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Treme too authentic for the New York Times April 9, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Debrisville, Federal Flood, fuckmook, FYYFF, New Orleans, NOLA, We Are Not OK.
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Cross-posted from Back Of Town.

I am struggling to figure out what precisely offended New York Times TV Reviewer Allessandra Stanley about Treme. The gist of it seems to be that it is not didactic or angry enough, that is “is more an act of love, and, odd as it sounds, that makes it harder to embrace…

“[Treme] is a tribute to the “real” New Orleans by filmmakers who have become connoisseurs of the city, depicting its sound and ravaged looks with rapt reverence and attention to detail…

“The effort to get New Orleans “right,” to do justice to the city’s charm, its jazz tradition, and now its post-Katrina martyrdom, is at times so palpable it is off-putting, a self-consciousness that teeters on the edge of righteousness.”

Let’s start with her use of the phrase “its post-Katrina martyrdom.” I want to know when New York plans to get over it’s post-9/11 martyrdom. If Allessandra gets back to me on that one, you will read it here first.

She is also disappointed that Treme is “an elliptically told tale, and it takes a few episodes for the plot and the characters to pick up steam.” I’m sure you’re quite busy up there in New York, but it is kind of hard to tell a story of this sweep and depth in a way that you can watch episodically on your I Pod while waiting on the platform for your train. MTV is shooting a Real World New Orleans episode. Maybe you should wait for that.

On balance, she manages a good job of retyping the material that came with her review copy, giving a basic idea of the plot outline and characters, sort of a TV Guide snapshot for people who would not be caught dead reading the TV Guide. With some tight editing, bits of it might make for decent jacket copy for the boxed set but I suspect most of it was written up the first time by Simon’s staff.

In the end, she casts the show (I presume she saw the first one or two episodes most reviewers got) as a reflection of the snobishness of some locals toward the outside world (keying in on the scene when the visitors ask to hear The Saints), that the film is taken with that attitude and is too reverential towards its subject.

One wonders what she expected. Perhaps she is a die hard Wire junkie and was just itchily waiting for that new package. As she points out, Treme ain’t that. If I went looking for analogies I wouldn’t think of Simon’s prior oeuvre, or Spike Lee’s move or even Trouble the Water. If I hope for anything, it is precisely achingly reverential treatments Ken Burns gave to subjects like the Civil War and Jazz, mingled with strong and representative characters (because at one level, New Orleans is all about the characters), characters who tell the story of one of the great cataclysms of American history, a story that attempts to convey what Ashley Morris and all the New Orleans bloggers have been talking about since 8-29: it’s not just about saving not just the real estate, but about saving something recognizably New Orleans.

I don’t expect everyone to love Treme, anymore than I expect everyone to love New Orleans. Some people are only happy in their own tightly constrained milieu and are never going to be happy outside of it. If they travel, they go to all inclusive resorts and tell every one they went to Jamaica when they really went to a fucking Marriott and never set foot outside the door. New Orleans is different, and not just in the way Idaho is different from New Jersey, but rather z a place with a unique local culture that has evolved over three centuries, longer than most of America has even been settled by Europeans. If you don’t like it, that’s OK. I’m not too fond of Phoenix, but then I haven’t heard anyone nominating Phoenix a world heritage site.

If Allessandra Stanley doesn’t understand what she calls our chauvinism, if she doesn’t understand why someone of Simon’s talent would want to reverentially recreate New Orleans, she’s entitled to her opinion. She’s a reviewer, that’s what she does, but a reviewer who approaches their subject with a closed mind or one that snaps shut like a trap at the first whiff of something that does not fit some preconceived notion, well that’s a waste of perfectly good trees.

I think most New Orleanians are like the people I met traveling to New York, people who would gladly stop and give us directions or swipe my wife into the subway with their own fare card when my wife couldn’t get her to work, people who were glad we came to share in one of the great cities of the world even as they carried deep inside a profoundly chauvinistic conviction that New York is one of the great cities of the world, and that it was perfectly natural we should want to be there.

— wet bank guy


1. govtdrone - April 9, 2010

“I want to know when New York plans to get over it’s post-9/11 martyrdom.” Thank you, thank you, thank.


2. Chronn - April 9, 2010

I also love how she points out that viewers expecting a Southern version of “the Wire” are going to be disappointed…seriously, any reasonably intelligent fan of “the Wire” would not expect this to be a rehash!


3. Ted - April 9, 2010

“I don’t expect everyone to love Treme any more than I expect everyone to love New Orleans.”

…though if you don’t love them, you’re obviously an uncultured idiot and here’s why.

So antagonistic, WBG.


4. mf - April 9, 2010

Sorry Ted, but I don’t think so. If you don’t like New Orleans, go on with your life. I don’t spend much time thinking about Oklahoma. I do spend some time thinking about Detroit Lakes, MN and the sound of far off country music at We Fest as I lay in bed on a warm August night. I can wax seriously nostalgic over Dewey Beach, DE or certain bars on Pennsylvania Ave. SE in DC from the late 1980s. I do that because there was something genuine there, the very sort of thing you won’t get from your typical television show.

On the other hand, if you are going to dismiss Treme before you see it or myself because we genuinely love this place, its people, its culture; because we’re some sort of freaks by the usual American standards of piling up disposable crap until you die, well, then yes I am being chauvinistic.


5. Glenn - April 9, 2010

Good response to Miz Allessandra , Mark. Why should she preferably expect David Simon to recreate “The Wire” in New Orleans rather than attempt to tell another story in a nonlinear fashion. Everything I’m hearing about “Treme” seems to indicate it is going to be something unexpected and involving. I say, “Break a leg.”


mf - April 9, 2010

It’s like the reviewer on the AOL site who didn’t get the Goodman character. Apparently the idea of a Greek chorus didn’t occur to someone who reviews pop TV for an AOL-affiliated site.


Glenn - April 9, 2010

LOL, I think there’s going to be a lot of that. Personally, I’m looking forward to the “outsider” character(s), the ones standing on the sidelines, watching and witnessing. I’m looking forward to the storylines being told in snapshot fashion without a clearcut beginning, middle, and end. I’m looking forward to the pacing being slow – something everybody has a problem with. Mainly, I’m looking forward to being astonished. Is that too much to ask? Of course, not.


6. Charlotte - April 9, 2010

I agree with your opinion of the piece. This statement alone proves she has no idea what she’s talking about with regard to our city:

“Whether it stems from snobbery or insecurity, some residents nurture a cult of authenticity that villainizes the very outsiders who allow them to remain on the inside. “


mf - April 9, 2010

Thanks. And you’re home blogging and not at 101 Runners?


7. Charlotte - April 10, 2010

Yeah, it was hubs BD so I sacrificed and stayed home with him like a good wife. 🙂 Will be going to the fest Sunday afternoon. You?


8. MeowLady - April 10, 2010

You’ll have to pardon me if I view everything Ms. Stanley writes with a jaundiced eye since she royally screwed up an “appreciation” of Walter Cronkite, resulting in a correction to fix seven errors. The details:
True, some of the mistakes weren’t hers, but when she didn’t even do her own fact-checking, I don’t think she’s got a leg to stand on. And I’m not sure how she kept her job there, but obviously she did.
Me, I’m so looking forward to this show. And that “review” makes me think they DID get it all right on Treme!


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