The technology of urban planning: Treme, Season 2

I’ve blogged before (and here) about my enthusiasm for the “visual novels” of David Simon–his The Wire and now Treme are primary types of the TV “Mini-series” genre.

Now with season 2’s DVD, I have been arrested by the director’s commentary, specifically concerning the tragi-comic character of Nelson Hidalgo, the “carpet-bagger” from Dallas who plays the game of disaster capitalism to its logical conclusion. Nelson is a predatory capitalist, poised to make personal gain from the misfortune of others. Yet, strangely, one does not hate him as a villain or feel particularly angry at the harmful results of his investments. This is because the series uncovers the technology of the corrupt political system in which he operates.  It mitigates his personal responsibility. Maybe because the audience member identifies with being caught up in forces greater than him/herself, s/he finds it hard to condemn Nelson’s behavior. As Simon says on the commentary track:

He [Nelson] means no ill. He’s just following where the money’s routed… A lot of our story telling is often about “We’ve got to find the bad guy, and punish the bad guy, or have  the bad guy redeemed somehow, in a Scrooge-like way, will fix things.” But a lot of what’s gone wrong…in general, in the world, is systemic, it’s about how money and power wrap themselves, or fail to.  He’s working with the machine that is, not the machine that we want it to be. [emphasis added]

Sometimes, regardless of one’s intentions, the system in which one functions (the machine with which one works) makes one an un-willing agent of harm to other humans. This is a deeply humanistic and modern message that Simon communicates in this series and The Wire

Living together in cities means, at its best, collectively taking responsibility for everyone’s welfare. One of the more hopeful 21st century potentials is the ability to connect ever-more members of communities via ICT for the purpose of planning, including urban planning. Improve the system of our civic life, and everyone benefits. Give them a more humane system, and all the humans benefit. Such optimistic thoughts does Simon’s series evoke.  

image CreativeCommons licensed 

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