Giving It Away
The premiere is almost upon us, and I have to admit I have been feeling more and more uneasy about it for the last week.
I don’t worry that Simon will get it wrong. From what I’ve heard from people I know on the show, from what I’ve learned reading between the lines of the various media reviews, it’s gonna totally rock. It’s gonna be the best portrayal of New Orleans to ever make it to the screen.
No, what worries me is that this is obviously turning out to be big. Like, nationwide big. Wire big. Sopranos big. The hype for this is as big as the hype for the Sopranos finale, the Wire final season. And it hasn’t even aired yet.
It is going to be a big fucking event.
And I don’t want it to be.
I want this city’s story to be told, I want everybody to know why it matters and why we matter. But in telling it so thoroughly and so dramatically, I am worried that in the telling, we’ll be giving a piece of it away. And I don’t want to give any of it away.
Within a few weeks we’ll be deluged with HBO-educated “experts” on New Orleans (it’s already starting, actually). Fan-boys who will have an opinion about a culture they’ve never seen, a city they’ve never been to, and people, actual people, they’ve never even met. And unlike in 2005 and 2006, I don’t have the energy or the will to go around straightening them all out.
I’ve been ignoring a lot of the Treme coverage lately, and sometimes when I do see it, I feel both excitement and dread at the same time. Like on Colbert last night, when Simon mentioned Ashley Morris as the source for a lot of John Goodman’s dialog. And I know why Simon mentioned him, and I know it is important that he do so, and yeah, part of me thought it was really cool. And part of me thought…well, I didn’t know what to think. Because I thought about thousands of Colbert fans wondering who this Ashley fella was and deciding to learn about him and start becoming experts about him, and I thought of legions of Ashley fan-boys who didn’t even know the guy existed until this week, and it eats at me a little. Ashley was my friend. I don’t want all those people to have a piece of him, I don’t want all those people to think they know him the way some people think they know, say, the real Jay Landsman or the real Fran Boyd, because they don’t. It’s already happening a little, Colbert people showing up at Ashley’s blog to comment about how cool he is, largely oblivious to the fact that they are actually leaving comments for his widow to read.
And the way I feel about Ashley is the way I feel about the city. Are people gonna throw around Indian chants the way we used to throw around the names of drugs brands in Baltimore? “Pandemic! Red tops! Too-way pockaway! Spider bags, a na ney! A na ney!” Alli tells me the Parkway is getting almost too impossibly crowded for the locals anymore because it’s been in the New York Times so often there are always busloads of tourists there. Is the same thing gonna happen to Thursday night at Vaughan’s? Is Super Sunday going to join Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest as a big tourist draw? If people start wearing FYYFF t-shirts like they wear shirts with Omar or Tony Soprano or Che Guevara…I don’t know what I think about that.
I don’t want to be like that busker character in that one scene, hating on some innocent kids from Wisconsin just because they don’t know everything there is to know about Katrina. On the other hand, the thought of lefty-blogger blowhards like Yglesias ”n’em passing judgment and making pronouncements about a city that the lefty-sphere has gone out of their way to ignore all these years…it irks me a little. I feel like we’re inviting the carpetbloggers in to come and appropriate whatever they want, for whatever purpose, and fuck the deeper truths lived by the actual people who are from here.
I’ve always enjoyed educating people who show a sincere interest. We were out drinking with some new work buddies a couple of weeks ago and the subject of New Orleans came up and somebody said, “why didn’t anybody have the good sense to just put New Orleans where Baton Rouge is” and I said “cause Baton Rouge doesn’t have easy access to the lake which would’ve made it a shitty port 200 years ago when silt clogged the mouth of the river 95% of the time”. And their ears perked up, and they wanted to hear more.
People who want to come and help and listen and learn, I want to hug them (Scout can vouch for having been on the receiving end of Ray hugs many times). But opening up the city gates to anybody who wants to come and take…I don’t know, some of this stuff is very very personal, it’s very precious, and I don’t want to see it cheapened like so many shitty Bourbon Street t-shirts.
I am by no means accusing Simon or HBO or any of the other great people associated with the show of exploiting it. They’re telling an important and essential story in the best way they know how, better than almost anybody else could tell it. But once you tell it, once you put it out there to a national audience on a mainstream outlet, you don’t control it any more. The story becomes, at least in part, the property of the audience. And what right do they have to our stories?
I have trouble sorting out how much of this is legitimate fear, how much of it is selfishness on my part, and how much is just that I am both too far away (I miss my home) and too connected to the show (I miss my friends), and I just can’t sort out my personal feelings about my friends from the fiction that will be on the screen.
Talking out my ass in the middle of the night, ’cause these two short stories I should be working on just refuse to be written.
Feel free to ignore.