Friday, May 8, 2009

Concerns About Treme

I’m very concerned about HBO’s decision to pick up the series Treme based here in New Orleans. I am not totally certain this show is a good idea. The fact it’s on HBO doesn’t concern me. I like the fact it’s airing on HBO. I love almost every show HBO does. They are always very detailed and compelling. They were the ones that aired When the Levees Broke and let the people tell the real story of Katrina. I like the fact that David Simon is involved. He managed to deliver a top five show of all time in The Wire that told a harsh reality about some things in Baltimore without totally destroying the city’s image. It takes someone truly gifted with the right intentions to pull that off. That brings me to my worry. I am sure Mr. Simon and HBO have the right intentions. I’m just not sure America can judge our city fairly enough for this show to be as realistic as I think it’s going to be.

I may be overly sensitive about people’s opinion about my city but it seems like no matter what happens and what we do, there’s too many people who think we are the bottom of the barrel. There was a Time magazine article titled "Is Baghdad safer than New Orleans." Now that’s something considering I read a story on Forbes that said we are the 11th most dangerous city. I’m not saying New Orleans is the safest place in the country but if statistically we are only 11th, why wasn’t the title of that article “Is Baghdad safer than Orlando?” or “Is Baghdad safer than Stockton, CA”. Both of those cities were ranked higher than us on this list but we get the Baghdad comparison. Why would this reporter pick us as the reference? He did because it’s easy. He did it because people will understand our city as a reference for violence and mayhem despite the fact that statistics show there is ten cities more dangerous. It’s like we can’t play enough music, kiss up to enough tourists or tell enough stories about our never say die spirit towards saving our city for people to think we are anything but a bunch of brass instrument playing thugs. That’s my concern about this show. People watch Big Love every week but I don’t think they assume everyone in Utah has a few wives. People watched The Wire but I don’t think they assumed that everybody in Baltimore sold drugs. I loved the Sopranos but I don’t think every Italian in New Jersey is in the mob. I am not sure after the first scene of Treme showing someone being shot on St. Phillips St. it won’t cut the tourism industry by twenty percent because of fear. Since no one has ever figured out a way to generate the same amount of money in another area if that happens we are going to suffer.

If it is done right America will be treated to an inside look at one of the most unique cultures in America. I just hope that there aren’t too many Americans that think the acts of violence that may pop up in the show doesn’t happen to everyone and is not committed by everyone that lives here. Maybe David Simon can put a disclaimer at the beginning of every episode that says something like. “This is a story about a unique city in our country. Please think openly and not sit there waiting for the one negative thing you see to validate your unfounded views about these people.” That probably wouldn’t work but it would make me feel better about the angry emails I am sending to any reporter or critic who uses the show to make sweeping accusations about where I come from. This show will be awesome to watch as long as it doesn’t turn into a sweeping indictment.


Loye said...

Cliff, a great post, as usual. One HBO series that now seems all but forgotten is "The Corner." I think it was one of the best shows ever.

I would have to disagree with you as far as "Treme" having a negative impact on tourism. The majority of folks who bash New Orleans (from afar) wouldn't visit here anyway even if the show portrayed our city having streets paved with gold.

Red said...

As you know Cliff, I live in the Treme and many folks I've talked to here - both neighbors and folks actually working/writing on the show - feel really optimistic about David's project. Lolis Elie (my neighbor and TP reporter) is one of the script writers, which is very encouraging. I've never known Lolis to be anything but sensitive to the way in which stories about our city are told. Additionally, David Simon has relied heavily on consultation from Kermit (Ruffins), Wendell Pierce, Phil Frasier and Rebirth (all natives) as well as some other folks that have lived here a long time (Davis Rogan, Tom Fitzmorris). I think they probably all share your concern about how to portray the truth of our struggles in a way that also emphasizes our humanity, beauty and resilience.

The other concern you mention about the first scene showing crime in Treme, etc... Its my understanding that the first season starts with New Orleans a few months after Katrina when, if you remember, crime was almost non-existent, and chronicles K+1 in season one. Its almost funny to think back to the way people were practically giddy at the notion that the 'criminals are gone!' Boy were they wrong!!! LOL

anyway, I too pray he doesn't EFF it up. But I'm leaning towards optimism on this one. Fingers crossed!

Maitri said...

"People watch Big Love every week but I don’t think they assume everyone in Utah has a few wives. People watched The Wire but I don’t think they assumed that everybody in Baltimore sold drugs. I loved the Sopranos but I don’t think every Italian in New Jersey is in the mob."

Yeah, they do. The average person loves a good generalization. Makes his/her thought processes a lot easier.

I've come across a lot of "you're from the city where everyone wears costumes everyday and of the transvestites on Bourbon St." comments since I moved away. I tell them, "Yes, absolutely, a tranny hanging from a brightly-colored magnolia tree on every street corner, and a lot of them are my friends."

Unfortunately, it takes extreme agreement with their outlandish notions of how other people live (oh yeah, everyone in New Orleans is a transsexual who walks around in a costume and with a gun) and then slapping them with reality (some of my friends happen to be transsexual, you dumbass) to make them realize how ludicrous their thinking is to begin with.

Thankfully, much of the younger, news-watching, radio-listening generation understands the nuances of cultures and statistics, and they mostly ask about the rebuilding in NOLA.