David Simon Speaks Truth

Viceland is running a long interview with the God of the Wire. Go read the whole thing. Some choice bits:

This seems to play into what you mentioned earlier, that you were writing Greek tragedy, which certainly had comedic elements.

Yes. Before finishing the first season I’d reread most of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, those three guys. I’d read some of it in college, but I hadn’t read it systematically. That stuff is incredibly relevant today. As drama, the actual plays are a little bit stilted, but the message within the plays and the dramatic impulses are profound for our time. We don’t really realize it. I don’t think we sense the power in there because we’re really more in the Shakespearean construct of—

Yes, the individualism kind of thing.

The individual and the interior struggle for self. Macbeth and Hamlet and Lear and Othello. These are the great tragedies—the dramatic branch that leads to O’Neill and our modern theater. But I saw a version of Aeschylus’s The Persians done on the stage in Washington, and it made my jaw drop. They put it on during the height of the insurgency in Iraq—after that misadventure in Iraq had made itself apparent. If you read that play and if you saw this production of it, it was so dead-on. I don’t know if you know the play.

I’ve never read it, but I know what it’s about.

It’s basically the people back in the Persian capital wondering what’s happened to their army and, of course, bad things have happened to their army. And the young emperor who wants to be compared to his father—it’s Darius the Great, I think—he wants to win the victory that was denied his father over the Greeks.

Sounds familiar.

Yeah. And of course they performed it in Republican ties and suits. It was a Washington audience. I was watching it and I was looking around, and some of these lines were landing, some of the dialogue was landing. I was looking around like, “Did everyone just catch that? Did they really just say that?” It was so ripe in its critique of Bush and Cheney and all those guys.

It seems to me that people want to be sort of special, unique snowflakes, and the Shakespearean thing addresses that more.

Right! Let’s celebrate me and the wonder that is me. It’s not about society. The Greeks, especially the Athenians, were consumed with questions about man and state. They gave Socrates hemlock because his ideas were antithetical to their notions of state.

Listen, that’s totalitarianism in any sense, but for him, he was cynical about democracy and he was an iconoclast about the democratic principles. That went to the heart of Greek thinking. It was like, “Don’t fuck with that.” Now, the thing that has been exalted and the thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution. How many frickin’ times are we gonna watch a story where somebody—

Rises up against the odds?

“You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t.” “I’ll show you, see?” And in the end he’s recognized as just a goodhearted rebel with right on his side, and eventually the town realizes that dancing’s not so bad. I can make up a million of ’em. That’s the story we want to be told over and over again. And you know why? Because in our heart of hearts what we know about the 21st century is that every day we’re going to be worth less and less, not more and more.

Worth less and less as people, you mean?

As human beings. Some of us are going to get more money and be worth more. There are some people who are destined for celebrity or wealth or power, but by and large, the average American, the average person in the world on planet earth, is worth less and less. That’s the triumph of capital, and that is the problem. You look at that, and you think that’s what we’ve come to and that’s where we’re going and it’s like, “Can you tell me another bedtime story about how people are special and every one of us matters? Can you tell me that shit?”

And, later, on the supposed divide between literary fiction, crime writing, and how the Wire relates thereto:

Everybody should write the stories that matter to them and then we’ll figure it out once everything exists.

Word. God Save David Simon.

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