Posted by: Kristen Hicks | April 17, 2010

David Simon on Truth in Fiction

I don’t have a lot to add to this, but David Simon does a fantastic job on explaining the relationship between truth and fiction in his work here.

His tendency to create fiction that feels like it could pass for journalism means his work is more likely to be picked apart by fans looking to point out inconsistencies–it was thus quite wise of him to release this sort of disclaimer in advance as a reminder that the show is, ultimately, fiction.

Here’s one of the more poignant bits:

Pablo Picasso famously said that art is the lie that shows us the truth. Such might be the case of a celebrated artist claiming more for himself and his work than he ought,  or perhaps, this Picasso fella was on to something.

By referencing what is real,  or historical, a fictional narrative can speak in a powerful,  full-throated way to the problems and issues of our time. And a wholly imagined tale,  set amid the intricate and accurate details of a real place and time,  can resonate with readers in profound ways. In short,  drama is its own argument.

On a related note, I predictably enjoyed the first episode of Treme.  The music in it is wonderful, the characters are varied and interesting, the acting is superb (particularly Clarke Peters as Albert Lambreaux, everything about the way he carries and expresses himself sets this character immediately apart from Lester Freamon), the Elvis Costello cameo was about as fun as cameos get (except for the one in Zombieland) and I’m eager to see where they take it from here.



  1. I really admire Simon’s initiative in preempting all the “accuracy police” out there on teh intarwebz and understanding that, especially with a topic this contentious, there is going to be some serious verisimilitude watchdogging going on as people walk with him through this show. And he’s right: art that does nothing but portray actual, factual truth isn’t art: it’s called journalism.

    Simply by making up fictional characters to populate his Treme, Simon’s taking license, just as anyone writing fiction does. So if we’re willing to accept watching a guy named Antoine Batiste going through post-Katrina life because his imagined struggle can teach us something profound about life in that city after a disaster and they day-to-day struggles of working purveyors of an embattled art form, why not accept something like moving the date of Hubig’s return to make a point about the constant need to improvise in the face of shortages in post-Katrina New Orleans? We accept it for the same reason no one wants to watch the building of Other civilization on Lost or the endless filling out of paperwork on the Wire: that’s not what the show’s about. As on the Wire, Simon has a keen sense of what his show’s about, and every single scene informs that in some way. I say well done.

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