I know and like Jeffrey but I think he is dead wrong, for several reasons. Not just because I liked what I saw in the premiere – but that it was a pilot episode. I’ve heard Jeffrey say how he didn’t like The Wire, either, and I suppose that’s fine, but that means he probably went into the viewing experience with a different opinion of David Simon.
That’s my first problem with his review – he doesn’t trust the storyteller.
It’s been said by folks more eloquent than me, but this isn’t a documentary. We’re not watching David Simon tell a story about Ashley Morris, Susan Spicer, Davis Rogan, Donald Harrison Jr., and Mary Howell. We’re watching David Simon tell a story. And right now, we’re just getting to know the characters. Those who were here in fall 2005 know their own stories, they know their friends’ stories, and so they may have an expectation that David Simon is going to tell their story, but he’s not. This is no different than picking up a work of fiction – I’m currently reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, for example, so say I picked it up and said to myself, “This is about a crazy Midwestern family. I have a crazy Midwestern family.” If I started reading his book with the expectation of seeing my own family in print, I’d be horribly disappointed, and I wouldn’t be trusting Jonathan Franzen to tell me a story.
Baltimoreans expected some measure of verisimilitude from The Wire, just like New Orleanians expect from Treme, and at least some must have been elated, watching the show. I don’t know Baltimore and I’ve never been there but David Simon told a story about fictional people and set it in this place that he so obviously loves with his whole damn heart, and used it to tell us, his viewers, something about ourselves and our institutions.
I trust that David Simon is going to make me care about these characters and what happens to them. I trust that he loves and understands New Orleans enough to make me focus on the story he’s writing instead of nitpicking the details. Mostly, I trust that he’s going to use fiction to tell us something about ourselves, and by ourselves, I don’t mean New Orleanians, I mean the viewers. I trust that the actors in the show are going to blow me away. That was why Clarke Peters in the suit had me so transfixed – because what are the writers trying to tell us with this scene? That this exact scenario played out in November 2005? Or that Albert Lambreaux, a character we’ve just met, is so determined to singlehandedly wrest his traditions from the brink that he’ll don the suit he’s saved from the flood to get someone to pick up the debris from in front of the bar?
My bigger problem with his review is this knee-jerk oppositional stance that equates newcomer with hipster:
“It’s for a certain intellectual, image conscious stripe of visitor and/or recent transplant and about those persons’ cartoonish expectations about what life is like in New Orleans. It’s for Ned Sublette and Tom Piazza and Chris Rose and about the imaginary people they wish they were or their Platonic ideal of what a New Orleanian is or something.”
“It must be this banal hipsterism.”
“In our experience, the newcomers have a knack for rather boldly instructing us in the art of how to be ourselves.”
“A better show about Katrina would tell us about people coming back to New Orleans, not because of the food, not because of the music, not because some guy in feathers is shaking a tambourine at them, but just because it’s where they fucking live. Isn’t that enough?”
“I saw a parade of hipster pseudo-New Orleans douchenozzling. And I think that’s what the crappy people in the bar wanted to see on TV.”
This betrays a perspective that is more about being bitter than anything else. This says, “I hate these people in this bar and I hate everything they like.” Nothing in the show I saw was an instruction manual. Nothing about it communicated that people came back for the food and music, but rather, they came back, period, and the food and music came back with them. New Orleans is a place where people “fucking live.” So are Chicago and Wichita and Dallas and Sacramento, but those are places where home cooks don’t season their food properly, where you can live your whole life and never hear music played outside, where people clap on 1 and 3, and that matters. Appreciating what is here and only here is not an infallible tenet of hipsterism: it’s being alive and awake. Ray says he’s in exile. How many people are trying to crawl back to New Orleans any way they can? How many people don’t yet know they belong here? How many people will watch the show and realize that they’ve been asleep their whole life?