Brian O’Leary is far more eloquent than I will ever be.
But let’s not let that stop us, shall we?
Bernardo and I finished our re-watch of The Wire last night. Season 5, the journalism season, was the worst of the bunch. All that sentimentality over what makes a real journalist (and I imagine cops feel the same way about Simon’s constant invocation of “real police work”) just made me want to collar Clark Johnson and ask him, “Do you cringe when those words come out of your mouth?”
I came to this city with the intention of being a writer. Well, actually a Writer – one of the denizens of Elaine’s (which I was, for about a year); I was going to write for The New Yorker and Esquire, and publish incisive novels. I had nostalgia for that milieu before I was even a part of it, and I wanted desperately to be “a real writer”. And we are walloped by that sense in David Simon’s work – that anything that doesn’t conform to his notions of authenticity is less than “real,” and authenticity was more authentic In The Past. The Wire really is the best show that television has ever created. But it’s shot through with an unfortunate Holden Caulfield-ism, the fifth season more than any of the others – and I suspect that this indulgence on Simon’s part is because it’s the season about his industry.
I got the shit kicked out of my faux nostalgia – by the need to earn a living, by the Internet, by my own passions which evolved over the years. I saw, as the book business morphed (and is still morphing) that there is no one single authenticity. The way we do things now is just as “real”, just as authentic, as the way we did them 30 or a hundred or five hundred years ago.
Yes, writers should be compensated for their talents. So should musicians, filmmakers, and painters. So should designers and creators of any sort. But that compensation can come from anywhere. It does not have to be transactional art – “I create, you pay”. There are many models – public art, patronized/sponsored art, subscription art (such as HBO). Simon’s argument is simplistic, and borne of the privilege of someone who has not needed to extend himself beyond that era where he felt most at home.