A discussion of the HBO series The Wire over at Matt Yglesias’ blog at the Atlantic centers on politics, urban development, and how realistic the show is.
One of the issues is whether the show is too bleak. Obviously for American TV it is on the bleak side, but that’s irrelevant to whether the show is getting at something real or not. Is it that institutions are fundamentally corrupted in modern America? By contrast, another popular TV show on politics, the West Wing, featured perhaps the typical neoliberal politicians who fundamentally bought into the system and just played around at the edges (based on Bill Clinton obviously).
David Simon (creator and writer of the Wire) found the discussion and left this comment:
The Wire is dissent; it argues that our systems are no longer viable for the greater good of the most, that America is no longer operating as a utilitarian and democratic experiment. If you are not comfortable with that notion, you won’t agree with some of the tonalities of the show. I would argue that people comfortable with the economic and political trends in the United States right now — and thinking that the nation and its institutions are equipped to respond meaningfully to the problems depicted with some care and accuracy on The Wire (we reported each season fresh, we did not write solely from memory) — well, perhaps they’re playing with the tuning knobs when the back of the appliance is in flames.
I don’t think you’ll find many such voices on US or UK TV willing to say that (outside of documentary makers).
The critical point here is that the show is about the failure of modern politics as much as anything else (as a commentator notes).
What is to be done about that? Someone else uses the Foucault quote “it’s not that everything is bad, it’s that everything is dangerous” to illustrate this:
Simon is pessimistic about the possibilities of maintaining such change, and very clear that change is dangerous, but we see possibilities here, and we wish it would continue.
I think of a great Foucault quote from the later interviews. He said, “It’s not that I think everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous.” This led him to engage in what he described as pessimistic hyper-activism.
It’s interesting here that danger engenders activism, rather than say passivity.