'Treme' Creator David Simon Reflects on Drug War, BP and Critics
Says Treme could deal with BP if it makes it to season five.
David Simon, creator of "The Wire," the HBO series considered by many to be the best television show ever, and "Treme," also on HBO, which chronicles the lives of people rebuilding in post-Katrina New Orleans, was in the Crescent City over the weekend to address the Rising Tide conference, which annually draws bloggers and writers to discuss the recovery. At the conference, The Loop 21 caught up with Simon to discuss the war on drugs, the BP oil disaster, and critics of his show.
The Loop 21: You recently told U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that you would do another season of "The Wire" if he ended the war on drugs. Have you heard a response back from him on that?
David Simon: He was just being playful and so was I. I don’t really expect the Attorney General to suspend the drug war to get another season of "The Wire." His comments were very kind and flattering, and I just used it as an opportunity to address one of the major themes in "The Wire," which is that the drug war is untenable, and has degenerated into a war on America. But do I expect him to do that? He can’t do it. He doesn’t make laws. He is the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and so when I made the comment I didn’t actually expect the slightest response. I made the comment to keep the argument going.
But there is an underlying truth in what you proposed. What do you think of the New Orleans Police Department recent re-consideration of arresting people for weed?
Well, I don’t think they should arrest for anything. I think it's a public health problem, and it should be addressed aggressively as a public health problem. I’m very much interested in examining the root causes of violence -- but I don’t think arresting people for narcotics goes even indirectly to that. I spent a year on a drug court, and most of the drug users I met were nonviolent -- incredibly passionate, but those that were violent could have been policed on the basis of the violent acts. Because the police department learned that locking somebody up over a bag of dope was the easiest way to do business, there was no one actually investigating the violent acts or being able to discern which guy on the corner was doing the violent acts. They weren’t doing the hard job of actually policing the city. They were just locking people up for dope.
Have you been following how the federal, state and local governments have been handling the BP oil disaster, and if so, do you think it makes for a compelling story line for an HBO show?
If we get to season five in "Treme" we would have plenty of material to deal with BP and the aftermath. I don't know if we can go as far as season five, though. I don’t know if the show has legs for that. Even though certain plot lines will become evident and be more relevant in a certain sense, the characters themselves and their own personal dynamics, they have to be sustainable. Because at some point the characters start to repeat themselves as human beings. When you’ve said all you can say about these people and their world then it’s time to move on to another show. And it's the writers job to say that. We’re still trying to figure that out. We don’t know if it's three, four or five years out.
What do you say to critics who say "Treme" isn't interesting?
I don’t argue with critics because we want to be considered; we want to be criticized. The only times you see me picking a fight with critics is when I challenge standing, somebody’s right to tell a story. Or, when they argue that a story is inaccurate with facts. Only then do I feel the need to jump in. If somebody doesn’t like it, or if somebody doesn’t dig what you’re doing, that’s their job. That's their opinion. No story or project or book I’ve ever been involved in has ever appealed to everybody. I’ve never had a hit. "The Wire" wasn’t a hit. In the beginning they said it was boring. You can only tell the story you want to tell and the way you think is best to tell it, and whoever comes to the campfire, great. If others see something they perceive to be a flaw, or that they don’t appreciate, or doesn’t interest them, you can’t very well complain if they say so because at least you are being regarded.