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Fireworks on a slow fuse

May 20, 2010

In Episode Five, Davis is sitting in a neighborhood bar in which he is the only white patron with some of his friends when he lets the N-word slip, leading another patron at the bar to knock him down with one punch. Davis’s pitiful defense (“hey, I live in this neighborhood”) doesn’t save him from the first racially charged moment of the series so far.

That is the one underdeveloped story line in the show so far. (I was going to say flaw, but I’ll wait for the season to end before I call it that.) Up through Episode Six, things have been pretty Kumbaya in the Crescent City racially. If memory serves, even the cops who beat up Antoine were black. That was about the tension between the N.O.P.D. against the world in postdiluvian New Orleans. Even Davis’ mom’s reaction to the Morial name is largely comic.

I wasn’t in the city at this point in the story timeline. I was watching from thousand miles away. I was reading closely the blogs of a lot of people who were on the ground. My own writing at the time on Wet Bank Guide is more concerned with the arguments around the early redevelopment plans. There were some ugly racial moments from before the timeline of the story, such as the suggestion in September of prominent local citizen Jimmy Reis to the Wall Street Journal: “Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically,” he says. “I’m not just speaking for myself here. The way we’ve been living is not going to happen again, or we’re out.” {Emphasis added}. I titled my blog post about that quote Knights of the Invisible Hand. I think you get the idea.

There was a large resevoir of good feeling, of “we’re all in this together.” I’ll let posters and commenters who were here, people like Sam Jasper whose old posts from the period I was just rereading the other night, speak to that. That was soon to be shattered by events that are literally just around the corner on the Treme timeline, starting with Nagin’s Chocoloate City speech.

There are hints of where such tensions might yet come in Lambreaux’s angry stance on the housing projects where so many of the Indians lived, in some remarks (I’ve forgotten which character in what context or episode) about plans for “redevelopment” of the Lower Nine, even something as subtle as the way LaDonna surveys the restaurant full of white cops as she leaves from her abortive meeting with Toni. Those of us who know the ground truth behind the story know where those threads lead: to ugly confrontations and the rolling of the bulldozers. Where the story stands in time, we are just about to hear Nagin’s racially polarizing speech on MLK Day.

It’s hard to imagine something will not explode shortly.

And still there is only the slightest suggestion of what is to come, a massive bit of foreshadowing for those who lived the real story, but so far just a hint for most of the viewing audience. We’re all too busy having a good time together in spite of it all. I have to wonder if that’s intentional, so that when ugly bursts, the levee of goodwill and good intentions it makes a really big splash.

— Wet Bank Guy

  1. May 20, 2010 2:18 pm

    Pretty sure there was two cops who stopped Antoine. One was black, one was white. Can’t remember which one actually did the beat down. And it’s possible my recollection is wrong.

  2. May 20, 2010 2:21 pm

    Yeah, but I think my point stands. That was about the N.O.P.D PTSD, not racial.

  3. May 20, 2010 2:37 pm

    A twitterer coined the phrase “to catch a McAlary.” Even that is played somewhat to comic effect in that he shuts up, briefly, but can’t stay shut up due to his McAlaryness. The groundwork is there in the martini fueled conversation at McAlary mansion, LaDonna’s diatribe against her husband’s family, more obliquely with Albert’s “New Orleans music, yes, New Orleans people…” (which I read to mean, “people who look like you and me, Delmond”) so I’m with you–it feels like a conflagration is coming.

  4. May 20, 2010 2:46 pm

    I agree. In fact, I think it reinforces your point. I remember thinking that the cops were black and white to sidestep any racial angle to the beating.

    Now wait, someone will review the episode and tell me that I’m remembering it wrong.

  5. May 20, 2010 2:49 pm

    Catch a McAlary is going into my personal lexicon right behind “Drunk as Bunk”.

  6. liprap permalink
    May 20, 2010 3:02 pm

    Not to mention Spawn d’Antoine. I feel some drinking games coming on…

  7. virgotex permalink*
    May 20, 2010 3:13 pm

    hey, I call ™ on Spawn d’Antoine

  8. adrastosno permalink
    May 20, 2010 5:48 pm

    Uh, Mark. The Chocolate City speech was made on MLK Day, which was before Carnival. Plus we’d had Oliver the Actor’s comment about not wanting “soap opera watchers” back. The era of Kumbaya was over by the time of KdV.

  9. greg p permalink
    May 20, 2010 6:04 pm

    The cops were indeed black and white, and both participated in the beatdown. And yeah, this was a PTSD theme, like the guy who left his car in Lake Charles. The speech that Toni got from what’s his name (“This is a cry for help!”) made it explicit. Not sure it came close enough to the actual beating for viewers to make the connection, or to buy into it, though.

  10. greg p permalink
    May 20, 2010 6:17 pm

    I would take exception to the idea that Davis let the n-word “slip.” He let it fly with great relish and deliberation, as befitting his insensitive douchebag me-me-mise-en-scene. And he was totally taken aback by the reaction; his black bro beat his ass, but those uptown homos took him in? I mean wtf.

    A commenter at something awful made an interesting point about how his sympathy for Davis took a 180-degree turn after seeing him disporting with his old-money parents: he felt that Davis’s bohemianism is less a truly heartfelt calling and more a reaction against Mom & Dad, a snotty choice equivalent to getting a nose ring or a mohawk. I think that’s too simple, but there’s a germ of truth there: as Davis comes to realize that he is not the only true avatar of New Orleans culture, I predict his familial connection to the city will play a bigger part in his development — at least to the extent that he’ll have to openly acknowledge and consider it.

  11. May 20, 2010 10:55 pm

    But it’s not in Treme, which is building up a lot of tension in my head wondering when.

    Mark Folse Toulouse Street — Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans “You got to be a spirit! You can’t be no ghost.” –Rastaman the Griot

  12. rickngentilly permalink
    May 21, 2010 3:18 am

    davis is still davis rogan up to this point.

    cant say the same for the other players.

    looking forward to season duex.


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