treme and authenticity


So, as to Treme the drama, Simon bought the framework of touristic mystification hook, line and sinker. He was not helped by his dependence on local writers like Elie and others who are embedded in the touristically reinvented discourse of New Orleans’s distinctiveness that is no longer capable of recognizing and reflecting critically on itself and can do no more than celebrate its black inflection. Simon was also undone by not having a clear critical perspective on neoliberal capitalism – as either free-market utopian ideology or pragmatic program for relentless upward redistribution – and its logic of systemic reproduction. He has a brilliant feel for the social and institutional impact of deindustrialization on cities and the urban working class at both individual and group levels. He portrayed that impact with truly rare grace and intelligence in The Wire. But he lacks a coherent view of the larger forces that drive deindustrialization, which he is inclined instead to characterize in moralistic terms. In The Wire this tendency extends to reifying the moment of postwar working-class economic mobility as a Golden Age, a natural moral order which greedy, self-centered or insensitive corporate elites and their minions have violated. Simon was thus primed to lap up the touristic narrative of cultural authenticity. Since Katrina, that narrative has swirled together with the powerful imagery of an impoverished and abandoned black New Orleans, victimized by racialized inequality and injustice. Despite its symbolic power, that imagery was in some ways more apparent than real. For example, blacks were displaced by the flood at only a slightly higher rate than whites.11 And it was poor people of every race who were disproportionately stranded on overpasses and at the Superdome or convention center and who have had greatest difficulty in returning to the city, restoring losses and reconstructing a normal life. Although news footage of stranded black New Orleanians immediately called forth a familiar narrative of racial injustice, the immediacy and certainty with which perception of those images linked to this narrative contrasted with an utter vagueness concerning causal processes through which the inequalities are reproduced and why, therefore, they are most accurately or effectively characterized as specifically racial.

more from Adolf Reed, Jr. at nonsite here.