Mark Bowden takes on David Simon and “The Wire”

David Simon and HBO’s The Wire is the best show on television, bar none.? There is no ample comparison for the show.? Calling it something trite like “the Michael Jordan of television dramas” would, in all likelihood, be a disservice to the wire.? Unfortunately, the show has only ever gained a fervant cult audience and has never been, for all it’s heaps of praise and worship, been nominated for any kind of awards.

The show is too complex, too honest and cuts too close to the bone of our lives.? Because of this, The Wire could never be fully embraced.? Yes, a large majority of people want realism in their shows, but they also want something slightly uplifting or, at the very least, entertaining.? But watching this drama you feel as though you are watching a fluid non-fiction tome unfold – a documdrama of Dickensian proportions.


Perhaps, then, Mark Bowden’s essay in The Atlantic comes closest to capturing the true importance of the show and the man behind the curtain, David Simon.

The essay takes a bit to get into, especially given the lengths that author takes in desribing the differences between fiction and journalism; however, once you get past all that Bowden sheds some light on Simon’s vitriol.? Yes, like the title of the article, Simon may be the most angry man in television.? Particularly funny, was Bowden’s confession that even he ended up on the wrong side of Simon’s anger.

Simon is the reporter who knows enough about Baltimore to have his story all figured out, but instead of risking the coherence of his vision by doing what reporters do, heading back out day after day to observe, to ask more questions, to take more notes, he has stopped reporting and started inventing. He says, I have figured this thing out. He offers up his undisturbed vision, leaving out the things that don?t fit, adding things that emphasize its fundamentals, and then using the trappings of realism to dress it up and bring it to life onscreen.

The essential difference between writing nonfiction and writing fiction is that the artist owns his vision, while the journalist can never really claim one, or at least not a complete one?because the real world is infinitely complex and ever changing. Art frees you from the infuriating unfinishedness of the real world. For this reason, the very clarity of well-wrought fiction can sometimes make it feel more real than reality. As a film producer once told me, ?It?s important not to let the facts get in the way of the truth.?

Fiction can explain things that journalism cannot. It allows you to enter the lives and motivations of characters with far more intimacy than is typically possible in nonfiction. In the case of The Wire, fiction allows you to wander around inside a violent, criminal subculture, and inside an entrenched official bureaucracy, in a way that most reporters can only dream about. And it frees you from concerns about libel and cruelty. It frees you to be unfair.

In an avalanche of articles regarding David Simon and the brilliance of The Wire, Bowden’s article is welcomed for it’s own evenhandedness in trying to encapsulate both the beauty and the ugliness of the show.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lee Heidhues February 10, 2008, 1:51 pm

    I thought the article was very insightful. More interesting to me was the clip inserted into the online copy from Season Three in which ‘Bubs’, in a very dystopian scene, walks through Hamsterdam at night. It was eerie and straight out of the Blade Runner genre. Mr. Bowden seems to enjoy The Wire a lot. So, if he takes several shots at Mr. Simon’s motivations, it makes for good for thought. And, having read ‘Black Hawk Down’ and ‘Killing Pablo’, Mr. Bowden has good credibility.

  • James Furbush January 9, 2008, 11:07 am

    Well, what I meant by the word evenhandedness, was simply that unlike most articles about The Wire, Bowden seemed to want to understand where David Simon’s genius (or whatever label you want to use) comes from. Most articles just state his genius as a fact. Maybe the reporting leaves a lot to be desired and even Bowden’s own biases, but his take on the show I thought, was rather fair. It wasn’t just giving Simon and The Wire a sloppy wet one like just about ever other article that has deluged us on the show recently.

  • Rafael January 9, 2008, 8:05 am

    Evenhanded! Are you kidding? His criticisms are completely unsubstantiated. He says that the show H”offers up his undisturbed vision, leaving out the things that don?t fit, adding things that emphasize its fundamentals” and then provides no examples. He describes his problems with Simon- and then seems to suggest that the things simon does that caused his (bowden’s) problems with him taint the show, though again he offers no examples. He says that simon’s judgments are cloudy, wrong (but honest), but offers no examples of how that wrongness mars the show. He throws the low-blow that simon wanted a raise. First of all- what is bowden’s point. second- he just wrote a wildly successful book!

    What a stupid article. why is someone who has gotten into a dispute with simon and is friends with simon’s two targets writing what purports to be an objective assessment of simon? So stupid.

  • James Furbush January 6, 2008, 9:08 pm

    Touche my friend. I think that’s also what caught me the most about the story was Mark Bowden casually inserting himself into the article and merely mentioning that both of The Baltimore Sun editors David Simon is upset with the most are friends of his that he admires and respects…

  • Evenhanded? January 6, 2008, 7:17 pm

    Undisclosed in the Atlantic piece: Simon broke ranks with the two editors in Baltimore when they went to lengths to protect and defend a reporter who was making up stories. Bowden is not merely a longtime acquaintance of these editors, one is actually his boss, hiring him at the Philly Inquirer.

    Additionally, Bowden blurbed the first book by the reporter who was caught manufacturing stories, which had to be retracted in full. The Atlantic piece does not fully disclose the relationship between Bowden and those he defends or mitigates from one of the most fundamental ethical standards in journalism.

    Simon may be vitriolic and angry, but there is a history here of which Bowden does not openly speak.