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What Simon Doesn’t Say. A Brief Look at Casual Bigotry & David Simon.

David Simon did an interview with the New York Review of Books.

The interview follows the standard template. We are told: Simon is from near Baltimore (Silver Spring, MD) and got his start with the Baltimore Sun. Yada yada, he learned how to write and learned about the city, yada yada, Barry Levinson, Homicide, Life on the Street, yada, The Wire, sage of Baltimore 2.0. Yada, yada, yada.

Here’s a piece from the interview:

“NYRoB: How do the network police procedurals deal with issues race and crime?

D.S: They clean it up. How often do rich white people get murdered?

NYRoB: On Law and Order, quite often. Their murderers are Park Avenue matrons and spoiled private-school kids.

D.S: They’re protecting the franchise. Those stories are more interesting to the white consumerist audiences coveted by advertising executives. The truth is that violence follows economic deprivation. The vast majority of murders have to do with people who don’t have a lot. They’re chasing after the scraps falling off the table.”

While Law and Order was interesting in its first few seasons and then descended into a kind of procedural television version of a fast food franchise, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how Simon dodges the rebuttal to his criticism. The fact is while they may be “protecting the franchise” that doesn’t mean they’re not depicting the murders of White people. Simon presents these points as being mutually exclusive when, in truth, they are not. In fact spoiled rich White kids, their apathy, sociopathy and sense of privilege are a staple of Law and Order. As are (White) Wall Street executives, (White) models, and any number of other recognizable types belonging to the ruling class.

And pay attention to Simon designating “white consumerist audiences coveted by advertising executives” as somehow being distinct from the White consumerist audiences that have the money and leisure to afford HBO and Showtime. As if, just because HBO doesn’t show commercials, it isn’t a commercial for profit company and its Wall Street shit doesn’t stink. Which of coure is Simon’s way of saying he’s an innocent George Orwell-esque truth teller and let the chips fall where they may.

This is no small point because of how it sets up what for the media are the parameters of how they worship at the altar of Saint Simon, and for (Saint) Simon himself, who has spent the last decade telling anyone who will listen, that he is the sole arbiter of what does or does not constitute the truth of America’s mean streets generally, and specifically in Baltimore.

Which then sets up Simon sticking the landing with the utterly banal and disingenuous: “The truth is that violence follows economic deprivation. The vast majority of murders have to do with people who don’t have a lot.”

Technically he’s not wrong. There are far more murders committed in Pigtown and Winchester in Baltimore, than in Canton or Roland Park. Of course one could change the narrative frame and point out that the majority of lethal drone strikes occur in regions suffering through catastrophic drought and that the decision to launch a drone strike is taken by people with a lot, but is not defined as “murder.”

But we digress.

What goes missing in Simon’s version of the truth, is of course how Pigtown and Winchester and all of the other shell shocked and devastated parts of Baltimore, are that way because of rich people both in Baltimore and elsewhere who inherited their wealth and power from the systemic bigotry of Redlining, and the gangsterism it spawned*(1). Those segregated areas were exploited by assorted mafia who in turn flipped tens of thousands of row houses back to banks and used the money to set up philanthropic organizations who, partnered with Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, as well as banks and trusts, to maintain the current and systemic blight and violence because they turn a profit from it.

Therefore, the greater truth is that the vast majority of murders have do with the chasm between the wealthy, predominantly White haves, and the impoverished, predominantly not White, have-nots.

Notice that no where in The Wire does Simon come anywhere near mentioning the banks and trusts who financed the real estate empires, who in turn were laundering the drug money that came from the drugs that Simon has as being of, and particular to Black areas of Baltimore.

Notice that in The Wire it is the regurgitated early 20th and late 19th century racist trope of the mysterious foreigner (The Greek) who is responsible for the heroin trade – as if Baltimore has only one heroin kingpin (hilariously depicted as running his empire from a café in Greektown) and the drug economy is both somehow specific and general – localized in Black areas yet a metaphor that represents the entirety of the city – and somehow there are no White users and dealers. We have dealt with the truth of the Greek elsewhere*(2) but what matters here is how this is part of a continuous pattern with Simon and the complicit media.

He is not pressed about anything and when he is confronted by a contrary point, he dismisses it as if HBO were a not for profit Hipster small batch, artisanal endeavor, and not a wholly owned subsidiary of a gigantic corporate entity committed not to art, but to money.

Consider that in Simon’s narrative violence follows economic deprivation, except that he has yet in over a decade, to portray the executives and gentry, who own Baltimore – the bankers and lawyers who move the money that pays for the development of the Inner Harbor, the transformation of Canton and Fells, and are the people who own Sinclair Broadcasting or are invested in it.

In other words this is standard Simon. He is the Great White Explorer with (self-proclaimed) nobel intent who has gone down river, like Marlow in search of a Hip Hop Kurtz, and has returned to tell the guilt ridden White liberals that the drug scene in the hood is real yo, and tragic.

Ironically Simon mentions in the interview, going into a bar in Dundalk and remarks about the shit you would hear. He doesn’t actually tell us what he heard and it is worth noting that nowhere in The Wire, are we given a sense of the drug economy in Dundalk, or Essex or Middle River or Armistead Gardens or Pigtown, or for that matter in Roland Park, Oakenshaw or at Hopkins – all dominated by White people both impoverished and affluent. There may not be very many murders in Roland Park but there are users and dealers and the other crimes that are committed are done indoors on laptops.

But that doesn’t make for good television even on HBO. It does not frame the narrative and fix Black Americans as a fetish for White Americans, and it ignores the symbiosis between all facets of the system. But an examination of that symbiosis would mean a hard look at the banks, trusts, philanthropists and Wall Street and the people who finance “event television” like The Wire.

If it’s true that one can follow violence down to where people are economically desperate, then it is also true that one could follow the trail in reverse and ask who is manufacturing the guns, and who is transporting them and who is selling them, and then ask where all the money is being laundered. Following from that reversal of the narrative one could then designate the system in its entirety, as a violent crime.

But in order to do any of that you would have to not be someone who thinks mass surveillance is justified and necessary, and who justifies it with Trump-esque rhetoric full of chauvinism, scare-mongering, neo-fascist tropes and mysogony. You would have to be someone who isn’t making excuses for the utterly corrupt and systemically sadistic Baltimore Police and turning a profit from pandering to White liberals, while harping about the injustice of the system.

In other words, you would have to be someone who isn’t David Simon.

 

1 The definitive examination of Redlining in Baltimore is Antero Pietela’s, Not in My Neighborhood, How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City.

2 For a look at The Wire and Simon’s reactionary politics and prevarications about mass surveillance, see the following:

https://theviolentink.blog/2017/06/16/fuck-the-wire/

https://theviolentink.blog/2017/07/04/fuck-david-simon/

The New York Review of Books interview can be read here:

https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/08/22/an-interview-with-david-simon/

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8 comments on “What Simon Doesn’t Say. A Brief Look at Casual Bigotry & David Simon.

  1. All that is on target. But I’d point out one typically lost perspective.

    Most poor people, especially in a place like Baltimore, are white and always have been white. Yes, minorities suffer disproportionate poverty with all that goes with it. Yet it remains true that the largest sector of the poor, unemployed, homeless, incarcerated, police victim, etc are white.

    That is true even with drugs. Whites are more likely than other demographics to deal, carry, and use drugs. So, white drug crimes are greater both in absolute and relative terms. Not only that but whites are more likely to commit certain other kinds of crimes as well such as abuse, mass violence, etc.

    Poor whites aren’t portrayed as negatively as often in the corporate media. But that erasure is hardly an expression of privilege. They simply don’t exist or don’t matter, as far as the middle-to-upper class whites are concerned.

    Poor whites are only a useful scapegoat when the ruling elite lose control of the political narrative. But even that misses the point since poor whites like other poor people rarely vote.

    Redlining did target blacks. But it simultaneously created a racial hierarchy. Poor whites, often ethnic and Catholic immigrant populations, were likewise excluded from particular neighborhoods. And when the Irish showed up, it was often blacks as well as other whites that fled.

    These complications aren’t typically discussed in corporate media. It doesn’t fit the rhetorical framing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rauldukeblog says:

      I don’t disagree with any of that. Antero Pietila’s book on Redlining in Baltimore is really worth reading. He goes into great detail about the numerous ways in which Redlining impacted (and continues to impact) different ethnic groups. In particular he looks into the ethnic hierarchy as you phrase it.

      I have written four or five posts on Simon and have mentioned the predominantly White enclaves, Dundalk, Essex, Middle River and Armistead Gardens and how Simon generally and The Wire specifically ignores them while created a false talking point and context in which drugs/violence are by and of Black areas of the city (specifically Winchester/Sandtown) and continues to do so.

      Simon is a textbook example of an “Archie Bunker democrat” but he’s consistently being given a pass by the establishment liberal media for his comments – which are clearly, blatantly, Trump-esque in substance and tone.

      As to the deep backstory/history of Baltimore (to your point about the Irish/Catholics) the draft riots in the Civil War were about how the Scotch-Irish (Catholics) were essentially wage-slave labor of the railroad companies and saw emancipated Blacks as a threat as they would work for even lower wages. This was exploited by the Copperheads and needless to say Lincoln had to impose military rule in Baltimore.

      And you’re absolutely correct none of this gets discussed because it does not “fit the rhetorical framing.”

      Simon and the establishment media know that and work accordingly to frame the (sham) discussion so Simon continues as the noble liberal and the media can frame itself as plugged-in and righteous.

      And another crucial point: Re your point about ethnic hierarchies. Pietila akes a deep look at the impact Redlining impacted Jews in Baltimore and that many of them in turn formed a mafia that exploited Black Americans. That laid the foundations for the largest most influential philanthropic institutions in the city. This mirrors the Draft Riots with the railroads manipulating the Scotch/Irish who in turn attacked Black Americans.

      Fast forward and the federal government in a great example of the law of unintended consequences uses Redlining to “save” the banks/trusts/housing market but ends up creating a ruthless system of systemic racism, which in turn pits Jews against Blacks.

      The largest philanthropy in Baltimore was started by the Jewish mafia who bought into the government stock of empty houses, became slumlords, flipped the houses and then used that stock to establish the philanthropy which to this day continues to exploit the entrenched bigotry of Baltimore and does it to such an extent that Baltimore in its entirety (vs Simon’s bigoted framing of how it’s all about “the hood.”) is organized crime.

      Like

      1. I’m not familiar with the specific history of Baltimore. But I know the broader history. I’ve looked more into some other places such as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois — in particular Chicago and its suburbs.

        Interestingly, the only suburb I’ve ever lived in (Deerfield, IL) was an ethnic enclave, originally Jewish but now including as I recall Asians and Italians. The defining feature of the suburb was that it was sundown, meaning blacks were intentionally excluded through city planning in disallowing affordable housing. I’d assume that kept out most poor whites as well.

        My older brother remembers being ridiculed by the other kids. He had picked up a bit of an Appalachian accent from our previously having lived in a factory town in Ohio just on the edge of Appalachia. And our mother dressed us in working class clothes, such as cheap Toughskin jeans from Sear’s rather than the popular Levi’s.

        Still, that didn’t stop us from having some basic white privilege. And my dad at the time was a factory manager making good money. If not for living there, I wouldn’t have received some of the special education for my learning disability. Most minority and poor white kids don’t get that kind of help. It is a privilege going to a public school that is well-funded and has many resources.

        Once we moved, that all changed. I never again got that kind of help in any other school. Public schools outside of wealthy communities simply aren’t the same. When minorities and the poor are excluded, wealthy whites are willing to invest a lot in their schools and other public services. And that makes a big difference in maintaining inequalities.

        https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/aspergers-and-chunking/

        Liked by 1 person

      2. rauldukeblog says:

        I’ve been at both ends of the educational spectrum. I attended underfunded public schools but did well enough on a test to get a scholarship to a private school. The differences are as you describe them.

        Currently courtesy of a friend I live in an affluent area north of Chicago where people don’t lock their doors and until a few months ago there was a Maserati dealership a few blocks away. The local library is first rate and there are over a dozen large well stocked libraries within 30 minutes. Contrast that with Baltimore which is a zombie city on life support. “services” are all but non existent but of course that’s not an accident and is part of a deliberate strategy.

        I’m struck by your description of your brother’s accent and the clothes – these are subtle yet profound signs – codes of meaning and memory – that almost always get lost in the “public discussion/debates” and are confined to memoirs and novels.

        An accent is a universe of meaning.

        Thanks for the link, I’ll give it a read.

        Like

      3. I also was struck by this and it has been on my mind. My parents in recent years have talked about how traumatized my oldest brother when we moved to Deerfield. Being younger and maybe Asperger’s, I was oblivious to class hierarchy (I remained clueless until adulthood; I’m a slow learner). It was only a year or so ago that my brother mentioned the issue with accent. He pronounced ‘zero’ as ‘zeero’, and presumably my other brother and I also spoke that way. This caused me to think more about class and how it has shaped my life.

        My mother was working class and my dad, although son of a minister, grew up in a small working class town. Technically, I grew up middle class and much of my early life was spent in the upper middle class. But I never knew it, as my mother instilled in me a working class attitude. It was because my mother was also oblivious to or dismissive toward the paraphernelia of class identity that my brother suffered. She simply didn’t understand the subtleties of demonstrating class privilege and inclusion. If anything, she hated living upper middle class and despised the pompous privileged elite. She inherited that from her own father who was an old school Democrat working in a factor and most definitely not as a manager.

        My father was making good money. And he always enjoyed the finer things in life. But I suspect even he carried a waft of having grown up in a working class milieu. It was a taint on our entire family, something that couldn’t be hidden behind a higher pay scale that allowed a nicer house and car. An accent in particular is hard to shake and that is even more true for kids. Even my mother had a low class Hoosier accent for the first several decades of her life, causing people to mistake her as Southern and in the North that accent like an Appalachian accent indicates one is poor white.

        Class plays out in complicated and subtle ways. It’s not merely or primarily about money.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. rauldukeblog says:

        One of my favorite examples of breaking the barriers of assumptions is William Faulkner – a sixth grade drop out from the Deep South. And a genius. Granted he’s an exception but in this case the exception proves the rule.

        My last extended effort at a novel is (no surprise) set in and around Baltimore and a lot of it is concerned with generational echoes – how accents, clothes, gestures, styles all of it is a language and a set of interconnected mythologies even though few people perceive it as such but, to me that’s part of what you’re talking about – a mythology full of grandeur and absurdities and is the story of the grand narrative called “America.”

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Actually, Faulkner dropping out of a public school in the Deep South maybe was his one advantage. If he had stayed in through high school graduation, his genius might have been smothered in miseducation.

        There are a lot of potential geniuses out there who never make it. We are a wasteful society, especially when it comes to human life and potential.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. rauldukeblog says:

        That’s an excellent point. It reminds me of the smug self-righteous types who condemn drug use and I think yes but what would Miles Davis have been like without the heroin. It runs the risk of sounding glib but I mean, as I think you do, that the system tends to make banal judgements when the truth is usually far more complex. So yes, we should be thankful Faulkner wasn’t edge-a-ma-kated.

        Liked by 1 person

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