The David Simon Vice Interview

David Simon

A great interview with a man who consistently gives great interviews, in a publication, which, with all the fondest adolescent memory, does not. One glaring point of note: How does a man, a fiercely intelligent man, whose whole oeuvre turns on his innate documentarian’s rage at the destruction wrought on inner city America by the vicissitudes of late capitalism (see Kinkle and Toscano in Read), and who regularly employs an articulate critique of this very same post-modern capitalism, assert himself as definitely not a Marxist but an affirmed believer in capitalised Capitalism?

Tell me, Dossier’s US readership, is this the obvious result of a fundamental ideological mechanism? The advantage of the transatlantic nature of this blog lies in its superposition between two understandings of the word Marxist: according to Simon, it appears to mean someone who wishes to replace Capitalism with Communism, while over here I’d suggest it generally refers to any discourse which might casually reference, say, the systematic oppression of organised labour in the process of producing a critique of capitalism. Which is something he does. A lot.

As someone who, for one reason or another, reads a lot of material produced by art galleries to explain the work of their represented artists, I’m used to the inconsistency of people invoking forms of critique whose genesis lies in Marxist theory, while casually disavowing ‘Marxism’ as synonymous with a discredited form of governance. This seems entirely indicative of just the sort of inauthentic post-modernist politics which most of The Wire militates against. While The Wire’s mainstream success still resonates beyond the lame validations of Guardian hype-merchants and Tory frontbenchers, let’s see this show as it really is, beyond its creator’s vacillating apologies, as a potent form of leftist agitation. A Christmas thought? David Simon, come out the fucking closet.


  1. Posted December 24, 2009 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    A good and important observation about Simon. I think you also sort of “hit the nail on the head” when noting that in the US there exists a large and widespread misconception about Marx, Marxism, and Marxist theory. Unfortunately, much of the misconceptions about Marxist theory often stem from people not having read even the tiniest bit of Marx’s work, or any number of those individuals who could fall under the umbrella term of Marxist theorists.

    Also, I have to say that I think Simon is often championed as being more of a critical thinker than he really is. As seen in his blatant misunderstanding of Marxist theory.

  2. Not Really
    Posted December 24, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Simon is thinking about it more than you cats assume.

    By virtue of its co-option into Communist ideology, Marxism has been essentially laughed out of critical existence in the United States. That Marx made fundamental points that are valid, that some of his theories are legitimate is not the point politically. Diagnostically, Marx makes some good sense, true, but prescriptively, he’s as vulnerable to harsh critique as any weak-ass economic or political theorist. (“the withering away of the state”? seriously?)

    The point is that if Simon, in his country, were to speak warmly of Marx, he and his art would be instantly — and I mean instantly — consigned to the smallest corner of the national political discourse. Instead, Simon utilizes what works in the Marxist critique of capitalism, but he acknowledges the inevitability of the capitalist model (Marxism had its chance historically and fell on its ass in the 20th Century). Meanwhile he argues for capitalism to be mitigated by a socialist framework that demands utilitarian respect for all sectors of society — in short, Roosevelt’s New Deal. Simon has described himself as a “social democrat” or a “Labourite” and “left of the Democratic Party.” That is as far as any American can go without instantly marginalizing himself in the public debate.

    You want him to come out of a closet and speak warmly of Karl Marx? In America? You’re actually asking the opposite, for him to step INTO a political closet — instantly. Instead, he uses what works in Marxist theory to fashion an argument for New Deal-type policies — which is a possible political outcome in the U.S. where Marxism being embraced in any sense (look at the argument over the moniker “socialist” in the current health care debate) is not. He’s being practical and politically relevant. He’s in the real world.

    You guys are being luftmenschen.

  3. Posted December 24, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    This blurb on ‘The Declining Unpopularity of Socialism’ by Matthew Yglesias is interesting in this regard . I don’t think the word is beyond rehabilitation. The American Right already considers New Deal-type policies to be socialist (Reagan comparing FDR to Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin) and I don’t know if a great deal would be lost by embracing the moniker, especially if always framed in opposition to a, perhaps equally unnuanced, characterization of capitalism as the world of big banks, insurance companies and big pharma.

  4. Not Really
    Posted December 24, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Socialism is one thing as a moniker. Simon himself uses it to fashion an argument for public health care and to argue for a socialist approach on that issue — in the very same interview cited above.

    Marxist is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

    To fight for the ideal of socialism in America is to start at the left edge of political discourse. Simon has done that. Read the interview. He equates group insurance itself with socialism in accusing those opposed to a public health care system of hyopcrisy. He calls himself a social democrat.

    Marxism? Unfortunately, Marxism has — along with its bastard child Communism — been nearly laughed out of existence in the last century. That doesn’t mean that Marx didn’t have an effective critiqwue of capitalistic excesses, only that his prescriptive theories for society could not be achieved without totalitarianism resulting, ergo his name is anaethma in the United States.

    To equate the moniker of socialism with Marxism is equivocation on your part. They may be similar in your mind, but they are not similar in American political discourse. Marx was embraced by Lenin. Social programs are inherent in mainstream leftist application vis a vis the New Deal and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. You say not much would be lost at this point embracing Marxism? Not much saved for the American political center, which is the whole ballgame in terms of practical politics. If you call yourself a Marxist, the far left applauds. If you say you are for social programs as a break and balance to unrestrained capitalism, you might well carry the center. Roosevelt did precisely that.

  5. Trapped in da Closet
    Posted December 24, 2009 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Who are you arguing with Not Really? I said not much would be lost by embracing the moniker socialist and not Marxist. It was a tangent and I didn’t mean to equate socialism with Marxism. Marxism is about critique, the critique of everything existing. Marx said extremely little about socialism and nothing all that prescriptive, as far as I know. Obviously under ‘really existing socialism’ Marxism ossified into something else, together with socialism and communism, but I’m not so sure that it would be impossible for Simon to be taken seriously if he called himself some type of marxist. Maybe of course, but I’m not sure.

  6. Not Really
    Posted December 24, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Ok, if you’re not conflating them, then you’re not conflating them. It seemed to me that the original critique on the blog called for Simon to claim Marxism. Your cite of the Iglesias comment, which deals with socialism, seemed to be cited in that context, with your contention that not a lot would be lost embracing the moniker. But Simon has embraced socialist principles, specifically in the interview; it is Marxism that he declines.

    And now in this latest post you indeed do wonder if it would be impossible Simon to be taken seriously if he called himself a Marxist. Well, there are many members of Congress and other U.S. state, federal and local governmental bodies who survive election to election by expressing support for a string of social programs and by passing laws that have socialist purpose. Name one elected Marxist in America. That gives you an idea of how marginalized self-identified Marxists are in U.S. political culture.

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