David Simon comments further on "The Wire"

Really, I am going back to my work imminently. I thought this post-production reflection on the interpretation of "The Wire" in the US and the UK good to read. Simon acknowledges the limitations of the show (gender issues, immigration, etc), but he also points out why the stories they told were important to represent.

I received an email from someone who has lived most of his life in the Baltimore area (though grew up outside the city), and it disturbed me how pessimistic and critical he was of the state of the city. Ironically, there was a time when I offered similar critiques, and he vociferously defended the city. What upset me most about this person's critique was that it felt so hateful. My past critiques of Baltimore have always felt deeply emotional and sad, but this person just sounded bitter. In contrast, Simon does acknowledge that things in the city don't change, even as there are public claims to decreased crime and mayors become governors, but he also pushes the problem a little further and tries to unpack the complexity of the city's dynamic.

Unlike the email I received in which the final position was ultimately, "fuck Baltimore," Simon actually seems concerned with both the global and local challenges of Baltimore. What I found so compelling about the show was that as the seasons developed, it was clear that what happens in the streets branches back to those who live in the plush neighborhoods of Roland Park or Guilford. And I guess I see public health and public policies so often concentrating on the individual actors who are caught up in structural phenomena that are far more intricate than just "getting people off the streets".

Perhaps when I'm not thinking so chaotically, I'll write about this more, as it merits more discussion than a lazy nod to its link.

oh, but WTF, at the bottom of the page of the article, there's a slideshow of "Snoop" and "Marlo" modelling "cutting edge" fashion...um, not that (fictional) gangsters shouldn't be dapper, but there is something super-contradictory to have Simon's political economy critique coupled with high-end fashion and consumerism.

Proving everything worth thinking has already been thunk

I've cut back on my google reader reading. I've stopped keeping up with many of the academic blogs and the world of politics, etc, etc. But, I glanced at my feed for Savage Minds, which always explores critical topics in contemporary anthropology, and of course, they've provided a snippet of the same problem I discussed below, negotiating being a public anthropologist. I agree with the commentator, however, that their link to the Australian sex anthropologist might not be worth the click. Though maybe my suspicion of her work is just the uninteresting latent jealousy, though I don't think so.


Ethical quandries

One of the organizations I tried to do fieldwork with asked me to write a little blurb for the powerpoint presentation I did for them. As I started to write the blurb, and as I realized I was going to attend their annual conference to present the powerpoint materials, I was reminded of why my fieldwork didn't work out with them.

I wasn't able to do fieldwork with them because they kept wanting me to produce materials, and ultimately, I found that I didn't completely support their mission. They are very pro-vaccine, and they have explicitly acknowledged that there are compromises in getting their message out. Though they are not necessarily big pharma supporters, per se, they have accepted funding from the manufacturers of the vaccine. This uneasy alliance has been a major obstacle in my fieldwork, as I kept trying to dodge the inevitable overlap between the advocacy work and the corporate machine. Advocacy is a loaded term, as much shaped by corporate interests, government biases, and misinformation, as anything else. Health research and innovation in the U.S. are always messily entangled, and I don't know how well I've avoided being implicated. My work with the public health department, the CDC, and this nonprofit has put me in the position of supporting something that I have huge reservations about. As a researcher, participation has allowed me access to information and processes that I could only speculate about if I hadn't been involved. But how do I now sit down to write when I want to criticize the production of knowledge that I have also created. I am not immune from these very critiques (yes...bad pun).

So as I start to confront the monstrosity that is the dissertation, I also want to figure out how to make cogent arguments that don't make me feel like a huge hypocrite. The problem I've had with this project all along is that I seem to be an eternal relativist. Every position I try to stake out seems rife with contingencies. Everything seems to have a "yes, but..." component, and it exhausts me. Is this a form of insecurity? Or is this just a general uneasiness with commitment and claiming a position? My recommendations, when I dare formulate them, always come back to the concern with what precedes the vaccine -- what does not change, what remains the same, and how problematic all that earlier stuff is. It's as though I cut myself off before I can begin, but it also prevents me from moving forward. Strangely, however, the very argument I want to make is all about pre-emption and disruption. It's as though the very concept I'm trying to work out is haunting my thinking and writing. Or maybe it's just all a complicated distraction that I'm creating to avoid the daunting task.