baltimore…David and his storytelling family could have set the show right here and not much would have changed. Maybe you’d need to replace dock workers in season two with factory workers…but other than that, you’d be able to touch on a lot of the same themes…and you’d be shining a light on a similar group of people who have essentially been shut out of the traditional economy. The Wire’s actors, and writers didn’t get nominated for more Emmy awards, because people would have to acknowledge that the show was heavily researched…David was out there on the corners…he spent a year alone with the Homicide unit before writing the book that inspired the show…who knows how much time, between Ed Burns, and the cops he met, he’s actually spent with the police in Baltimore…it’s not based on someone’s fantasy. To give that show, and the people involved Golden Globe and Emmy awards would be to acknowledge that these people exist, their lives are real and some parts of our cities really aren’t working. And it seems as though the people depicted on The Wire are people Mr. Rowe would like all of us to continue to pretend do not exist.

      I don’t pretend to understand everything The Wire is or was meant to be…it takes me a bit longer to understand things than it may for other people. When Slim Charles says “Once you’re in it, you’re in it…if it’s a lie…then we fight on that lie”……he’s not just talking about Marlo vs. Avon Barksdale….but that wasn’t something that i really consciously understood the first time i heard the line. A college professor once told me that his definition of a great book is any book that he can read at least 10 times and still find something new…a reference he had previously missed, a theme that wasn’t immediately obvious in the past…whatever…and for me, that’s what The Wire is. Anyone that watches that show and believes they’re seeing the entire city of Baltimore…or that the writers and producers are suggesting that’s what they’re trying to do, just isn’t worth the time to talk to.

      I don’t think Baltimore suffers from an image problem. I don’t think most people who watched The Wire believe every empty row house has dead bodies stacked up in it…or that everyone walking along the street is chasing a fix. I think people just believe they’ll seem smarter or cooler if people know they watched The Wire and know where it was set…so they mention it. Like the Orioles..it’s something they know about Baltimore. They want to impress a stranger.

      Reply
  38. Dan Mitchell says:

    Rowe’s popularity has mystified me from the get-go, especially since it seems to go well beyond his fanbase of ballcapped mooks. I pegged him immediately as a shameless opportunist. Now we find he’s just an outright buffoon.

    I wish you would just link to the stuff you’re referring to, like the City Paper item. It’s just how the Web works, and it’s simple courtesy to your readers. This post was the first reference I’d seen to any of this, and I had to go and hunt down the source material.

    Anyway, excellent rebuttal.

    Reply
  39. Ed says:

    The obvious answer is to get the original cast together and film a sequel to The Wire where everyone holds hands, sings, and jacks off in a circle or whatever depiction of Baltimore Mike Rowe would be most comfortable with.

    I think an even bigger problem is that Mike Rowe’s sentiment is endemic to the whole country; no one wants to be told their shit stinks. Which is crazy! How could we ever address our problems on a local or state or federal level if they won’t even be recognized as real?

    Reply
    • liberalnlovinit says:

      Exactly! We (or at least the plutocrats, their politician puppets or their sycophant wannabe’s DON’T want to address the problems, because….wait for it…those self-same people would have to pay for it (through increases to their taxes, obviously) . Instead, they keep finding ways to sweep the problems under the carpet, or worse, incarcerate the people who they think are the problems, and what the heck – make a buck off of it too in the process.

      Nick Hanauer, a rich entrepreneur, in a recent open letter to his fellow 1%’ers told then that it’s time to start doing something about this problem,

      “No society can survive the glaring inequities we are building into the American economy – stop these feudal low-wage policies and bridge the widening divide, or the pitch forks are going to come for us.”

      Granted, so-called elitist humanists are probably worse than the Scrooge McDuck’s out there who don’t give a whit – they want to combat inequality just enough to keep their pretty little heads on their pretty little necks, but not so much that they have to give up their power, influence and most of all their money.

      But he is right, and this reflects something that Mr. Simon said last fall in Sydney, Australia:

      “We’re either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.”

      Reply
  40. Sandeep Atwal says:

    I, too, am disappointed in Mr. Simon. Instead of a compelling narrative that took an honest look at the ills of a modern American city, he could have just as well brought out the sunny side of Baltimore. Would that have been so hard? Several women in the show were junkies and prostitutes. Ugh, so depressing! What about something like The Real Housewives of West Baltimore? Surely we could have followed De’Londa Brice and her friends on one of their shopping sprees instead of all that stuff about dysfunctional families. Or perhaps the show could have taken advantage of some sponsorship deals? Talk to some clothing companies and all of a sudden you’ve got Pimp My Pimp. Of course the real money is with a more youth-oriented program for the coveted 16-25 demographic. Just think, we missed out on having Tori Amos team up with John Waters and the ghost of H.L. Mencken to solve a new mystery every week! Theme song by Ric Ocasek! This week’s special guest: Anna Faris! At the end of every episode, a valuable life lesson is learned about how hard work and honesty pays off. It’s not too late. Think about it, Mr. Simon.

    Reply
  41. liberalnlovinit says:

    Baltimore’s problems are Covington, KY’s problems. Yet, when a local writer published an article on the assault and rape of a young girl in the poverty-ridden section of town, the folks who usually sit out at the sidewalk cafe’s in the gentrified section got all on their high horse about it. About how this writer besmirched this city’s wonderful reputation. One writer in particular questioned how a city with a wonderful little arts district and a great magnet school could be THAT bad. Of course, then the writer identified himself as living up on the hill overlooking Covington, in what was actually Park Hills, a separate city with $250,000 homes and eminent domain appropriated views of Cincinnati across the Ohio River. In general, the response was that this writer should be taken out and tarred and feathered.

    All of these similar comments were from people who live in or frequent the gentrified section of town, the same section where once the middle class of Covington lived. Multi-million dollar development and tax breaks on the riverfront has pushed that former middle class south of MLK Dr. (12th St.), where poverty, crime, homelessness and drug abuse is a festering disease eating away at the soul of the city.

    So yeah, been there, done that. Baltimore is everywhere. And everywhere is Baltimore. So keep writing about the real Baltimore, Mr. Simon. Because you’re also writing about every other city in America.

    Reply
  42. Dana King says:

    Things can never get better if the stories of what is wrong aren’t told. I grew up near Pittsburgh in the 70s, and I easily internalized what Season 2 was getting at. To another point, I now live halfway between DC and Baltimore, and Baltimore is, by far, my preference of the two. The Wire not only did not damage the city in my eyes, it may have enhanced it, as it now feels more fully fleshed out to me. It may have helped that I read The Corner before watching The Wire (I’ve not seen the TV version), which is a masterpiece of showing the effects of drugs and the drug war on the 90% of residents who want nothing more than to get on with their lives, just as do people in Pittsburgh,Chicago, St. Louis, Howard County, Macon GA, wherever..

    Reply
  43. E.B. Berman says:

    There certainly does seem to be a type of person that just doesn’t understand art as a reflection or an exploration of life as it’s lived, who thinks that anything portrayed in a story is automatically endorsed by the artist. Without wanting to dismiss the cognitive messiness inherent in pointing a camera at anything suggested by Truffaut’s famous claim that there’s “no such thing as an anti-war movie,” that simply isn’t true.

    I don’t believe I know anyone who watched The Wire – or any of Mr. Simon’s other Baltimore-set dramas – who saw the issues depicted as special to Baltimore, lovingly rendered regional quirks aside. These protestations strike me as cynical smokescreening tactics: “The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is you talking about the problem.”

    Reply
  44. Jami Floyd says:

    Brilliant as always, though I don’t understand why you feel the need to dignify the critics with a response.

    Reply
  45. katie says:

    “Telling only the pretty stories has a cost, too.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Reply
  46. Rich says:

    I wonder why you bother to reply at this point? They’ll still be discussing The Wire long after Mike Rowe is forgotten

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      I am a Baltimorean. I live here. This is my backyard.

      Defending the work is not a point that requires any policing. Defending my right to do the work — and by extension, the right of others to write critically on our city, or state, or society, regardless of who it offends or disturbs — requires a certain amount of mowing and weeding the lawn. A right unasserted is always more easily challenged.

      Reply
  47. patrick says:

    “If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that you hit.” -Malcolm X

    Reply
  48. LB Roberts says:

    What impresses me is your restraint, Mr. Simon. You seem not to have any impulse to mock, or at least point out the ironies contained in the work Mike Rowe is best known for here on the coast of Maine, Deadliest Catch, a show riven with the unrealistic often damaging narrative romanticized in the entire commercial fishing industry.

    The go-to-Alaska-get-a-berth-on-a-[insert ocean dwelling species] boat-and-make-a-year’s-salary-in-a-few-weeks story has arguably wrecked its share of innocent people’s lives. For centuries fleets large and small populated their decks with a good charge of prisoners working off the tail ends of their jail sentences. Willing to work for almost nothing and more than anxious to get to shore, mostly to a bar, they set the rhythm and the ethos of these bastions of misogyny, drug, and alcohol abuse.

    Though I’m not sure even I have the gall to suggest that support for our culture’s consistent dismissiveness of women emanates entirely from the fertile fishing grounds off Dutch Harbor. I do know from measurable experience that there’s no misogyny like a fisherman’s brand, buffed and shined by long seasons on boats without women.

    In the interest of his need for the whole picture, does Rowe present the domestic violence rates in fishing families? The alcoholism, divorce, bankruptcy, drug and gambling addiction rates?

    Sorry to lack your restraint, Mr. Simon. Your body of work is seminal to our culture. Full stop.

    Reply
  49. HR says:

    So sad you still have to do this.

    Is Law and Order bad for New York?
    The Shield bad for LA?

    It’s unreal to see people so defensive and prideful that they can’t acknowledge any flaws in urban life, gov’t bureaucracy worth exploring through narrative or see the larger allegory for EVERY CITY IN AMERICA.

    If you can’t do either, you’re unfit for office.

    Reply
  50. Tim B. says:

    It seems any long form television show that involves the police in a city would also involve crime and criminals. Perhaps the problem with your Baltimore shows was there are not many shows set in Baltimore. New York and Los Angeles have had many shows and movies that portrayed them in a less than positive light. However both also had show that portrayed them in a positive light. Baltimore it seems had only your shows.

    Another “problem” is that your shows seemed realistic. If the stories you told were the typical unbelievable crap, you might have gotten fewer complaints about how they portrayed Baltimore. Instead of the unbelievable, you gave people characters, stories and locations that seemed real.

    Finally, many people don’t see this country as it. We are told things are perfect and getting better all the time. If you break the bubble, some people will thank you and others will curse you. So let me say “thanks.”

    Reply
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