David Simon apologizes (sort of) for saying you're watching The Wire wrong
Yesterday’s possibly crankiest David Simon interview in a long history of cranky David Simon interviews left many a Wire fan wondering, “What the fuck did I do?”—to quote a Wire character who is cooler than Prez but maybe not as cool as Stringer. I don’t know, guys, who do you think is cooler? Vote now! Just kidding: Outside of acknowledging when the President gets involved, The A.V. Club generally hasn’t given in to the sort of “bracketology” diversion that Simon expresses such distaste for in this follow-up interview with HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall. Although we are certainly guilty of providing the episode-by-episode deconstruction of his work that he feels is so counterproductive, even harmful to the show’s overall perception.
When confronted on this by a (clearly jilted, like so many adoring TV critics) Sepinwall, Simon—while he never takes their opinions to heart, still believes that reviews should only happen at the end of each season, and generally thinks too many are “surmising that they know the intentions or purposes or the voice of the people making the film”—diplomatically allows that “I still don’t know what the solution is,” and concedes, “It's better to have people talking about what you're doing than not.” So hooray, we can continue to review his shows, if that's really what we want.
More importantly, that conciliatory gesture extends to you, the viewer, whom Simon recognized he probably offended with his suggestion that you were watching it all wrong by coming it to it late and then talking about how cool Omar is all the time. In fact, Simon now clarifies that he wasn’t actually referring to viewers—just the viewers who have participated in that sort of “bracketology” stuff (and he chastises sites like Grantland specifically)—and he’s sorry it came off that way, and also it may or may not have been his fault, he’s not sure:
Let me say this: my apologies to anyone who was saying, or trying to say you're not cool if you didn't get to The Wire early, and I only want you to watch the show on my terms. What I was saying is The Wire has been off the air for 4 years now. That it would be celebrated with things like who's cooler: Omar or Stringer, at this late date, and that the ideas of the show would be given short shrift, those were the target of my comments. And through a miscommunication — probably my fault, I have no way of knowing — I have apparently told everybody that I don't want the show watched except on Sunday night at 10 o'clock, which apparently is the exact opposite of things I've been saying in interviews for years. It is contradictory of everything I've said before. I'm reading it in the paper and I'm not making sense to myself. Sorry. My bad.
But such heavily qualified apologies aside, while Simon would definitely rather you be talking about what he’s doing than not, he’d still also rather you talk about it in an appropriately serious and respectful manner:
You can watch it any way you want. I know I'm not allowed to speak for how people want to watch The Wire. But let me put it on its head and ask, am I allowed to say what I think has value in the piece for me, and for the other people who worked on the show? For us, telling us how cool Omar was four years after the entire thing is on the page — if that's the point, then our ambitions were pretty stunted to begin with. I was asked a question about what I thought about the show's longevity, and about the Wire mania that was going on in March when the brackets sprung up, and I answered to that.
Other people's mileage may vary and will vary, but if you're asking me whether or not that stuff is meaningful, I think in some ways it diminishes The Wire… I would have loved to see an idea or an argument that the show undertook come up in any of that bracketology, and it never does. Once you get done arguing over who's the coolest, or what scene makes you laugh the hardest, there's no room left to argue any of the things.
Which still seems a bit melodramatic: Obviously there’s room for multiple approaches and different modes of appreciation for The Wire, as there should be for any work of art. And contrary to Simon’s suggestion, one can easily argue about what the show has to teach us about, say, the role that an institution’s need for self-preservation plays in maintaining its lamentable status quo, and at the same time trade “funniest Bunk quotes.” (What is a "humble motherfucker with a big-ass dick" anyway but a commentary on the role of a city's police force, or something?)
To assume otherwise suggests—as Simon even said in the original interview—“contempt” for the audience and their capability for watching properly, no matter Simon’s somewhat-defeatist, passive-aggressive insistence that “you can watch it any way you want.” And that also goes for Simon expressing his dismay later in the interview that “I'm always amazed when people refer to corruption in The Wire in the most simplistic way,” by way of explaining another example of how viewers most missed his intent, because he believes their definition of “corruption” is vague and incorrect.
And yes, of course we can give Simon the benefit of the doubt that, as always, he’s only trying to protect the integrity of his show by arguing against premature evaluation, being reductive, and distracting silliness, all of which can indeed sometimes get in the way of the message. But maybe he could do all of us the same courtesy by not presuming those who may amuse themselves with a “who’s cooler?” tangent don’t also recognize that this sort of thing is not the point of the show. There’s room for all kinds of Wire fandom, after all, and if he’s arguing for first-time viewers to ignore those tangents and stick with a show until its entire structure can be built, it’s probably not a good idea to discourage them from even bothering by telling them to straighten up and dictating the terms of what he thinks that appreciation should be. Otherwise, it’s not a TV show you should be making; it’s a civics class. Oh, indeed. Like Omar says! He's cool.