The Underground Man April 17, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: 504, Ashley Morris, Bloggers, blogging, Chris Rose, New Orleans, NOLA, Times Picayune, underground
“So long live the underground. I already carried the underground in my soul.”
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground
New Orleans Times-Picayune pop-culture columnist Chris Rose discovered the city’s digital underground, as he puts it, when he stumbled into the occult and hermetic bloggerhood of New Orleans, “…a massive community of underground writers, cranks and misanthropes who are keeping it real around here.”
Hmmm. I think he gets curmudgeon in there at some point as well. I don’t think we’re quite as far underground as he finds us to be. Certainly there are a lot of people who would recognize bloggers Karen Gadbois of Squandered Heritage or Bart Everson of b.rox. Karen was written up in the Wall Street Journal (with a picture, no less). Bart was one of the leaders of our neighborhood’s recovery process and before his daughter was borne sat on more committees than most know exist. Both spoke at the 2007 crime march. Not precisely misanthropic. Now we certainly can be the cantankerous bunch, especially when confronted with the class of people Ashley Morris liberated the movie line “fuckmooks” to describe.
Later, Rose is a bit kinder (possibly after he recovers from being called a douchebag by one local blogger, although I have to wonder how easily offended a guy is who calls his standup comedy routine “the Asshole Monologues.”) We are, Rose continues in a more positive vein, “…members of the vibrant New Orleans blogosphere, virtual warriors who lock and load for hours over their computers at night, driving legions of opinions, complaints, vitriol and humor out onto the Information Superhighway, giving both locals and outsiders alternative, sometimes insightful and always uncensored accounts of life in the Big Uneasy. “
Damn. Well, that was nice enough, although I often write early in the morning. After a long day in the Big Uneasy its often difficult to put words together that would make any more sense than the drunken and incomprehensible speech I gave (or should I say attempted to give) rather late at Ashley Morris’ wake. And it’s certainly a bit nicer than his opening gambit. Still, on balance he makes us sound like 21st century variants of Dostoyevsky’s unpleasant character, well versed enough in modern technology to make our mark but consumed, at least some of us, with complaints and vitriol.
The Big Uneasy. Most people down here actively hate that trite bit of marketing nonsense Big Easy. But this play on it I rather like. It summarizes us all and where we live with a minimum of fuss. It fits in well with the neologisms of the NOLA Bloggers: Debrisville, Federal Flood, We Are Not OK. Rose has taken on for himself the stage role of Mr. Big Uneasy, beginning with a fabulous column he wrote back in the Fall of 2006 and later when he first dropped from the paper’s columns, then returned to publicly recount his struggle with depression.
In case you are not from around here, and fall into that group of fu——–, uh, I mean people who think that 1) New Orleans was wiped from the face of the earth two years ago by a vengeful god and is no longer your problem, or 2) everything down here in just peachy after Mardi Gras, the bowl championship game and NBA All-Stars, let me set the record straight: We Are Not OK. I am one of the few people I know not taking some sort of psychoactive meds to combat a condition I think strongly resembles combat fatigue as much as anything else. Chris Rose became the poster child for this condition, but he is one among tens upon tens of thousands.
Almost 1,000 days after the failure of the Federal levees life down here is still a struggle most Americans can’t imagine. For people who have invested themselves beyond just their own house and circle of friends and family, the people who have taken on in some small or large way the rebirth of the entire city, it can be as bleak at times as the denuded WWI battlescapes I believe the stage directions for Waiting for Godot were meant to invoke.
The thing is, Chris, you’re not unique; not in the way Ashley was unique. Most of us who write as you do, as we all do, about the city and our lives here share a common stage and read from the same script, function not as characters but as members of a chorus. We act from the same flaws and echo each other’s lines, waiting to share that moment of carthasis with the audience. Now Ashley, there was a character. When he walked onto the stage it was: cue the lights and orchestra (snare and kettledrum, fortissimo please). We’re glad you found him, sorry you missed knowing him, and appreciate that you helped to share his story to the larger world of newspaper readers.
He struggled as we all struggled, but as with everything else in his life he did it with more gusto that most. If he seemed at time cantankerous or misanthropic and downright cranky, he was entitled. We’re all entitled: you, too, Chris. The NOLA bloggers are not, however, the caricature of the cantankerous blogger: that 21st Century, Web. 2.0 version of the crank with a typewriter and a mimeo machine, guys who write and mass mail letters to every member of Congress, who litter coffee shops with uncollected petitions.
We are, as you admit in one moment, a lot like yourself. We are people who write about this city and the people in it, not for a living as you do but as a very important part of our lives, as one of the tethers for our sanity in this crazy place where It’s After the End of the World. We are underground men (and women), but not in the Dostoyevskyan sense. We are in part an underground resistance to the poor, lost fuckmooks on Perdido Street and everywhere you can find them, here and away; to the “shootings happen to someone else, to bad people but not to me” mind set; to the “charter schools are wonderful, just like Catholic school without the tuition or the knee patches and let the rest rot” view of the world; a resistance against anyone who would profit from our pain or settle for less than something better for New Orleans.
We’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.
Welcome to the underground.