New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau Headquarters on St.Charles Avenue
This is a difficult point to convey to non-native New Orleanians. Yes, there are things about living in this city that make it different. And, yes, it's always been true that these defining characteristics have been overly romanticized or used as crass branding tools for marketers.
And some wonder whether the justifiable pride that New Orleanians have in their culture gives short shrift to some of the city’s more pressing problems.But here is what has changed in recent decades that you will have to have grown up here.. or at least been here a while to notice.
Count among the skeptics Adolph Reed, a New Orleans native and University of Pennsylvania political science professor who was in town last week to keynote a Tulane University conference on the topic of New Orleans exceptionalism. While Reed cherishes the city’s flavors — he never misses a chance to dive into an oyster po-boy when he’s home — he worries that the city’s singular attributes have become fetishized and commodified.
A major theme of the conference was that the city may limit itself by focusing so tightly on its culture, while larger problems are sometimes overlooked. Tulane professor Matt Sakakeeny, who co-hosted the conference with Thomas Adams from the University of Sydney, said the organizers hoped to put New Orleans in proper context while shattering stereotypes.
“Our aim is to go beyond the caricature of New Orleans, as one friend put it, as if everyone in this city was a Mardi Gras Indian second-lining down the street, po-boy in hand, on the way to Jazz Fest,” quipped Sakakeeny.
First, the tourism industry.. long a presence in New Orleans... has grown so large and overbearing that it has swallowed everything around it.
Cities do not exist solely to sell themselves to visitors. They exist first for utilitarian reasons. They are centers of commerce; ports on important navigable waters, way stations along routes of trade or migration, outposts on a frontier. As they grow, and if they are successful, they attract people from all over who contribute in large or small ways to a local culture. Eventually... as a nice side effect.. leisure travelers like to visit cities and experience a little bit of this cultural identity. Inevitably the expectations of these visitors come to redefine the cities themselves a bit.
Krewe of Muses float 2013
Sometimes, though, they come to overshadow and redefine the entire city's reason to exist in the first place. This is what people my age have grown up witnessing.
In the space of a generation, we've gone from being a city whose history and cultural institutions supported a growing tourism sector into a tourism destination surrounded by the husk of the city that spawned it. This is evident in the "fetishization" Adolph Reed is talking about in the above article. It's one reason you end up with little ironies such as, "Po' boy $12"
It also spawns a self-perpetuating industry in cultivating and packaging "amenities" for the leisure lifestyle. Things have gone so far, in fact, that our overall citywide development strategy depends on removing poorer residents and replacing them with wealthier transplants, or real estate investors willing to pay high prices for properties that can be rented out to vacationers and part-time residents. I've written about this at length previously so I won't rehash it here. I only mean to show that New Orleans was once a city that appealed to tourists, became a tourist attraction that catered to tourists only, and is becoming now a playground for wealthy part-time residents.
All of which is the context for this parody video response to a typically awful promotion created by the New Orleans Toursim and Marketing Corporation. You can watch the original commercial for gentrified Bywater at that Gambit link. Here is the parody.