Culture

Avon Marxdale?

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Ezra Klein weirdly tries to claim The Wire for big government:

You already know the panoply of lefty bloggers who regularly recommend and rave over the show, but now Cato is recommending it as a stocking stuffer. Meanwhile, my personal Wire-watching group includes lefties, punk rock chefs, and hardcore libertarians. So I think the anecdotal evidence of pan-ideological appeal is ironclad. Which is a bit odd, given that the creators are, as best I can tell, revolutionary socialists.

Really? The show depicts the systematic failure of one government institution after another. How exactly is that an endorsement of socialism?

To support his position, Klein argues that the show's most entrepeneurial, up-by-the-bootstraps characters are the ones that seem most prone to unhappy endings. But those unhappy endings generally come courtesy of bad government policy—usually the violence begotten by drug prohibition. It would be a bit like saying a show depicting a small businessman crushed by excessive regulation somehow shows the creators' contempt for private enterprise. Fiction writers routinely abuse virtuous characters. It may reflect a writer's cynicism, sadism, nihilism, or any number of other isms. But it doesn't necessarily depict a writer's contempt for virtue. A character's arc doesn't have to indicate what value the writers place on that character's values, or on the wisdom of the decisions he's made.

As for The Wire specifically, I doubt Ed Burns and David Simon strive to inject any sort of politics into the show's plotlines, other than a certain fuck-all cynicism for institutions people like Klein hold sacred (public service, unions, government workers, public schools). But if you were to draw an ideology out of the show's rough treatment of sympathetic characters, I'd think it would be something about how even well-intentioned public policy tends to pervert incentives, and crush the few people in desperate neighborhoods with the potential, values, and ethic to get out.

In other words, the opposite of socialism. Which would be….oh….damn….what's a good word for "the opposite of socialism?"

I don't know much about Ed Burns' politics. But I do know a writer who's working with David Simon on his next project. That writer has told me that Simon has nearly converted him to libertarianism, which suggests that Simon's not just a libertarian, but perhaps even a proselytizing one. Klein might also read Jesse Walker's interview with Simon. He doesn't mention the l-word, and the interview itself isn't explicitly political, but I think it's pretty clear that socialism isn't on the guy's radar.

ADDENDUM: Okay, so some feedback posted below and sent via email point to interviews where Simon says some things about capitalism that don't jibe with doctrinaire libertarianism. Fair enough. And it's certainly possible the writer mentioned above was politely patronizing me a bit. Still,taking note of the fact that capitalism does indeed create winners and losers—and lamenting what it does to the losers—isn't necessarily an endorsement of massive government programs to correct or reverse the process, particularly in a show so cynical about government in other contexts. There's also the point that the type of raw capitalism Simon is so critical of in parts of those interviews—which would include sexual slavery—isn't compatible with libertarianism.  So I'll offer those concessions, and retract my snark.

But I'd still maintain that there's lots for libertarians to like about the show, and that it's a far cry from any endorsement of socialism.

Klein also responds below to clarify, with a comment that I think I can agree with:

The show is so cynical about everything—both public institutions and private initative—that every ideology sees their enemies skewered, while the relentless cynicism sidesteps the discussion over solutions. That makes it, in a weird way, pan-ideological—it hates the status quo so much that every would-be reformer can find something to love.

Sounds about right.