David Simon on how good television is like travel

Homicide, The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill — these are travelogues of a kind, allowing Average Reader/Viewer to go where he otherwise would not. He loves being immersed in a new, confusing, and possibly dangerous world that he will never see. He likes not knowing every bit of vernacular or idiom. He likes being trusted to acquire information on his terms, to make connections, to take the journey with only his intelligence to guide him. Most smart people cannot watch most TV, because it has generally been a condescending medium, explaining everything immediately, offering no ambiguities, and using dialogue that simplifies and mitigates against the idiosyncratic ways in which people in different worlds actually communicate. It eventually requires that characters from different places talk the same way as the viewer. This, of course, sucks.

“There are two ways of traveling. One is with a tour guide, who takes you to the crap everyone sees. You take a snapshot and move on, experiencing nothing beyond a crude visual and the retention of a few facts. The other way to travel requires more time—hence the need for this kind of viewing to be a long-form series or miniseries, in this bad metaphor—but if you stay in one place, say, if you put up your bag and go down to the local pub or shebeen and you play the fool a bit and make some friends and open yourself up to a new place and new time and new people, soon you have a sense of another world entirely. We’re after this: Making television into that kind of travel, intellectually. Bringing those pieces of America that are obscured or ignored or otherwise segregated from the ordinary and effectively arguing their relevance and existence to ordinary Americans. Saying, in effect, This is part of the country you have made. This too is who we are and what we have built. Think again, motherfuckers.

“And the only difference between what we’re doing and a world traveler getting off the beaten path is that our viewers don’t really have to play the fool. They don’t even have to put their ass out of the sofa. They now have a sense of what is happening on a drug corner, or in a homicide unit, or inside a political campaign—and our content, if gently massaged to create drama, is nonetheless rooted in accurate reporting and experience.”

–TV writer-producer David Simon, interviewed in The Believer, August 2007

Posted by | Comments (1)  | January 25, 2009
Category: General, Travel Quote of the Day

One Response to “David Simon on how good television is like travel”

  1. jquaglia Says:

    “And the only difference between what we’re doing and a world traveler getting off the beaten path is that our viewers don’t really have to play the fool.”

    This seems like a pretty ego-centric thought process in his belief that what he is providing is comparable to travel. I would say that TV is completely the opposite of travel. Travel requires self-sufficiency, knowledge, open-mindedness, understanding, effort. TV seeks to put you there without any of the above. And you are subject to the interpretation of a place through the director, actors, and producers. Travel is about taking the effort of experiencing real people and real places ourselves rather than having someone tell us about them. Travelers are willing to make this effort because they recognize the incredible reward of experiencing things themselves, while TV viewers (who don’t travel) are expecting a cultural handout of sorts within their own relative comfort–impossible. Mr. Simon is crazy if he thinks he can offer an authentic cultural experience to someone from the comfort of their living room couch.