Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fetishizing "Treme"

I have just read Jeffrey's review of the new New Orleans-based TV series Treme. Before I say anything else, let me say that I read Jeffrey's piece without having seen any other reactions or commentary on it. I just checked out his blog as I sometimes do, and there it was. And I read it.

And he's right.

It's a pretty long review, but it's worth reading every single word.

Here's a particular section of Jeffrey's piece (one of many, I should add) that really resonated with me:

If Simon is saying "we" as in the culture vultures looking to sell off the last bits of the carcass, he's got a point. Five years after the flood, what is being trumpeted as a "recovery" is really just an acceleration of the same gentrification that was already underway. We are being swallowed up by Jazzfest. What we're left with is a stage where the festivals, music, food, folkways that that most of us rightfully took as sort of for-granted elements of life here, are now props arranged for mostly someone else's entertainment. And those of us who don't fit on that stage... well it isn't clear that we're really needed anymore. Spoils of war, I guess.
Let me upchuck a bit of Huck here, too, to add something to Jeffrey's overall point that, if I read him correctly, I think he would accept as a friendly amendment to the piece. I am a native-born New Orleanian, who grew up in the burbs, went to Jesuit High School, did my graduate education at Tulane, currently works at Tulane, and is raising a family in this wonderful city I call home. My folks, having deep roots in the Vic and Nat'ly culture of Arabi (mom) and Holy Cross section of the 9th Ward (dad), are about as Yat as they come. I look forward to Mardi Gras (I'm even a Thoth Krewe member); I enjoy the festival culture here; I love me a good half-n-half po-boy; and, like many others, I had to rebuild a good bit of my home following Hurricane Katrina. So, like Jeffrey, I think I have a pretty standard, authentic New Orleans life. But ... I don't go chasing after second lines and Mardi Gras Indians. I like the Jazz Fest and have been there plenty of times, but it's never been a cult experience for me (and I don't waste away lamenting the loss of a Crawfish Monica if I miss it one year or two). I always catch Mardi Gras day parades on Napoleon Ave. and don't ever feel deprived that I'm missing Zulu. And I love the Saints, but am content to watch the games on TV or, better yet, just listen to Jim Henderson and Hokie Gajan calling the game on WWL. I don't need to be in the Dome to get my WhoDat on. Oh, and I didn't go to the Superbowl Victory parade, either. What's my point? Simply that I love my N'Awl as much as anyone and that I want to put my own little NOLA bison-head forward, seconding with my own little "Amen" this vintage Jeffrey thought:
It [the case being made by the romanticized "Why New Orleans Matters" meme] also belittles the experience of anyone who doesn't conform to this fetishized idea of what makes a New Orleanian. It, in fact, allows the perpetrators of these fetishes to judge your fitness to occupy your home on the basis of your willingness to play their phony roles.
And there's a lot like me out there in the NOLAsphere.

Again, I haven't seen Treme yet; but if it comes across as Jeffrey paints it; then he's got a damn good point that's very much worth thinking carefully about. I really wonder if the New Orleans of Simon's Treme is my New Orleans and not Anderson Cooper's. So upchucketh Huck, who has a native claim to this place.


jeffrey said...

This is a much clearer and level-headed presentation of the point I wanted to make, Huck. Unfortunately I often allow too much excited hyperbole to ruin my attempts at communication. Thank you for making my bullshit sound reasonable.

oyster said...

"Again, I haven't seen Treme yet"

Guh! Doesn't that undercut most of the point here? Yes, Jeffrey makes some good points-- but do they adhere to the subject? That's the question.

In sum: You agree with Jeffrey's review, assuming he's correct about his review? I'd say you shouldn't trust the reviewer any more than the storyteller.

Huck said...

oyster - Of course, you're correct in your criticism. I should probably reserve any comments or judgment until I see the series for myself, but I don't think it's absurd to suggest that if Treme is as Jeffrey describes it, his point is worthwhile to consider. And I will also say that I don't have to see Treme to believe that it is as Jeffrey claims it to be. Why? Because I have seen precisely what Jeffrey says too many times to discount it as the regular ranting of a Mr. gloomypants! The feeling behind Jeffrey's comments is something I've myself had on more than one occasion, not only when watching NOLA being depicted on TV or in Hollywood, but also with a particular type of countercultural NOLA-Chic interloper who traverses the streets of this city and defines NOLA by how many Jazz Fest days one partakes of (and let us worship at the feet of the real NOLAphile who does them all!), whose party she's attending at Krewe du Vieux, and which 9th Ward "Make It Right" home is the coolest -- all the while snubbing Pat O'Brien's Hurricanes, Carrollton Playground kids soccer leagues, catching a movie at the Elmwood supertheatre complex, Tulane college life, the Blue Jay Bazaar, etc., as "tre gauche" and so "not-NOLA." So, yeah, I maybe jumped the gun; but what Jeffrey said resonated with me. And I don't need to see Treme to know that this way of looking at NOLA exists and that it, in fact, dominates discourse, even among many who call themselves authentic NOLAphiles and define what that means for the rest of us. I do trust Jeffrey's review, because I find it immensely believable given my own experiences.