This Thin Space
We got a second season and it’s over.
What a journey this online space took with it. High-fives and many thanks to Back Of Town’s tremendous writing krewe, especially VirgoTex with her choice pictures and quotes for each week’s timely open thread. Mere seconds after the episode ended, y’all – I charge every last one of you with plying my girl with cocktails (and putting her in a cab after). Most of all, I thank the commenters for showing the internet how discussion is done. With honest and enthusiastic participation tempered by excellent moderation, the weblog is not dead.
I thought the season would end on another St. Joseph’s Day, but this time we got all the way through Jazzfest and ended on a somewhat upbeat, can-do note when contrasted with previous episodes and the feeling of the city at that time. Notice how the episodes span the duration between New Orleans’s high holy days; it’s almost as though the show’s creators noticed that’s what we set our clocks by. (Are you going to argue with me that Jazzfest is not a religious holiday? And I’ve never heard people invoke the name of God more than during hurricane season, so there you have it.) Treme has not explicitly brought up the role of religious thought during and after Katrina and The Flood. I understand that this is a difficult task with a city that is a theological peculiarity. Forget the obvious Catholicism, we are nothing if not soul, have an innate sense of the sacrosanct and know the importance of ritual in our daily lives. In other words, we practice religion, but do not use it to dictate thought and life. Or do we?
My season-opener post referenced a piece Dan Baum wrote about the life and death of TBC brass band member, Brandon Franklin. Our people kill their own as a way of settling beefs and, in the process, our talented perish as does our recovery with it. There’s another bit of that article that continues to gnaw at me, one that has a bigger hand in the future of New Orleans than any crime-reduction measure enacted by NOPD. It is apathy wrapped in religious fatalism.
“I loved Brandon, but God loved him more, that’s all,” [Kenneth Fields] said, pushing out his chin defiantly as though daring himself to cry. “I’m not sad this day. Brandon got called before us. This is God’s will and beyond our understanding … Something about Kenneth’s pious words and the very New Orleans way Brandon was being carried off sent an unexpected shot of irritation through me.
… I flashed on arguments I’d had with Christian missionaries when Margaret and I lived in Africa in the late 1980s. The poor need the comfort of Jesus to endure their miserable lives, they’d say, and I, as a good Commie atheist, would make the usual argument that if they weren’t putting so much energy and money into preparing for the next life, they might organize themselves to make this one more just and bearable.
God is an effective coping mechanism in times of extreme grief, I get it. My hands, too, clutched Hindu prayer beads in the days after the storm, hoping for everyone still in the city. It’s when the sense of helplessness aided along by religious piety justifies our rush to judgment and inaction that I get very concerned. It’s a very short trip from “God took our murdered child and we can’t do anything about it” to “Katrina was God’s punishments for homosexuality and legalized abortion,” “you can’t stop what God had in mind for this city” (someone said this to me who was visiting for Krewe du Vieux from Nashville) and “if you pray hard enough, the rains will come to Texas.”
Even fatalism carries with it some humility. This, on the other hand, is full-on indifference which is then shoved under the rug of self-aggrandizing predestination. Communities and infrastructures go bad over time, they go to pieces for various reasons. Even things built for the long-term will fail towards the end of those terms, and things built increasingly cheaper and maintained poorly fail over shorter periods of time. Things just fall apart and, unless, say, you spent money meant for the true security of our homeland on two foreign military boondoggles, there ought to be no shame in this because it’s the earth’s physical truth. How we respond to breakdown and try with all our might against it happening again is then the measure of our civilization, not that something broke. But, we as a still growing country can’t seem to understand that and yearn for a time when everything was newer, cleaner, stronger because we, who were once those that built and fixed, have created those who can only consume and enjoy.
So, the next time someone pronounces that God wants for something to happen or not, understand that those words do not arise from the mysticism of an old and impenetrable faith or the coming Dark Age of inexplicable stupidity. This is simply the drawing of permission from a convenient collective not to care why. Why our economy failed, why the rains won’t come in Texas, why the levees failed, why our system of justice grows more crooked, why New Orleanians continue to kill and die at their own hands. And only from fully embracing why comes what to do about it.
New Orleanians are still chosen people. Infused with the spirit and surrounded by awe, we have something few other cultures can boast of. And, just so, apathy and corruption threaten to consume us from within, while greed and more apathy crush us from the outside. In that sliver of an interface between is home. Push, push outwards from this thin space.
Thank you for reading.
P.S. I’ve mentioned this before but in no way is BOT school out for the summer. There are posts by far better writers than me waiting in the wings. Y’all get back now.
P.P.S. This wasn’t really a post about religion and community as much as it was about the things we lead ourselves to believe when in a group. Observe New Orleans and the wars and the economy and now the debt ceiling “debate” – people were and are going to be fucked and the worst thing is that a significant number of them are going to think they deserved it.