With The Wire's fifth and final season in the can -- we'd talk more about it, except that a couple of our slacking staffers are still plowing through seasons one through four -- creator/mastermind David Simon stopped by Harvard to accept we're-not-worthy genuflections from a few serious social-science superstars. Leading off was William Julius Wilson, whose landmark When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor was namechecked by Simon as a strong influence on the dockworkers' plot in Season Two. WJW, in his introduction (which you can stream below): "Indeed, I do not hesitate to say that [The Wire] has done more to enhance our understanding of the challenges of urban life and the problems of urban inequality than any other media event or scholarly publication including studies by social scientists."
Simon was his typically combative self -- if not the angriest man in television then, well, still angry. His remarks on what led him from a beat on the Baltimore Sun to writing The Wire is as lacerating a critique of journalism as you'll hear -- it's a potent argument that should sit side-by-side all the reams of html being expended on how the internet is killing newspapers. When one budding j-school student asked whether Simon had overstated the case against journalism by making one of Season Five's villains a newsroom fabricator, Simon responded by referencing "those two fellows at the Globe," by which we can only assume he meant Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith. He also declined to answer the spoilerific best question of the evening -- "How come Omar had to get whacked by that little hopper?" -- a question which we'll attempt to answer ourselves in a post later this week.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Wire-at-Harvard event if there wasn't some dweeby white kid attempting to pick a message-board-grade argument with the series creator by suggesting that Simon should've picked a Baltimore club track for the Wire's opening theme. (We didn't get a chance to scream, "Dude, Season 4 Episode 8!") We'll post that clip later this week, after we finish shuddering with embarassment for everyone involved. Suffice to say that Simon had a very plausible answer for a totally absurd question, and that DJ Technics will survive this latest indignity.
We'll be posting the FULL AUDIO of the conference on Thursday; check back for the mpfree.
David Simon at Harvard: Introduction by William Julius WilsonDavid Simon at Harvard: on the birth of The Wire David Simon at Harvard: on the death of journalism
COMING SOON: later this week, we'll be posting highlights from the panel discussion, where Simon traded bons mots with WJW, a Boston Police Deputy Superintendant (Simon made a show of checking her stripes after she declared The Wire authentic, noting that he'd never gotten that kind of straight talk from anybody over the rank of sergeant), Bronx-reared author Geoffrey Canada (Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America), and the swashbuckling sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, who went undercover with street gangs to write an insider's look at thug politics and also posted on the Times' Freakonomics blog about watching The Wire with actual street criminals.