Friday, April 6, 2012

AUTHORSHIP AND OWNERSHIP : This post is certified 100% spoiler-free.

How to watch The Wire, according to David Simon:
  1. Watch the whole thing. Preferably on Sundays at 10:00 p.m. a decade ago, but I reluctantly grant you permission to watch it at other times.
  2. Do not breathe a word about The Wire until you have watched the entire series.
  3. Do not form any opinions about The Wire until you have watched the entire series.
  4. You know, just like how when you read a book, you do not talk about it or form any opinions about it until you have finished reading it. Because experiencing art and entertainment is a furtive pastime, right?
  5. When you have finished with the entire series, you are authorized to discuss The Big Picture, The Thesis, and What It All Means.
  6. Under no circumstances are you to express opinions about components of The Wire, like individual episodes or particular characters that you liked, because discussion of any such opinions prevents people from discussing The Big Picture, The Thesis, and What It All Means.
Those are obviously ridiculous rules. It doesn't offend me in the least that Simon advocates them, because he is in a terrible position. He created a work of fiction that is rightfully beloved by an ever-growing audience, and he is entitled to say what that show means to him and how he meant others to experience it. It must be incredibly frustrating to create something that people use -- that people consume, though I suspect he would cringe at the word -- in a way that he didn't intend.

But he's still wrong. An author's control over his work ends at the moment that the consumer obtains it, and the right to determine what the work is transfers from author to consumer at that precise moment. Simon can try to influence that meaning, and, as the author, has a greater role (or taller soapbox) than others in doing that. But the ultimate measure of a work's meaning is how it is perceived, not how it was intended or how it was created. That's why authors who try to fight the prevailing perception of their work (Veena Sud comes to mind) cannot win.

And the other thing about which Simon is wrong is the weird notion that obsessing about discrete components of The Wire is incompatible with an understanding of The Wire as a unified whole. It's exactly the opposite. People care about the characters because of their role in the unified whole, because of the way that those characters' actions and attitudes shaped or reflected Simon's Baltimore. Favoring Omar over Stringer as a character is no more inconsistent with understanding the ways in which institutions inhibit progress than picking one's friends is inconsistent with formulating a world view. I'm fairly certain that I get The Wire, both as a social statement and as a work of fiction, and I'm also pretty certain that I love Bunny Colvin and like hearing Adam's and Marsha's and everybody else's newbie take on individual episodes.


  1. The Pathetic Earthling5:06 PM

    I missed Wire Wednesdays since I was waiting to reboot my HBO subscription for Game of Thrones.  Now I'm working through it.  Just finished Ep. 102, but this is really interesting stuff.

  2. Sipenwall interviews him about the previous interview:

  3. isaac_spaceman8:50 PM

    That's what I linked to in this post.

  4. Artists!  

  5. Anonymous3:44 PM

    Even with his backtracking, he sounds like an insufferable douche. But then again, most artists are...

  6. He's a helluva writer, but a pretty miserable person.

    Just look at the hat he's wearing in the picture on Sepinwall's page.  That alone speaks volumes.

  7. Nigel from Cameroon11:56 AM

    Simon and Milch both drive me crazy when they try to speak rather than write. And Sepinwall's (who I otherwise enjoy) blind spot about those two drives me equally crazy