Monday, August 13, 2007

Amen to that

In the latest issue of The Believer, Nick Hornby interviews David Simon, cocreator of The Wire. I already loved that show, but now my admiration for Simon himself has grown even further. First of all, he points out that unlike The Sopranos and Deadwood, to which his show is usually compared, The Wire is not Shakespearean in inspiration but looks back to an older model: It's not about "the angst and machinations of the central characters" but about "doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality. (…) The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. (…) In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed." The former member of the French Socialist Party in me cheered that one.

Another statement resonated with the current member of the media world in me: "Fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell." Simon then explains that he preferred "assuming the reader/viewer knew more than he did, or could, with a sensible amount of effort, hang around long enough to figure it out." What? Effort? You mean the reader has to work at something? Anathema in our world of easily digestible factoids!

So come on, fork out $8 for The Believer. There's more wisdom from Simon, plus goodies like Elizabeth Isadora Gold's essay on 1970s feminist novels (it actually made me want to reread Marilyn French's The Women's Room) and Victor Brand's introduction to the world of Boris Vian.


Raquel Laneri said...

Re: "assuming the reader/viewer knew more than he did, or could, with a sensible amount of effort, hang around long enough to figure it out."

I like to think that if readers/consumers-of-culture just got used to using their brains and figuring stuff out, they would find that they actually enjoy it. Instead we (writers) are required to contribute to their laziness.

This reminds me of A.O. Scott's tribute to Bergman and Antonioni in the NYT a few weeks ago he wrote that contemporary filmgoers today "would rather be teased than troubled, and the measure of artistic sophistication is cleverness rather than seriousness." I would go a step further and say we would rather be placated.

Anyway, love the interview! And love David Simon for calling to question what we're taught in journalism school!

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I often think that half of what is taught in journalism school could be learned by simply reading a lot. And not just the news or essays but novels. We don't need more writers, we need more readers.