Point is—I come from a generation of young liberals who, after the relative coddling of a Clintonian childhood, were horribly crushed by election outcomes. Not once, but twice in a row, with 9/11 in the middle (my 18th birthday was two days before).
I strongly suspect that we will be forever a little messed up by having come of age in what might prove to be a peak period in world prosperity, relative international calm, and predictable disappointments—followed so abruptly by trauma after trauma after trauma.
I recall, probably around spring break of 2002, sitting with my father (well-weathered by the injustices of the world) and watching the sunset together, my mom’s extended family chattering around us, and quietly telling him, “I just want to know that the world is going to be okay.”
And for the first time ever, he told me, “Well, Dylan, it’s not.”
David Simon (yes, that David Simon) shows up in a comment thread to say much the same thing (if not as succinctly) to Matt Yglesias, who feels Simon’s vision of bleak urban dystopia is counterproductive to advancing the values we hold dear:
Writing to affirm what people are saying about my faith in individuals to rebel against rigged systems and exert for dignity, while at the same time doubtful that the institutions of a capital-obsessed oligarchy will reform themselves short of outright economic depression (New Deal, the rise of collective bargaining) or systemic moral failure that actually threatens middle-class lives (Vietnam and the resulting, though brief commitment to rethinking our brutal foreign-policy footprints around the world). The Wire is dissent; it argues that our systems are no longer viable for the greater good of the most, that America is no longer operating as a utilitarian and democratic experiment. If you are not comfortable with that notion, you won’t agree with some of the tonalities of the show. I would argue that people comfortable with the economic and political trends in the United States right now—and thinking that the nation and its institutions are equipped to respond meaningfully to the problems depicted with some care and accuracy on The Wire (we reported each season fresh, we did not write solely from memory)—well, perhaps they’re playing with the tuning knobs when the back of the appliance is in flames.
Does that mean The Wire is without humanist affection for its characters? Or that it doesn’t admire characters who act in a selfless or benign fashion? Camus rightly argues that to commit to a just cause against overwhelming odds is absurd. He further argues that not to commit is equally absurd. Only one choice, however, offers the slightest chance for dignity. And dignity matters.
All that said, I am the product of a C-average GPA and a general studies degree from a state university and thirteen years of careful reporting about one rustbelt city. Hell do I know. Maybe my head is up my ass.
That thread in general is well worth your while beyond Simon’s pith; I’ll just highlight one other, inconclusive comment, and leave it at that:
I clerked for a very conservative federal judge who was known in our district as the “hanging judge.” He was a huge Wire fan and his sentencing/judging really changed for the better since he started watching the show. Of course, I don’t know if it was the show for sure; but his view and treatment of the people coming before him changed dramatically.