David Simon’s Greatest Achievement

by Sonny Bunch on August 4, 2012

Update: Earlier this week, DeAndre McCullough—the subject of The Corner—was found dead of a drug overdose. David Simon wrote up an obit that’s worth checking out. It is a sad, if ultimately unsurprising, end to the story. Figured I’d put this back up top for a day or two.

To me, David Simon’s greatest work is not the Wire, it’s not the show Homicide: Life on the Street, and it’s not, as Jason Fagone suggested on Twitter, the interrogation scene of the book version of Homicide (though that’s close).

No, to me, the greatest thing that David Simon has ever done came in tandem with Edward Burns in the book The Corner, in which he explained, in about seven pages, why we might never solve the most brutal pathology of the inner cities: babies having babies.

From pages 230 to 236 of the trade paperback version of The Corner, Simon and Burns lay out in brutal, unblinking, depressing detail why a 14-year-old girl has a baby. We see it play out in the scene before—DeAndre and Tyreeka/sittin’ in a tree/b-a-b-y-m-a-k-i-n-g—and kind of comprehend the sadness and futility of it all. But it’s the chunk of pages afterward—the chunk of pages in most social science books where they would offer prescriptions on how to right the wrongs and cure these social ills—that the full horror of what we just witnessed hits home.

Accident is not at all the word for it.

Most of these babies are very much wanted by the mothers and fathers alike. What better legacy for a sixteen-year-old slinger who expects to be dead or in prison by age twenty? What greater justification for a teenaged girl thirsting for the unequivocal love of another being? To outsiders, the babies are mistakes to be calculated in terms of social cost, as ward-of-the-state harbingers of yet another generation destined to spin through the cycle of poverty. …

On Fayette Street, it’s never about relationships, or boyfriends, or marriage, or living happily ever after.

Down here, a child is answer enough.

Once again, we know only what it is that works in our world, and so we talk welfare reform, devising middle-class solutions for a middle-class society. But, as they have with drugs and the drug trade itself, the men and women of the corner have judged our moral code useless under their circumstances. And they are right.

I don’t know if they’re “right” to reject basic middle-class morality, as Simon and Burns argue, but right or wrong is almost irrelevant in this circumstance. It just doesn’t matter. There is literally no public policy intervention—left, right, or center—that can arrest this cycle. Certainly none I can think of that has any reasonable chance of becoming law. The breakdown of the nuclear family in the inner city is a beast of its own making, one that came as a shock when it first occurred and which now merits little more than an eye-roll.

So the cycle continues. Kids make kids. Family breaks down. The state assumes too much responsibility for child-rearing, first in the classrooms, then in juvenile courtrooms, and finally in prisons, where grown men who have fathered multiple children and never held a real job come to grips with the fact that they will spend the rest of their lives hopping in and out of the system, so why not make the most of things in the short time outside you have?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Fake Herzog June 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm

“There is literally no public policy intervention—left, right, or center—that can arrest this cycle. Certainly none I can think of that has any reasonable chance of becoming law. ”

I think the key is the second sentence — I can think of policy interventions that will eventually arrest the cycle because 100 years ago the cycle didn’t exist. Force the poor to get all their aid from charities, charities that insist on traditional Christian morality, and things would change dramatically. But as you say, there is no chance of such a dramatic shift in our policy becoming law anytime soon.


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