I recently finished watching the fifth and final season of The Wire, my favorite TV show ever. It presents a vivid and believable world of Baltimore drugs, police, politics, etc. Some suggest producer David Simon’s "political passions ultimately trump his commitment to accuracy or evenhandedness." But I find
Steve Burton must have flamed out in a lot of cocktail parties after trying his "Two Words: Omar Little" line.
You're correct to say that the Republican governor hadn't cut funding in Season 3, but the reason the schools were in the hole is because their funding had been cut for so long by that governor: it only came to a head for Carcetti because he inherited the problem that Royce had been ignoring for so long, letting it get worse and worse. Since Carcetti made promises to the teachers in his campaign, he had to find a way to deal with the budget crisis.)
I think the overall message of the show is more that In general, corruption is apolitical, and the real villain. The Republicans in the show are mostly names and legacies that the Democrats decry the evils of, but corruption comes from the Democrats AND the Republicans. It's that simple. The real evil in the show time after time is not Republicans, or Democrats, or even "Government," but rather corruption in everything from juking stats for promotions, to bending rules for Pulitzers.
Additionally, it depicts a system broken in part because people never fix the problems around them because they refuse to admit to uncomfortable truths, which is also apolitical, but is usually a Liberal claim in everything from the environment to affirmative action to educational reform. Take the depiction of standardized testing in public schools: ineffective, counter productive, biased. This is a Liberal argument; I can't remember the last time I saw a Republican talking about the school systems other than to say that "Intelligent Design" should be taught in them too.
Let's go through the list of assertions from each season after the first:-Unions are corrupt: Conservative, but the sympathy is clearly with them anyway because they need to be corrupt to survive.-Politics are corrupt: Apolitical.-Public schools and police departments need more funding; Liberal. Conservatives are just as likely to cut funding to police departments as they are to public schools, under the umbrella of "less government spending."-Media is insincere; Apolitical.
The overall message of the show though?-The Drug War is a failure; Liberal/Libertarian. Not all Democrats would say this, but many have gone on record as for the decriminalization of drugs, and the only Republicans that dare espouse this view on national television are the ones that are more Libertarian than Conservative.
In answer to the question of what another season might be to show the Liberal views of the creators more clearly, it seems pretty straightforward to me: the privatization of prisons and by extension the corruption of the justice system. It's hard to make a series that's focusing on a single city really encompass the "conservative evils" of big businesses using their monetary clout to influence laws and deregulate health and safety measures, but they could do something with that on a smaller scale in terms of pollution and monopolizing.
You know Omar Little is based on a real person, right?
"Vivid?" Sure. But "believeable?"
I mean, c'mon. The most compelling character in the series rivals Baron von Munchhausen for sheer *un*-believability.
*The Wire* is lefty romanticism masquerading as gritty realism. It's great fun, but if you take it for anything more than that, you're only making a fool of yourself.
That was terribly dishonest of you. In Season 3, the Republican governor of Maryland did not "cut any funding." The schools were shown as having thrown tens of millions of dollars down the hole, and the newly elected Mayor had to find some way to plug this hole... so he goes to Annapolis to beg the Republican Governor for money. We dont see what happens in this interaction, until Season 4 when Mayor Carcetti's aide tells him he should have taken the money from the Governor, instead of thinking about his chances of running for Governor of Maryland next year. Sorry you lose this one.
Seinberg, what do you think would happen in an episode where funding went up, if that episode stayed in the character of other episodes?
*SPOILERS*Just watch seasons 3 and four. In three a new education program created by liberal academics is having success in transforming inner city youths until the republican governor cuts funding for baltimore. In four, McNulty creates a scenario by which he is able to increase funding for the police department and as funding increases so does the wellbeing of the city.
The wire is good drama, especially in that it can create a world so natural that everyone reads in their own political message.
Robin, based only on the quotes above, it's somewhat ambiguous but it seems to me like he's not, or not mostly, talking about the Baltimore city government. For example, he says "Baltimore has had the benefit of your free market for the last twenty five years. You can't tell me you've constructed a viable economic model that has nothing to do with government when one out of every two adult black males is without work in my city." Is the "government" here the Baltimore city government? It's not clear, but it seems like it's not when he goes on to say "The government has been utterly laissez faire, they've let the jobs go to the pacific rim, they are gone, and we've eviscerated the manufacturing class. ..." It doesn't seem likely that he thinks that the Baltimore city government did those things.
BTW, does does he really think that the actual Baltimore government is as bad as the one in The Wire (which I've never seen)?
David, it seems that Simon does support "handing over more money to a corrupt city government".
I really don't see the contradiction here. It's perfectly possible to believe that our government and society are badly distorted because of the malign influence of a bunch of rich plutocrats, and at the same time to believe that handing over more money to a corrupt city government is not a good way to solve the problem.
Could it be that he is trying to send the message that his disagreement about policy is not about disagreement about facts? Can anyone name a work that you are sure does this?
(I suppose Candide is a related example, where Voltaire pretends to explore Leibniz's model of the world.)
Maybe the reason for the discrepancy between your (Robin Hanson's) and Simon's conclusions and worldviews stems from the fact that the show is so realistic? Presumably you also witness the same real world and find justification and vindication for your different beliefs in the same factual events? If Simon has strived more for a realistic than an ideological show, this might explain that.
Mark, yes, it might take an whole season to play out a story where things get a lot better. Even so, such a season is rather hard to imagine, while retaining the style and character of previous seasons.
Robin, you mentioned a libertarian moral; what good is a moral if it isn't supposed to apply to reality?
Robin, I find it difficult to imagine the new episode you describe for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, I don't believe a single "functional government" bill would do it. A functional Baltimore government, if its possible at all, would require many modifications across many institutions over a long period of time — much longer than a single episode could portray. It is made abundantly clear in The Wire that good intentions and decisions made at one level of one institution may be thwarted by others in the same institution or by tensions across them. Even the institutions with the least regulation, the drug cartels, faced the same problem.
Secondly, and aesthetically, I cannot imagine an episode where things get a lot better, regardless of the means. First and foremost, The Wire is a drama, and without tension, conflict, and resolution there is not much of a story to be told. Furthermore, part of what gives The Wire its credibility is its realism. Any portrayal of a rosy, wonderful Baltimore of the near future would be incredible for the reasons in my first point.
I think what Simon succeeded at beautifully was showing us a complex world of human interaction. It is not clear to me that any single, abstract, unwavering political belief applied consistently would work to fix such a concrete world. The very definition of what constitutes "fixed" is tied up in the abstract belief to begin with.
Upon reflection, I concede that I was too quick to assume what kind of political changes Simon would want. It could be that he is simply rallying against what he sees to be the unchecked application of a single set of beliefs — capitalism — to a complex situation.
Isn't this just what you would expect given confirmation bias?
Anyway, if you ever get a chance to talk to David Simon, ask him to describe an episode where the government moves in the direction he'd like it to move. Then point out the parts of his description that don't seem to fit with the feel of the series.
I am shocked, shocked, to discover that even TV producers can engage in doublethink!
Who would have thought it?