"Fuck You and the Ideology You Rode In On" David Simon, the Television Format, and Politics

Curator's Note

At the beginning of the Slavoj Žižek and Sophie Fiennes collaboration The Perverts Guide to Ideology (2012) Žižek, the famous ideological theorist and political activist, suggests that we can think of ideology as the garbage can we are constantly eating out of; the recycled, easy intellectual solutions to the problems and inequalities in our society. Drawing on the works of Louis Althusser, we can say that ideology is a social thought process that simplifies and provides (falsely satisfying) solutions to complex issues such as class struggle, racism, etc. in order to retain the power of the ruling class. It is, quite literally, the eternal dumpster of political discourse. But what does all this have to do with David Simon? In his talk about The Wire (embedded on the left) Simon suggests that the biggest problem he had with the show’s reception is not the way it was co-opted by different political movements and mentalities, but the simplicity with which those groups used his show to put forward their political agendas. Decrying the "great new plague of the 21st century" (that any political agenda can have the answer in a paragraph), Simon argues that he has two "hats." His "artist’s" hat is proud of the way The Wire could speak to so many problems in the political sphere, but his other, more political hat, rejects the way those political factions could simplify the issues through their "easy" ideological answers . In this sense, it is clear why Simon is drawn to the television format which allows him to nuance social issues while retaining their inherent complexity. The long, procedural process of television shows not only provides a greater potential for story arcs, but also complicates the notion of "easy" narrative solutions. Hence, through television, Simon is able to retain the complexity of social problems while sidestepping the simplified answers of different ideologies. Or is he? Can we consider The Wire as a post-ideological show? In what ways does the television format complicate (or maybe facilitate to Simon’s chagrin) the power of ideological arguments? Could we consider the show an ideological vacuum? Although I don’t have any easy answers to these questions (hopefully there aren’t any), I think they provide different routes to thinking about the much discussed show within the ideological/political context that falls between Simon’s two hats (the aesthetic and the political). In collapsing the distinctions between TV formats, politics, ideology, and "art" I think we can not only see The Wire as the complex show that it is, but also it’s value as a pedagogical or political tool; one that emphasizes the complexities of society instead of soothing them. Why not wear both of the hats that Simon asks us to?

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