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Treme’ too authentic for New York Times

April 9, 2010

I am struggling to figure out what precisely offended New York Times TV Reviewer Allessandra Stanley about Treme. The gist of it seems to be that it is not didactic or angry enough, that is “is more an act of love, and, odd as it sounds, that makes it harder to embrace…

“[Treme] is a tribute to the “real” New Orleans by filmmakers who have become connoisseurs of the city, depicting its sound and ravaged looks with rapt reverence and attention to detail…

“The effort to get New Orleans “right,” to do justice to the city’s charm, its jazz tradition, and now its post-Katrina martyrdom, is at times so palpable it is off-putting, a self-consciousness that teeters on the edge of righteousness.”

Let’s start with her use of the phrase “its post-Katrina martyrdom.” I want to know when New York plans to get over it’s post-9/11 martyrdom. If Allessandra gets back to me on that one, you will read it here first.

She is also disappointed that Treme is “an elliptically told tale, and it takes a few episodes for the plot and the characters to pick up steam.” I’m sure you’re quite busy up there in New York, but it is kind of hard to tell a story of this sweep and depth in a way that you can watch episodically on your I Pod while waiting on the platform for your train. MTV is shooting a Real World New Orleans episode. Maybe you should wait for that.

On balance, she manages a good job of retyping the material that came with her review copy, giving a basic idea of the plot outline and characters, sort of a TV Guide snapshot for people who would not be caught dead reading the TV Guide. With some tight editing, bits of it might make for decent jacket copy for the boxed set but I suspect most of it was written up the first time by Simon’s staff.

In the end, she casts the show (I presume she saw the first one or two episodes most reviewers got) as a reflection of the snobishness of some locals toward the outside world (keying in on the scene when the visitors ask to hear The Saints), that the film is taken with that attitude and is too reverential towards its subject.

One wonders what she expected. Perhaps she is a die hard Wire junkie and was just itchily waiting for that new package. As she points out, Treme ain’t that. If I went looking for analogies I wouldn’t think of Simon’s prior oeuvre, or Spike Lee’s movie or even Trouble the Water. If I hope for anything, it is precisely achingly reverential treatments Ken Burns gave to subjects like the Civil War and Jazz, mingled with strong and representative characters (because at one level, New Orleans is all about the characters), characters who tell the story of one of the great cataclysms of American history, a story that attempts to convey what Ashley Morris and all the New Orleans bloggers have been talking about since 8-29: it’s about saving not just the real estate, but about saving something recognizably New Orleans.

I don’t expect everyone to love Treme, anymore than I expect everyone to love New Orleans. Some people are only happy in their own tightly constrained milieu and are never going to be happy outside of it. If they travel, they go to all inclusive resorts and tell every one they went to Jamaica when they really went to a fucking Marriott and never set foot outside the door. New Orleans is different, and not just in the way Idaho is different from New Jersey, but rather a place with a unique local culture that has evolved over three centuries, longer than most of America has even been settled by Europeans. If you don’t like it, that’s OK. I’m not too fond of Phoenix, but then I haven’t heard anyone nominating Phoenix a world heritage site.

If Allessandra Stanley doesn’t understand what she calls our chauvinism, if she doesn’t understand why someone of Simon’s talent would want to reverentially recreate New Orleans, she’s entitled to her opinion. She’s a reviewer, that’s what she does, but a reviewer who approaches their subject with a closed mind or one that snaps shut like a trap at the first whiff of something that does not fit some preconceived notion, well that’s a waste of perfectly good trees.

I think most New Orleanians are like the people I met traveling to New York, people who would gladly stop and give us directions or swipe my wife into the subway with their own fare card when my wife couldn’t get hers to work, people who were glad we came to share in one of the great cities of the world even as they carried deep inside a profoundly chauvinistic conviction that New York is one of the great cities of the world, and that it was perfectly natural we should want to be there.

– wet bank guy

2 Comments
  1. April 9, 2010 2:32 pm

    Someone I know wrote a paean to New York City and it put me in mind of New Orleans. When I vocalized that thought, man, did I get an earful. How could I possibly compare NYC to New Orleans? I think NYC is a great city, but there are many great cities. And many great snobs.

    “I’m not too fond of Phoenix, but then I haven’t heard anyone nominating Phoenix a world heritage site.”

    But, that’s not a reason to watch Treme, is it? Conversely, a David Simon show set in Phoenix or Idaho (or even Baltimore, MD, that famous world heritage site, for that matter) isn’t beneath me. :-)

  2. April 9, 2010 2:56 pm

    I don’t know why, but this reminds me of the time I heard an NPR film critic (can’t remember who) characterize Oliver Stone’s “Born on the 4th of July” as “too visceral”. Motherfucker should’ve been there.

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