Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Conspiracies 2014

Just to follow up on the final thought in that last post, look how pervasive this has become. Here is a much-talked about Gambit essay from Megan Braden-Perry about The Changing Times In New Orleans or whatever euphemism for gentrification we're onto now.

This topic isn't going away. In November, The Advocate ran a fascinating series on post-Katrina social and demographic changes   Gambit promises to make essays like Megan's and the blurbs from locals that accompany it in this week's paper a regular feature in 2014.  I've got an unpublished thing in the drafts folder that will probably get finished sometime this year. Anyway get ready to hear more about it. 

The problem with the perpetual, "Are You From Here?" debate is that it has become our own little version of the stupid culture wars that distort American politics.  Determining who is or isn't a Real New Orleanian is no less pointless than asking whether or one is from Real America. 

The divisions that matter in politics concern wealth, power, who controls it, and who is left behind. The "recovery" of New Orleans after Katrina is really a story about how the money power that existed here before the flood finally saw all of its wildest dreams realized thanks in large part to the "blank slate" myth.

Deep divisions do exist here now between wealth and... pretty much everybody else. But those aren't the divisions that get talked about.  Instead we're bogged down in a phony "from here" vs "not from here" identity politics which confuses more than it illuminates.

But let's put that aside for now and come back to Megan's article which is, itself, titled "It wasn't a blank slate"
..the New Orleans where I grew up wasn't some hip place you moved when you didn't know what to do with your life. It wasn't a "blank slate." It was a place where you lived because you had ties there, because you were stuck there or because your job was there.

  You didn't just come to New Orleans with a guitar and a dream.

Maybe I'm a conspiracy theorist, but I think many decisions made by politicians are only made to help build a utopian New Orleans for whomever is spending the most money, regardless of the impact on everyday folks.
Again, there's a lot to that piece. I recommend it and would like to comment on it further at a later time. But what I'd like to point out here is that sentence where she feels like she has to say, "Maybe I'm a conspiracy theorist.." before stating an obvious truth about the nature of money and politics. Why is that?

In spite of all the upheaval of recent years, there's something endemic to the New Orleans media environment that reflexively defends or at least excuses money and power and relegates all criticism to the realm of "conspiracy theory."  And it's so bad that it's at a point where writing that politicians respond to, "whomever is spending the most money," is almost out of bounds.  

I'm very interested in seeing how gentrification is discussed in New Orleans in 2014.  I'm happy that Gambit is treating it. But I'm also interested in this phenomenon where any opinion that falls short of out and out boosterism has to apologize for sounding like "conspiracy theory."  There will be more to say on both of these points later.   But that's all stuff to do next year.


Nolaresident said...

I read the article and I can say that it was, indeed, spot on from the p.o.v. of a native New Orleanian.

The first reply to her piece just spoke volumes about the perceived attitudes of some of the "newcomers". .

According to Ms. Braden-Perry, anyone who moved to the city after
Katrina, or wants to live in a place where they can pursue their dreams
in an affordable, creative place, is doing something holistically wrong
or against the fiber of the "real" New Orleans. Urban areas are meant to
be spaces that are ever growing, changing, and thriving. Instead, New
Orleans continues to combine the worst of urban areas (terrible
violence, infrastructure, ever-climbing housing prices) with a
provincial mentality that encourages an “us-versus-them” mentality and
citywide cliquishness that is counterproductive to a functioning

One of the most disturbing features of the piece is that Ms.
Braden-Perry—who is apparently with child—seems to be nostalgic for her
own childhood, which was reportedly full of violence. Purporting the
culture of violent nostalgia as the “real” New Orleans is terribly
dangerous and a poor choice on the part of the Gambit editorial team.
Does Ms. Braden-Perry long for her child’s childhood to resemble her

Moreover, who do the editors at Gambit believe read their newspaper? Who
generates the new businesses that buy precious ad space? It's the very
people trashed in this article. Without their (heaven forbid!)
"innovative ideas" who on earth would fund your paper?

OhMercy included this little bit: ...piece will continue to drive those people, so necessary to the
socioeconomic balance of any city, further and further away to more
supportive, accepting environments.

Oh honey, if part of your requirements to live here is to make New Orleans more and more like, say, Cleveland or some other God-awful slice of middle America, then perhaps you are living in the wrong place. And by the way, who do you think is partly responsible for those ever-climbing housing prices?

elsbet said...

Excellent indictment of our "media environment."