Watching Treme (I keep typing it Tremem) posted this up in the open thread from yesterday and goddamn, I’ve never seen anyone miss the point so aggressively. In the first place, there’s really nothing that declares your insecurity like telling everybody else they’re elitists. In the second place, oh, Jesus, shut up:
Even if you think you love the place, “Treme” is determined to show you otherwise. The surly street musician (who is just visiting himself, from Amsterdam) tartly informs tourists that it’s tacky to request “When the Saints Go Marching In”—that tune isn’t “real New Orleans,” apparently.
You’re not supposed to love and agree with Sonny, Jesus. The point of that scene was to establish that Sonny is a jackass, a snide asshole, who Annie has to basically apologize for because he has no social skills.
A main message from this sultry pageant of a show is that New Orleans is an occult matter that you can never truly “get” unless you’re a native or pretty close to it. The perky, hopelessly “white” tourists from Wisconsin with their nasal voices, the ones who get schooled by the street musician, can be taken as stand-ins for the viewer. Which makes the whole enterprise strangely unwelcoming.
The perky white Wisconsin tourists, by the end of the episode, were in love with New Orleans, were head over heels crazy about the place, BECAUSE they’d been taken in by locals and shown the place’s true face and its heart and they rolled around in it like dogs in the snow. Could they win some Authenticity Olympics? Probably not, but they didn’t care and by that point neither did Davis. He was just happy they’d had a good time. So long as they weren’t going to pick a “who’s more of an insider” fight, neither was he.
Speaking from my own white tourist experience not just in NOLA but everyplace I’ve ever gone, I’ve found if you love a place first, it’ll love you back, and if you don’t make it a contest, it won’t either. We do this all over, this “who’s a true resident of X” nonsense, and what Treme does is the opposite. It doesn’t keep you out so it can wrap its pain around it and be special in its emo-ness that nobody understands. It invites you in and asks you to care by showing you how much there is to learn.
Every time on this show somebody’s made a point of who has more “right” to be or do or say something, that person’s been shown to be a dick or shortsighted or silly or all of the above. Which you could argue is self-serving, as it neatly refutes the idea that Simon has no right to do or say anything about New Orleans, but it is in direct opposition to the point that McWhorter thinks Simon’s making.
Okay, but acting out gets old from anyone. In his YouTube rant, Goodman savagely disses San Francisco as an “overpriced cesspool with hills” when, let’s face it, that’s a pretty “cultural” city too, and has suffered its share of natural disasters. Part of the reason this scene gets by is, actually, Goodman’s obesity—it takes the edge off that he is “cute” and a beloved personage. The same scene delivered by Edward Norton would be less charming.
The FUCK? That was exactly Creighton’s point, that San Francisco is vulnerable to the kinds of criticisms being lodged at New Orleans and that if you say one city’s expendable then they all are. He’s saying our fate is your fate, he’s saying if you can find reasons to sacrifice one place and its people you can find reasons to sacrifice them all. That’s not a rip on San Francisco, it’s exactly the opposite. And his weight has fuck-all to do with it. If Edward Norton was playing a loving husband and father who was outraged on behalf of his city, he’d be just as sympathetic.
And, “acting out?” Seriously? Trivializing someone’s argument does not refute it.
The fact that “Treme” has already been renewed and is getting so much attention is a sign that its creators can let up on the proselytizing and score-settling. It’d be interesting if after these growing pains, “Treme” settled into being a show about some interesting people in an interesting city. Perhaps, especially after Katrina, there are Americans who think of themselves as better than New Orleans. But how many of them are watching “Treme”?
A show about some interesting people in an interesting city? That’s what this is. And no, none of the people who think New Orleans is somehow beneath them is watching Treme.
Except Mr. McWhorter.