Friday, June 4, 2010

BP Gulf Oil Disaster: Update from New Orleans

 Frank De Caro, New Orleans folklorist, offers an update on the BP Gulf Oil Disaster:

The BP disaster hangs over us but nobody in New Orleans seems to have much idea precisely how it will affect the city, so there is perhaps more a fog of uncertainty than a storm of anxiety. At first many rushed out to eat seafood, certain that the local supply was about to dry up (which it may yet). Not far away, of course, lives are being threatened if not destroyed, but this seems hard to visualize. Oil was a devil's bargain for Louisiana, but it came with such gradualism that few could foresee the tragedies. I think of the cheery optimism of Flaherty's Louisiana Story, the promise of technology co-existing with tradition, the promise of better, more prosperous lives.

Now, of course, with the end-result of the bargain already on people's minds (the canals dredged for years by the oil companies, for example, already having brought about ecological devastation in the marsh country), we get the big burst of apocalypse.

If people on the coast were denying things (after all, people there--often literally the same people--both fish and work on the oil platforms, operate oyster beds and transport workers out to the rigs), full realization dawns.

Collectively New Orleans is preoccupied by the new HBO series Treme, set in post-Katrina New Orleans. We all play the game of recognizing people and places we see on screen. Or we go to programs like one recently featuring episodes of the 80s sitcom Frank's Place with actors and producers from the show on a panel, recognizing the show as an earlier, much loved attempt to depict N.O. A form of introspection, I suppose. (Indeed, said panel was sponsored by the producers of Treme, as if to draw the connection.)

Personally I'm still trying to finish up an article on two new Mardi Gras organizations, one honoring Joan of Arc, the other featuring costumes decorated with the iconic N.O. food ingredients red beans & rice. Perhaps my own contribution to looking at N.O. culture, though also a way to get me out "into the field," talking to people, following parades, observing people make costumes. Also writing a piece about folklore used to support "unorthodox" theories, like Atlantis and the Hollow Earth.

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