David Simon: “What I have found myself writing about is the end of empire: what happens when the affluent decide not to pay their share.”

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that David Simon has transformed the way many of us think about the interconnectedness of the social issues that plague our cities and communities in the C 21st. The Wire zoomed out, from the street corner to city hall, weaving an epic narrative on the political and economic pressures fracturing labor rights, hollowing-out education and crippling policing.

At the very least, he changed writing for television, and raised the bar for all comers.

So of course I was stupidly excited to hear that he’d be speaking at the BMW Guggenheim Lab on the LES. Simon took the mic and spoke honestly, angrily and informally, without notes, for two hours straight. I found myself agreeing with almost every point he raised. I stood on the edge of the crowd and took notes till my thumbs hurt.

Here’s all the quotes I managed to capture. They’re a bit random and disconnected, but you’ll get the general idea of the tone of his talk.

David Simon, NYC. August 31, 2011.

What I have found myself writing about is the end of empire: what happens when the affluent decide not to pay their share.

What we’re looking at now is the moral equivalent of a gated community…. I’ve got mine, so fuck him.

What we are looking at is the triumph of capital. I would date it to 1980: there has been a class war, and my class is winning.

Capitalism is the only way to build mass wealth: it is not a meaningful blueprint for a just society.

It’s a casino: if you mistake it for a mechanism that will build a just society, you do that at your peril. We’ve been doing that for 30 years.

The good news is that it’s going to get worse… It won’t be in NY, it’ll be in St Louis or another place like that… It’ll happen in places where the game is so rigged, where the crumbs that fall from the table are so small, that people will rise up.

The thing that made America great is organized labor… If you look at what labor gave us, it didn’t just give us a living wage. It created a consumer class, people who were willing to buy shit, that is the engine that drives the American economy.

If you come to NY you feel like the center of the universe, everything happens first here… It’s the triumph of NY that the rest of the world doesn’t matter that much. The problem is that whatever cancer the rest of the country is experiences, you don’t feel it here.

People are being thrown away, people that we dont need, people being trained for the corner. When you just don’t need 15-20% of your population anymore, economically, all you can do is make them chow for the system. It makes economic sense to make money off human misery.

Our prisons are publicly traded companies. How do you get 6 or 8% profits when you’re running prisons? You have to make it a growth industry: you have to send more people to jail.

We have more people in jail in America by sheer number and percentage than China, than any other state in the world…. Criminal justice is the largest growing lobbying group. The core chow is people trying to move to a better life, and low-level drug offenders.

Capital has not only achieved this for itself, it has also purchased the government that you might want to use to do something about it.

Two things: opt out for drug wars, acquit low level offenders.

Question time: usually 50% of questions about Omar

Question on the response to Obama’s healthcare plan: this is about the upper middle class, the middle class, and even the working class saying: if someone is below me, fuck em. What do you think the concept of group healthcare is? It’s socialistic. What they’re saying is I want socialism for me, for people who look like me, who work where I work. When people who are affluent do this, that’s a society in decline.

I’m not looking for moustache twirlers: I just think money routes itself. I think the collapse of high end media isn’t a conspiracy, I think that it’s just good luck for capital.

I took my buyout (from The Baltimore Sun) before the Internet, with 100 other reporters, when the Sun was making a 37% profit. This wasn’t a technological issue: only one thing makes society and people that stupid: money. They could make more money putting out a shittier product. All we have left is Barnum, putting our hand in the next guy’s pocket. If they can make money now, they don’t care if the industry survives the next three months.

I think things can change: I think the first good sign is the Times charging for content.

Question on whether is is better to make these points through art, than journalism: I get more attention: I get to do nice things like talk to you about cities tonight because I made a television show… I wouldn’t have been invited here if I was the police reporter for the Balitmore Sun.

It doesn’t work because it’s more expensive than journalism: it costs HBO $30 or 40 million to make a
season of the Wire or Treme… That’s too much money and it takes too long.

Question about filmmaking: I dont know anything about making a film. I have a general studies degree from the University of Maryland.

I can’t tell a story in a medium where you have to stop every 12 minutes to sell people shit. You need to keep eyeballs…. And you can’t tell a story that is dark, much less something that is tragic, because no one wants to watch that shit and then go out and buy iPads and Lincoln Continentals… Premium cable has taken that dynamic and shattered it…. Now that it’s about DVDs and on demand, the ratings mean even less. That economic model makes possible storytelling that is plausible.

I tend not to hire TV writers: I think it’s easier to bring journalists and novelists through the keyhole  into TV. If they make tv I don’t want them: I’m scared that it’ll end up too much like TV.

Next show: We can’t find anyone who is willing to do anything on organized labor. I’d love to do mini-series on key moments in organized labor, but no one is interested. It’s like talking about a museum piece for most people.

I see the American middle class as a person at a casino with the hand on a machine, not noticing everyone around them going bust. All they can see is the guy two rows over who is winning, and all the bells and whistles are going off… There is the secret notion among all these people who are getting creamed that one day I might be the guy on the machine that wins. It’s that level of perfect greed that our political demagoguery takes advantage of to get people to vote against their own interests.

What people forget when they bitch about welfare is that 99% of that money goes straight back into the economy. When rich people make money is goes into the bank.

Original Goths in 20 Scenes From A Mall In 1990

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refinery29

Detroitism: how “ruin porn” blinds us to the structural causes of failing cities

Ruin photography, in particular, has been criticized for its “pornographic” sensationalism, and my bookseller friend won’t sell much of it for that reason. And others roll their eyes at all the positive attention heaped on the young, mostly white “creatives,” which glosses over the city’s deep structural problems and the diversity of ideas to help fix them. So much ruin photography and ruin film aestheticizes poverty without inquiring of its origins, dramatizes spaces but never seeks out the people that inhabit and transform them, and romanticizes isolated acts of resistance without acknowledging the massive political and social forces aligned against the real transformation, and not just stubborn survival, of the city.

- from Guernica

Genius of the day: Milton Rogovin

BUFFALO (AP).- Milton Rogovin, a social documentary photographer who built a life’s work by looking through a lens at people who were invisible to others, died Tuesday at age 101.

After being blacklisted in the communist scare of the 1950s, Rogovin dedicated his life to photography. His pictures documented the lives of the poor, the dispossessed, the working class — in particular those living in a six-square-block neighborhood in Buffalo near his optometry practice.

“He referred to these people as the ‘forgotten ones,’” his son said. “These were poor and working people who were not ever in the limelight.”

Rogovin found “forgotten ones” on New York Indian reservations and in far-flung corners of China, Zimbabwe, France, Scotland and Spain.

His first project was a documentary series on Buffalo’s black churches. Living on his wife’s schoolteacher salary, he traveled to Appalachia, Chile and Mexico to take portraits of working people — always using a vintage Rolleiflex, a bare bulb flash, occasionally a tripod, and black and white film.

- from artdaily

Dividing the American West based on water supplies


Mark Twain is often credited with saying: “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”

- from ECOPOLITOLOGY

Creativity, Community, Innovation: Yes Please More in Denver, Colorado – PSFK

Yes Please More’s latest pop up store is located on the second level of Denver Pavilions, right behind Niketown, in a space once occupied by a bridal boutique. 70% of the sales made at the store will directly benefit local creatives while the other 30% will be used to support additional programming. In selling quirky, locally-focused pieces, Brian explained, “We kinda feel like we’re exporting a bit of Colorado culture – and it’s a great alternative to the Made in China shot glasses that you can get at the other souvenir shops in town.” An entire class of interior design students from the Art Institute of Colorado created fixtures for the store and will continue working with Sam and Brian throughout the lifespan of the installation, which will close later this winter.

- from psfk.com

The Reverse Cowgirl: Interview: Peter S. Conrad