I’ve had a leasehold on davidsimon.com for years now. People smarter than I am told me that even if I had no sense of its use at present, I should throw a few shekels down in case. But until recently, I saw no reason to do much of anything with the site.
My ambivalence rests on a couple basic ideas:
- I’m a writer, and while I’m overpaid to write television at present, the truth is that the prose world from which I crawled — newsprint and books — is beset by a new economic model in which the value of content is being reduced in direct proportion to the availability of free stuff on the web. In short, for newspapers and book publishers, it has lately been an e-race to the bottom, and I have no desire to contribute to that new economy by writing for free in any format. Not that what is posted here has much prolonged value -— or in the case of previously published prose, hasn’t soured some beyond its expiration — but the principle, in which I genuinely believe, holds: Writers everywhere do this to make a living, and some are doing fine work and barely getting by for their labor. Anything that says content should be free makes it hard for all writers, everywhere. If at any point in the future, this site offers more than a compendium of old prose work and the odd comment or two on recent events — if it grows in purpose or improves in execution— I might try to toss up a small monthly charge in support of one of the 501c3 charities listed in the Worthy Causes section. And yes, I know that doing so will lose a good many readers; but to me, anyway, the principle matters. A free internet is wonderful for democratized, unresearched commentary, and it works well as a library of sorts for content that no longer requires a defense of its copyright. But journalism, literature, film, music— these endeavors need people operating at the highest professional level and they need to make a living wage. Copyright matters. Content costs.
- This stuff takes time. And those who know me understand that while it is refreshing to meet people with no opinions, I am not that fellow. I like to argue. I don’t take the argument itself personally — and I am often amazed at so much outsized commentary that assumes otherwise — but rather I delight in pursuing a good, ranging argument. It’s why I value a writer’s room so much. It’s why I used to love a healthy newsroom, which I have described as a magical place where everyone disagrees with everything all of the time. Arguments make the work better; when people stop arguing, or at least arguing intelligently, absent the usual half-assed, rhetorical cheating, the work invariably suffers. So, for me, any dialectic is a temptation. And I may find that given so much work I owe already, even a brief sortie into an issue or two or a stray comment on current events will sound as a siren song. I may want to shut this venue down three weeks after anyone finds it, if they do. I may, forgive me, find that I need to disable the comments and simply use the blog to highlight stuff and then run like hell. Apologies in advance if it comes to that.
On the positive side of the ledger:
- Every now and then, over breakfast, or in the office, or late at night, I read something or hear something that impresses or infuriates or amuses, or that provokes an interesting back-and-forth between family members or colleagues. An argument or discussion gets good, a joke ripens nicely. It’s stuff that isn’t going into a script or into any shard of published prose, and its shelf-life is often short. Maybe that’s what a blog is for.
- It’s nice to have a small billboard with which one can highlight and link to the work of others we admire, to simply recommend the good stuff. And, similarly, it helps to highlight the non-profit affiliations supported by the projects that we’re working on in Baltimore and New Orleans. Maybe a bit more good comes from such.
- In these later years, I’ve come to discover that from time to time, media folk call me to ask a question or two. Being exactly who the hell I am, I actually haven’t done much until now to filter my answers. I speak bluntly, but speaking, alas, isn’t writing, and very recently, I had to waste half a weekend swimming through some foment of my own creation. For lack of clarity, I managed to say something that I not only don’t believe, but that is contradicted by every other interview that precedes it. The fault was largely my own, but a remedy, I realized, was problematic.
Calling back the reporter who had used what I thought was a specific critique in the most general and absurd way, I found that I was either obliged to continue working through him to correct the record — and trusting in a dynamic that had failed already, or alternatively, I had to offer myself up in another interview to a reporter who I knew for certain would endeavor to deliver my answers in context, but who was more interested in other topics than the one which concerned me.
And in the middle of this, my wife — who uses both words and the internet better than I do — reminded me of the long fallow field of davidsimon.com. If that thing was up and running, she pointed out, you could simply say, in your own words, precisely and carefully what you intended to say in the first place, without having to rely on a filter. This is the grand triumph of the internet, after all; there’s no arguing with the democratization inherent. You could, she told me, simply say what you meant and have that on the record. The simplicity of this had considerable appeal.
So here goes.
Don’t send screenplays, or manuscripts for quotes, or actor glossies. Please. There are professional venues for such and if stuff comes to me correct, I do the best I can. Promise. If it comes at me through this venue, I won’t — can’t — respond. Counterarguments and counterprovocations on any given issue — let’s say that again, issue — are entirely welcome, whether I have time to respond or not. Ad hominem rage, flattery and posted links for cheap timeshares, naked photographs of your ex-girlfriend at a small monthly fee and invitations to a larger penis in just weeks are politely discouraged.
I hear you are doing a series on the International Brigades? The war in Spain and its tragedy touched my heart as a young person, that with a number of other factors directed my life toward solidarity movements. I know the movement is dead in the US but its heart beats elsewhere, we continue to fight. Arthur Koestler in Scum of the Earth talks about the coming across the rump of the International Brigades rotting in French prisons at the start of the second war. These young men were the flower of the working class, we should remember them forever. No pasaran!
Mr. Simon. I heard of your program (The Wire) and dismissed it thinking it was just another Hollywood fiction. Now I will begin watching the series in it’s entirety. Please know, I published an autobiography (Sin Eater, Memoirs of a Prison Psychologist ((by Jack, Not John McClintock)) on Amazon a couple of years ago. Have a look… or not, I know your being approached constantly. Sin Eater’s up your alley, it’s a series of case studies leading to an inescapable conclusion about prison… “Prisons make monsters out of men.” If you reach back to me, please specify this effort to establish contact, or I’ll miss the opportunity to make that contact.
Mr Simon —
James Ward writing here hoping to get a quote or two about the death of James Houck, a former colleague of yours at the Baltimore Sun, where he was a managing editor. My email is [email protected]
No comment… not meant editorially; I don’t really have a comment, I just want notifications when you post. Thanks.
Thought-provoking as you always are. A COUPLE OF REASONS TO KEEP UP THE FIGHT, but perhaps not on twtr…
One, people like my brothers. They’re good guys that tbh are just never going to analyze or listen to opposing views. But this might change as they see the Rump get taken down, or as thier SS gets threatened.
Two: You are one of the few that speak as rudely to them as they deserve. AND you do film.
Three: You’re a good example for some of us. Keeps us in fighting mode.
Your writing is splendiforous.
This is not a pitch, this is me asking if you can recommend work by others, similar to as I describe below. Because, if it exists, then I think you’d know about it. (Note to nice webmistress: please don’t delete! If I’d need to edit before you’ll let the comment go up, then please let me know!)
Has anyone done – essentially – The Wire for Latinos in the US? Like, if The Wire is an exploration of Baltimore, is there something like that for the Latino community in southern Texas? Show Me a Hero might be a better analogy than The Wire. It doesn’t have to be spot on, but the closest thing you can think of, if you know of anything.
The rest of this is context. I remember reading an interview where you talked about what you might have done with The Wire had you been given more than two seasons after the third. Like, HBO would only renew the show for two more seasons, and since you all planned it out to end with the fifth, you wouldn’t have been willing to do more, even if HBO wanted to give you a sixth season later on. But, you said something to the effect of, if had HBO re-upped for seasons 3-6, season six would have focused on the growing Latino community in Baltimore. Now in 2022, it’s pretty clear that you haven’t done anything with that idea, and won’t do anything with it in the foreseeable future, so I’m wondering someone else has. Or, if something reasonably close has been made. The closest I can think of is the Breaking Bad universe, but that was a little too fictional. There’s nothing wrong with hyping the work of your friends, right?
Thank you so very much for this blog. I’ve been online since the pre-Internet days of the early 80s. I can’t get back all the years of trying to explain to others what you so clearly stated: I also love to argue and debate, to look at all things from a few thousand angles. Unfortunately that came across to many as putting them down. I was so dismayed by their reaction that my insecurities and I went to private places for the discussions I craved.
I’m starting to watch The Wire in a few minutes. It’s 3am here. I have a million reasons for the hours I keep and the existential need for engaging content. Cable and streaming outlets along with a decent TV are all durable medical equipment as much as the oxygen machine is, at least for me. I’m just a tiny bit of our world. Just thanks. (Especially thanks for your entry about Bourdain.)
You wrote “I’m starting to watch The Wire in a few minutes.” It’s been a few months, so have you finished it yet? What did you think? For me, The Wire is one of those where I wish I could watch it for the first time again. So, I’m a bit envious. If you liked The Wire then I’d highly recommend you check out other shows Mr. Simon has been involved with. HBO Max would be the easiest way to do that.
Please critique my essay:
In this country the government puts people to death for murdering a single person.
Surely we cannot lay every death on the current administration. Every country has lost lives due to this plague.
So let’s accept that 100,000 mothers, brothers, friends and nephews would have died no matter what.
Let’s be even more generous.
Let us assume that even under an administration that encouraged masks and social distancing, lead by example, embraced the advice of the most experienced experts in epidemiology, that did not eliminate the CDC department specifically dedicated to preventing death at this unimaginable scale, that leveraged the full power of the richest nation on earth that has the closest thing to infinite resources as any society in history, we still would have lost 200,000 grandfathers, nurses, soldiers, children, nieces, mentors and neighbors.
Let’s assume that the reporting that they had begun to form a national response, but decided to stop because they thought Covid would only decimate densely populated democratic states is complete fabrication.
Let’s throw in another 9,862 human lives just for fun.
That still leaves 1 person. (as of 8:51pm 10/3/2020).
A person who died slowly and horribly and completely alone.
I abhor the death penalty. So it is only because of my mild desire to avoid hypocrisy do I barely wish this monster anything other than than an agonizing death.
I hope the week is finishing-up well for you. I’ve read and I watched most of your work and I’m a big fan.
I’m a PhD candidate at an east coast school and I’m writing my dissertation on the carceral state with a particular focus on Baltimore. I’ve been working on the project for almost 4 years. I’ve done several oral history interviews with subjects ranging from a civilian review board member to a retired detective. I’m hoping to offer as many perspectives as possible.
I’d be interested in doing an interview with you if you’re open to it? Two of my chapters analyze mass-media. I look at both The Wire and the Baltimore Sun. Nonetheless, even a short conversation off of the record would be a thrill. I live about 3 hours from Baltimore, but I’m in the city quite often.
I look forward to touching base and thank you for the consideration.
Write to [email protected] and make an inquiry there. I will help if I can.
Thanks for the quick response. I’ll send you an email this evening.
Have you read ‘The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace’ by Jeff Hobbs. For some reason, I fixate on the moment – when the deadline for his application to Johns Hopkins is missed – as the defining moment in which this young man’s life would have turned out very differently. If you have read the book, I’d really like to hear your thoughts.
What I hope, in the 280-odd comments here, that I’m not alone in acknowledging the honor you’ve done Phillip Roth in your production of “The Plot Against America.” It is intimate and huge as the novel, a work of incredible restraint and intricate anger. I do not know if Roth had any involvement. But the year Phillip Roth died, the Nobel Prize went to Bob Dylan, and the single great novelist of the last 50 years died knowing that some fucking Swede hated “Portnoy’s Complaint.” But what you’ve produced is the fuller honor to Roth, of letting the novel and the film tell the story in complete congruence.
Now, if you have the time, please set a team loose on “The Great American Novel.” It would be an impossible screenplay, but wouldn’t it be pretty to see it?
David, thoroughly mesmerized by the degree of accuracy in going back to the 1940’s New Jersey. I did want to mention that the actual date of the German Bund Rally at Madison Square Garden was Feb 20, 1939, before the Polish invasion. I definitely enjoy the podcasts following the episodes with Peter Sagal. BTW as a fellow MOT have distant relatives in Baltimore.
I was listening to the first podcast for The Plot Against America and pleasantly noted your mention of Lend Lease. I just wanted to mention that My Father, Philip Light, was tasked by FDR and the Treasury Dept. when he was 28 to draft the actual Act itself.
Reaching out to you here may be a bit far-fetched but here goes: I’m an undergraduate student at UPenn taking a class on HBO in the Annenberg School. The dean is challenging us to conduct deep-dives on series and I’ve decided to examine The Wire. Would it be possible for me to speak to you about the show and its continuing relevance 1) in an era of mass-produced media around police and their relationships to the communities around them and 2) alongside new HBO series driven by social inequity such as Watchmen? Would be delighted to hear back from you, take care.
My colleagues and I just saw the trailer for “The Plot Against America” and want to get in touch with you. Our organization, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), was founded in 1939 to combat institutional antisemitism and secure a safe and inclusive future for the Jewish community in Minnesota.
One of the first significant challenges our organization faced was the incitement of Charles Lindbergh against the Jewish community. As our executive director wrote in an op-ed in 2017 (http://www.startribune.com/msp-terminal-namesakes-at-the-very-least-it-s-time-for-a-reordering/443112753/), historian David Wyman analyzed the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism via national public-opinion polls from 1938 to 1946 and concluded that as many as 35 percent to 40 percent of Americans were prepared to participate or support “a widespread campaign against Jews in this country.”
We were moved by what we saw in the trailer. It seems the series will enable the viewer to visualize what such a campaign would look like.
Today our organization works to combat antisemitism, educate about the Holocaust, build relationships with other communities, and safeguard Jewish individuals and institutions in a heightened threat environment.
This was a long prologue to ask if you are available to be the featured speaker at the JCRC’s annual fundraising dinner on June 7, 2020. We would love the opportunity to promote your show and for people to hear from you what went into making the series.
Please contact us if you are interested in discussing this further.
I’m a little late to the party so to speak, but I just want to say thank you for creating and writing a great work of fiction that is The Wire. I watched the entirety of the show over the summer and fall in 2019, and I was amazed by it. I know that your experiences with the Baltimore Sun helped you with the creation of the show. And I’m not trying to water down the ongoing issues of your city to mere props or tropes for television. I was just struck by the honesty and realism of the show that made it so captivating. I think some of the best prose come from real life experiences. I live in rural Minnesota, and am a writer (mostly for my own pleasure at this time), and your kind of writing actually is kind of like mine. As much as I love where I live, I don’t glamorize or sugar coat what goes on around here. It is what is. As a humble radio announcer, I can’t do much to change it. (Corporate doesn’t like commentary) That being said, the show The Wire actually has made me want to go visit Baltimore. From what I’ve read and seen, it seems like a beautiful city, albeit with its own issues. Every location has its baggage, but every location has its charms as well. Like I said, I lived in rural Minnesota my whole life and I have traveled very rarely away from there, but I have had a desire to travel and see the world.
Have a good start to the decade, sir!
Sorry – this is somewhat vague – but, I was just wondering if there was anything new with a project I heard (!) you were working on about The Pogues? True or false?
still being workshopped repeatedly at the Public Theater in NY.
“highlight stuff and then run like hell” lol reminds me of a gif Paul Wesley recently liked on Twitter that a fan said reminded them of him to which he said “accurate” lol
Hi Mr. Simon,
I am a student at Swarthmore College. On behalf of a student club, Purple Tree, and the Philosophy Department of my school, I am very honored to invite you to speak at our college in the next two years.
Personally, I am very excited to invite you. I started watching The Wire last year and became a huge fan. To me, the show is both sobering and refreshing. It is sobering because, as I am an international student from China, the show introduced me to aspects of American lives that are often swept under the rug. It is refreshing because it answers some of my questions about work (school work/career): What is it for? How should I treat it? I realized if I treat work only as climbing the ladder and behaving well around my bosses, I would be enslaved by my job like Burrel or Rawls. Yet, putting in medium efforts and maximizing pleasures outside of work isn’t a way out either, I might end up mediocre like Carver or Herc. The solution seems to involve taking ownership of one’s work and doing it with integrity, like Cedric, Jimmy. One needs also to balance personal ideals with requirements of the situations, acting one-sidedly on one’s agenda can be counterproductive, as Lester cautions Jimmy.
I believe those messages from your show are valuable not just for me. They are important for college students and especially for students at a small liberal-arts college like my school. Living inside an idyllic bubble, we often forget the alienating demands of the modern economy. Our dreams lack basis. When faced with challenging demands, we are easily persuaded to cede to hollow slogans like “make the world a better place” or simply give them up.
So it is my sincere wish that you may be able to visit our campus. Our club, Purple Tree, is devoted to bringing in discussions of Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Your work as well as your life experience can teach us a great deal about capitalism and our place within it.
We would be happy to cover any traveling expenses to and from Swarthmore. We can also provide accommodation at the Swarthmore Inn nearby.
Please let us know by email. We look forward to hearing from you.