The creators of Homicide, The Corner, and The Wire are at it again, this time in a city not wholly unfamiliar to readers of this blog: New Orleans. Treme premieres on HBO this Sunday at 10PM Eastern. David Simon fans everywhere are working themselves into a tizzy, but keep in mind this isn’t The Wire: New Orleans edition. Simon and co-producer Eric Overmyer explain:
Unlike The Wire, Treme is not about drugs or rampant corruption among city officials. Instead, the series follows ordinary New Orleans citizens as they attempt to rebuild their lives following Hurricane Katrina … the decision to leave the grittiness behind in Baltimore was a conscious choice.
Is the show too much too late?
Almost five years have passed since Katrina and the Flood, we’ve proven in the last year that our government and economy are broken and Americans don’t give two shits about one another and, especially with the Superbowl win and Mayor Ray Nagin out the door, it seems that New Orleanians want to move past living in post-K PTSD. Kinda odd timing to bring back Late 2005 and to apply again the floodlines that had just faded away from walls and hearts, isn’t it?
Here’s the dirty secret: No one learned a damned thing from what happened. Up here in Ohio, I am sometimes asked, “Well, what did you expect would happen when a Category 5 hurricane hit a city 20 feet below sea level?” (To which all I want to do is torch my computer and blog and walk into the forest, away from the willfully, yet-underinformed troglodytes.) Down in New Orleans, many are not back in their homes FIVE YEARS LATER exactly because of rampant government corruption, the state government goes through great lengths to reduce much-needed physical and mental health and educational services and a second failure of the federally-built levees is still a very distinct possibility. Comprehensive flood protection a la the Dutch is only a dream. Outside, it’s America. Back in May of 2007, at a horrifyingly low point in the city’s recovery, my buddy Dambala presciently observed: “It’s not just New Orleans that is dying … I think it’s America in general. We are just the cynosure of the descent … the most photogenic example.” Enter the recession and the latest Grand Circus Of Democracy.
It’s not too much and never too late.
But, here’s the real secret: New Orleans is more than a warning, a cautionary tale. It just is, with a tale that can be told 50 or 500 years from now. The matter of how much and when thus becomes irrelevant. All the citizens of New Orleans have ever wanted since August 29th, 2005 is reoccupy their homes, their neighborhoods, their lives and to let the world know that what happened in New Orleans was not the result of a hurricane but flooding caused by the breakdown of levee protection and federal, state and local government. They don’t want your respect or sympathy on account of being mostly black citizens of an irreplaceable city chock full of historic architecture, rich food, tasty drinks and grand merriment. They want your acknowledgment that they, too, are people who have a certain way of going about their lives and that’s that. Treme tells us this story.
So, I will watch the show out of curiosity and expatriate pride … and cojones, an anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach and hope that they get it mostly right.
And blog about it. In anticipation of the show, I founded the Back Of Town blog and invited writer friends from the NOLA Bloggers/First Draft/New Package krewe to hold forth on the show there. And, gods love the internet, have they already brought it pre-premiere: Go check out the news and opinion posts and, starting Sunday, episode reviews. And please feel free to join the conversation or just bring the popcorn and enjoy the discussion and dissection. But come:
America needs to understand New Orleans, whether it wants to or not, whether it believes it needs to or not. Whether Treme will help make that happen is anyone’s guess, but even without having seen it, I don’t think this story of New Orleans, of its value, is to be told as a request, with an open hand, with an aspiration, or a goal, other than that of verity. It’s a story to stand on its own merits, for its own sake. It has value because it is. Some know that, others seeking to know will come to bear their own witness.