How to stop a bulldozer?
As we watch the Katrina tours bus drive away, we can’t but help ask this question which had earlier been posed to Albert: “how to stop a bulldozer?” Through so many different moments on the show, we see how fundamentally there is a continual mismatch of viewpoints, proposals, approaches, and, ultimately, lives. To my mind, this comes to a head in—what I took, surprisingly, to be the most interesting scene—the scene where Davis and Creighton meet. From the first two episodes of the show, we would expect these two absolutely to kick it off and to dig each other. Each of them loves their city, takes pride in it, is deeply affected by the way things have been mishandled, and so forth. Yet, in their encounter we can see that none of this registers. The same sorts of class barriers that inform their individual worldviews come to bear in their dialogue with each other, culminating in Creighton’s admonition to Davis that he should not worry about what his daughter will do.
Their encounter serves as a microcosm for the sorts of mismatches the show develops through this episode. We see this in the New York music session, where New Orleans Indian traditionals are taken and yet performed with a spirit of respect (the way this scene is shot shows the care and soul which Dr. John and the musicians put into this enterprise.) Nonetheless, we know that Albert would find the whole thing fundamentally wrong, as would others. The problem in this case is not so much with the taking of the music itself: but the taking of the music out of New Orleans. The music only has a meaning in the context of the city. Similarly, the Katrina bus tour is justified by the bus driver’s remark: “People want to see what happened.” I propose that we interpret this in the best possible way: people want to know what happened. They want to know in order to spread the word and perhaps to help as did our travelling youngsters last week. This move for a sort of hospitality from outside—and it’s done in a variety of contexts on the show, from Tim’s opportunity for Annie to the New York session to even the National Guard (which obviously doesn’t serve a merely negative function)—can always be misinterpreted, misappropriated, and, indeed, can misfire. Nonetheless, New Orleans cannot rebuild itself: it needs this outside help. Not everyone is an Albert; indeed, we see how some rely on outside aid, while others willingly abuse it.
Treme presents all of this concretely by showing how there are a variety of denizens in New Orleans who themselves have not properly worked through what has happened. The finding of the body under the boat serves as the perfect metaphor: the citizens of New Orleans themselves have not uncovered the extent to which they have been touched and affected by the trauma of Katrina; the outside influence, which is necessary, just serves to engender conflict as much as it does to quell it. This is all because the true fabric holding everything together is the city and the city has been damaged—perhaps irreparably—not only by Katrina, but also by the events leading up to and after Katrina. The only thing that can fix this state of affairs is the return of New Orleans: something that is precisely impossible because it requires all of the things and moments that allowed its destruction in the first place. This strange dialectic of inside and outside borders the show at every step. Of course, we see glimpses of “the city” in the moments where the city ceases to be some sort of ideal and becomes an experience: such as when Antoine and Annie duet. This musical scene is pure magic and it takes place in spite of and yet within the new New Orleans. In it we see a sort of “flattening out” of inside and outside: there is no inside or outside, there is merely the moment (the same goes for Albert’s ceremony at the end). The problem, however, is these moments do not—cannot—last: as they are irreparably tied to the things that interrupt them. Nonetheless, these moments show New Orleans in all of its glory: a glory which neither is captured by Davis’s idealizations nor by the snapshot flashes of a Katrina tour; it is a glory that can only be experienced—never represented.
Until next week,