I’ve been thinking a lot about the cultural narcissism we experience as a city sometimes. You know, the fleur-de-lis everything, or the way a Saints win smothers out every other news story on any given Monday, or even the way we look to the NOLA lifestyle as the city’s saving grace and even economic engine. On this last point, I mean to say that sometimes we have it completely backwards. It’s been pointed out often that the tourism industry is a bum way to make a buck (or a couple million). Low wage jobs, seasonal uncertainty, the fact that so much of our tourism dollars get sucked up by Baton Rouge and never come back, and possibly worst of all: the pandering. We make a big point of selling some idea of New Orleans, especially its basest and most cartoonish qualities. And like a lot of advertising, the whole thing is hollower than a plaster bust of Bobby Jindal on a Krewe Du Vieux float.
What results is an economy dependent on shitheads, and the subjugation of our culture-bearers to people with no stake in this place. When Mardi Gras or Halloween or, say, the Republican National Convention come around, we citizens cower as hordes of weekend warriors descend to turn our beloved city into their own personal port-a-potty. I would love to see New Orleans become economically independent of this model, host its own parties for its own people, and welcome tourists the way we welcome guests into our home: come on in, have a good time, don’t be an asshole.
We don’t need more cultural advocacy or PR campaigns: we need to keep people out of jail. We need to keep them from being assaulted (and give them support when it does happen). This month we tackle some of these themes, from Andru Okun’s grim parsing of the incarceration statistics in Louisiana, to Holly Devon’s report on the sexual assault surge in the city of late. As illustrator extraordinaire Erin K. Wilson points out in our NOCAZ feature, sometimes it’s a simple matter of feeding someone before they can concentrate on their art.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: culture is a byproduct of a community and not its purpose. It’s the magical thing that happens once we’ve taken care of our basic human needs, like food, safety, and shelter—the classic Maslow pyramid. I’m certain that rather than yoke our survival to the false exaltation of everything NOLA, if we really take care of our fellow New Orleanians and make this city a more livable place, the culture will take care of itself, flowing effortlessly, like an endless keg of Rebirth Pale Ale. (Dangit, you know I couldn’t resist!)