Excerpt: 'Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues' by Bill Moyers
The Wire, HBO
Bill Moyers: There is a fellow in city government here in New York who’s a policy wonk and a die-hard Wire fan. He was hoping I would ask you the one question on his mind: “David Simon has painted the most vivid and compelling portrait of the modern American city. Has he walked away from that story? And if he has, will he come back to it?”
David Simon: I’ve walked away from the Wire universe. It’s had its five years. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. If you keep stuff open-ended and you keep trying to stretch character and plot, they eventually break or bend.
Bill Moyers: What is it about the crime scene that gives you a keyhole, the best keyhole perhaps, into how American society really works?
David Simon: You see the equivocations. You see the stuff that doesn’t make it into the civics books, and you also see how interconnected things are. How connected the performance of the school system is to the culture of a street corner. Or where parenting comes in. The decline of industry suddenly interacts with the paucity and sort of fraud of public education in the inner city. Because The Wire was not a story about America, it’s about the America that got left behind.
Bill Moyers: I was struck by something that you said. You were wrestling with this one big existential question. You talked about drug addicts who would come out of detox and then try to steel-jaw themselves through their neighborhood. And then they’d come face-to-face with the question—which is…?
David Simon: “What am I doing here?” You know, a guy coming out of addiction at thirty, thirty-five, because it often takes to that age, he often got into addiction with a string of problems, some of which were interpersonal and personal, and some of which were systemic. These really are the excess people in America. Our economy doesn’t need them—we don’t need 10 or 15 percent of our population. And certainly the ones who are undereducated, who have been ill-served by the inner-city school system, who have been unprepared for the technocracy of the modern economy, we pretend to need them. We pretend to educate the kids. We pretend that we’re actually including them in the American ideal, but we’re not. And they’re not foolish. They get it. They understand that the only viable economic base in their neighborhoods is this multibillion-dollar drug trade.
Bill Moyers: I did a documentary about the South Bronx called The Fire Next Door and what I learned very early is that the drug trade is an inverted form of capitalism.
David Simon: Absolutely. In some ways it’s the most destructive form of welfare that we’ve established, the illegal drug trade in these neighborhoods. It’s basically like opening up a Bethlehem Steel in the middle of the South Bronx or in West Baltimore and saying, “You guys are all steelworkers.” Just say no? That’s our answer to that? And by the way, if it was chewing up white folk, it wouldn’t have gone on for as long as it did.