Thursday, April 14, 2011

Inverted Capitalism

Bill Moyers interviews David Simon. I've seen this type of argument made before (John McWhorter says some similar things in this piece), but Simon puts it especially vividly here:

Bill Moyers: I did a documentary about the South Bronx called The Fire Next Door and what I learned very early is that the drug trade is an inverted form of capitalism.

David Simon: Absolutely. In some ways it’s the most destructive form of welfare that we’ve established, the illegal drug trade in these neighborhoods. It’s basically like opening up a Bethlehem Steel in the middle of the South Bronx or in West Baltimore and saying, “You guys are all steelworkers.” Just say no? That’s our answer to that? And by the way, if it was chewing up white folk, it wouldn’t have gone on for as long as it did.


aintstudyingyou said...

In light of your recent post on Marx, I think this is fascinating. I wish Moyers/Simon would have gone into more detail on how one defines 'inverted capitalism.'

I am having a bit of trouble reconciling McWhorter with Simon. McWhorter tends to drive me to distraction. In this case, his methods are dubious, his discussion of an imaginary "Darnell" and "Eugene" whose lives are shaped only by their choices to work in legal or illegal economies is a mere allegory designed to suit his premises. simon, by contrast, emphasizes journalistic investigation of systems, embedding microcosms in their larger contexts. This is not say Simon never engages in allegorical morality tales, but he is a bit more honest that he is engaged in storytelling. I suppose I'd say that McWhorter is unconcerned about facts getting in the way of a predetermined story, while Simon works hard to amass and interpret facts into meaningful and evocative stories. (I say all of this based on the interviews I have read with him. I have never watched The Wire or Treme).

As a side note, I have to wonder how, McWhorter, a man with a PhD in LINGUISTICS became an expert on the sociology of race. For someone who wants race to disappear from public thinking, McWhorter has benefited tremendously from being a reliable black proponent of conservative ideas. I am wondering if any white person with a linguistics PhD is as prominent a speaker on race-related issues... I can't think of one. I don't begrudge JM a job in this terible economy, but I find the fact that he does not remark on the irony involved in his relationship to the racial politics of his patrons suffocating.

aintstudyingyou said...

BTW, your previous posts on The Wire and the lens of crime and punishment stated precisely the reasons I have not yet thrust myself into the world of The Wire. I told my African-American Theatre students that it seems there are only two kinds of shows featuring black characters produced with white audiences in mind: stories about racism set in the Bad Old Days and contemporary stories about crime. Perhaps I can point people to your blog and have a white person give my reasons for me and, thereby, excuse me from serving as the Big Bad Wolf.

framiko said...

Interesting point about inverted capitalism. Are you suggesting that the adjective is misleading and/or unnecessary?

I know what you mean about McWhorter, although I often find him interesting, even against my own will, it seems.

In the most recent issue of The FIgure in the Carpet, Gerald Early has a really interesting exploration of the ironies of the black conservative's relationship to his patrons. It's on page six. I'd recommend you check it out, if you haven't read it already.

In connection with your last point about the limited offerings of shows with black characters that are aimed at white audiences: did you hear this report on Morning Edition today about HGTV? I only heard the beginning of it, but it seems to suggest that HGTV is bucking the trend you cite.

Thanks for the thoughtful responses to this post!

aintstudyingyou said...

I simply meant I didn't know how to define "inverted capitalism." Since the drug economy is neither bartering nor socialism, I am fairly certain Eagleton wouldn't call it an inversion of capitalism as an economic system. My own inclination is to think of illegal economies as something like parallels or shadows of legal ones. I'm not wedded to these metaphors, but I'm frankly nonplussed by the attempt to call the drug trade an inversion of the system of capitalism. Does Moyers mean the drug trade is a terrifying parody of capitalism, an equivalent of the medieval time of Misrule, in which peasants mimic and satirize their betters? Would that then make the drug trade something like capitalism unmasked? Or does Moyers simply mean it is capitalism practiced by those who lack capital?

I hadn't read Early on Walter E. Williams yet. I thank you for the recommendation, though I fear that my blood pressure will go through the roof.

It may be that the trend on HGTV you point me to accounts for my mother's sudden and inexplicable love of that network. I'm not sure.

For my own purposes, I'd like to sharpen my earlier point. Perhaps I should say that yesterday's racism and today's crime are the predominant narratives through which black people are brought into view *as black* in entertainment designed for a largely white viewership.

Two of my favorite exceptions to this were John Sayles's _Sunshine State_ and the popular film _Jerry Maguire_. Despite their different artistic ambitions, I found that what they shared in common was a knack for presenting black people I recognized. These characters did not exist in a world without racism, but the burdens of history and the opinions of white people did not exhaust their interests and imaginations.