David Simon: "We’re Headed Towards Separate Americas!"

Baltimore, MD – McGuire Hall, at Loyola College, a Jesuit institution, was standing room only, on the evening of Feb. 6, 2007, as David Simon, the creator of the popular HBO program, “The Wire,” began his talk. His lecture was part of the school’s “Humanities Symposium.” While a police reporter for the “Baltimore Sun” newspaper, back in the mid-80s, Simon was detailed to the “Homicide” unit of this city’s police department. As a result of that experience, he later authored a best selling book, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets,” which was transformed into a highly successful TV series on NBC (1993-99). Simon also co-wrote and produced another crime show, “The Corner.” The ideas for that HBO program came out of a book that he had co-authored with another talented guy, Ed Burns, an ex-cop. “The Corner” won three Emmy Awards. Simon continues to work as a free lance journalist. “The Wire’s” fifth and last season is in production. [1]

Simon started: “I am wholly pessimistic about American society. I believe ‘The Wire’ is a show about the end of the American Empire. We…are going to live that event. How we end up…and survive [and] on what terms, is going to be the open question… There will be cities. We are an urban people…What kind of places they will be are…dependent on how we behave towards each other and how our political infrastructure behave…Here is the great conceit of ‘The Wire,’ and I think it is the great question that is in front of the entire world. The ‘Third World’ has encountered this long before we did and increasingly we are finding ‘Third World’ conditions in some of our major cities. [2] Here is the reason why: Every single moment on this planet from here on out, human beings are worth less, not more: less!” [3]

Continuing, Simon emphasized: “We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital…to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we…can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual…I have great doubts…We (America) haven’t figured out the answers to these questions. I have doubts whether anyone is going to be able to do it…That is what we have been arguing about on ‘The Wire.’ Anyone who thought they were watching ‘a cop show,’ and couldn’t understand why the cops didn’t catch the ‘bad guy’ at the end and make everyone happy, there is your answer.” As for the characters on the program, Simon explained, “Their lives are less and less necessary. They are more and more expendable. The institutions in which they serve…are indifferent…to their existence.” [3]

The economic numbers back up Simon’s position. One percent of the U.S. population is estimated to own between “forty and fifty percent of the nation’s wealth, more than the combined wealth of the bottom 95 percent.” [4] Person bankruptcies are at an all-time high in the U.S., while union membership continues to decline. [5] Globally, the statistics paint an even more dismal picture. “The richest two percent of adults…own more than half of all household wealth.” [6] Half of the world’s population exist on less than “two dollars a day.” [7] Some of the factors driving the economic crisis in the U.S., are: one-way free trade policies, foreign takeovers of corporations, out sourcing of jobs and massive debts. [8]

As an example of corporate indifference, Simon related how he had once worked for the “Baltimore Sun” newspaper, which was then a local, family-owned journal. It is presently owned and controlled by a large national corporation. He said there are now only “300 people” in that newsroom, where there used to be “450.” As a result, he said: “They are providing less news coverage about our city. They are attending to the government less than they ever were. Their [the workers’] buying power has been denied…their medical [coverage]…cut…Knowlegeable reporters…they don’t need as many to fill the stuff around the comics and the ads…You name me an institution in American society and I’ll show you where they have basically betrayed the people they are supposed to serve or be served by.

“I didn’t start [out] as a cynic…,” Simon underscored, “but at every given moment, where this country has had a choice…its governments…institutions…corporations, its social framework…to exalt the value of individuals over the value of the shared price, we have chosen raw unencumbered Capitalism. Capitalism has become ‘our God…’ You are not looking at a Marxist up here…But you are looking at somebody who doesn’t believe that Capitalism [can work] absent a social framework that accepts that it is relatively easy to marginalize more and more people in this economy…[Capitalism] has to be attended to. And that [this attending] has to be a ‘conscious’ calculation on the part of society, if that is going to succeed…” If it doesn’t succeed, Simon predicted, “You are eventually going to have the gated communities and the people inside saying: ‘Isn’t it a shame you can’t drive downtown anymore.’ That is where we are headed…[towards] separate Americas…Everywhere we have created an ‘Alternate America’ of ‘haves and have-nots…’At some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not.” Simon believes that the city is basically “the victim” of this ongoing brutal process of “unencumbered Capitalism.” [3]

Simon added: “These imperatives [of] globalization, the death of the union work, the death of the union wage, an unenforceable drug prohibition, these politics of division and of disregard for individual dignity, they don’t come from the city…the City Council, the Mayor, or the ‘Greater Baltimore Committee,’ or the ‘A.S. Abell Foundation.’ It’s ‘out of our control.’ And, it is even out of our control in a democratic sense…If you are going to go out and vote at the next election… your vote doesn’t matter…If you thought you were living in a democracy, if you bought into that, you gotta go to the dictionary and look up the word, ‘Oligarchy.’ And, you have to really think about what it means. We live in a country where sixty percent of the representation in our highest governing body, the [U.S.] Senate, represents forty percent of the population. And, that is the way our Constitution has it.” [3]

Ralph Nader, a champion of a Third Party Movement, would, I’m sure, take sharp exception to Simon’s notion that little or nothing can be done about our present Two Party system, where the Wire Pullers have a “monopoly on power.” Nader said: “Americans need moral courage…The people have the power…They need to show up!” [9] With respect to the de-industrialization of America, author Dr. John Colemen, thinks it was all planned and implemented by cunning agents of the New World Order. [10] If that is true, then the American people can take the necessary action to stop the grasping schemers and to put our Republic back on a sound economic and fiscal basis, which will serve the interests of the vast majority of its citizens.

Simon also let fly a broadside at the dubious geniuses out in Hollywood. He said: “So much of what comes out of [there] is horse….The only time they go downtown is to get their license renewed. And what they increasingly know about the world is what they see on other TV shows about cops and crime or poverty…How is it there is no middle ground..? There is no one who is actually on a human scale from the ‘other America.’ The reason is, they have never met anyone from the ‘other America.’ They can ask their gardener what it is like…That really is the problem.”

On the so-called “War on Drugs,” Simon commented: “It has not only become a brutal war on our underclass; it no longer bears any resemblance to what once might have been a legitimate war on dangerous narcotics. But, I believe it has actually destroyed the connections in society. It has made the ‘Two Americas,’ more distant from each other. It has created the idea of ‘super villains,’ rather than villains on a human scale. And it has alienated the police department from…people who they need to do an effective job, at what they are really good at…just solving crimes against people, crimes of violence, crimes of property.” [3]

Simon described himself as a “storyteller.” He concluded his insightful and relevant remarks by stating: “‘The Wire’ is certainly an angry show. It’s about the idea that we are worth less. And that is an unreasonable thing to contemplate for all of us. It is unacceptable. And none of us wants to be part of a world that is going to do that to human beings. If we don’t exert on behalf of human dignity, at the expense of profit, and Capitalism and greed [which] are inevitabilities; [and] if we can’t modulate them in some way that is a framework for an intelligent society, we are doomed! It is going to happen sooner than we think. I don’t know what form it will take…But, I know that every year it [America] is going to be more brutish, and cynical and divided place.” [3]


[1]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Simon
By way of full disclosure, I worked as an actor on one episode of the “Homicide” program in the role of a “Homeless Man;” and on two episodes of “The Wire” last season, in the uncredited part of “Hugh, the Bartender.”

[2]. Later in the lecture, Simon mentioned pockets of severely depressed urban areas, found in places, other than parts of West Baltimore, like: “North Philadelphia, East St. Louis, the Southside of Chicago, most of Detroit or ‘Liberty City’ in Miami.” He said that “Third World” conditions are, sadly, “endemic” throughout many of the larger cities of our country. An estimated ten percent of the residents of Baltimore City, around 60,000 people, are reportedly drug addicts. See, http://www.abell.org/programareas/criminal.html

[3]. http://www.youtube.com/profile_favorites?user=liamh2

[4]. http://www.lcurve.org/ and

[5]. http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/

[6]. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6211250.stm

[7]. http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Poverty.asp

[8]. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6211250.stm

[9]. http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/

[10]. Dr. John Coleman’s “Conspirators’ Hierarchy: The Story of the Committee of 300.”