It is with great amusement (and a pinch of annoyance) that I watch the faux outrage over New Orleanians having the temerity to celebrate Mardi Gras 6 months after the city flooded.
People who think Mardi Gras could be canceled have no understanding what Mardi Gras is.
The first Mardi Gras was celebrated in 1699; long before the founding fathers thought this freedom stuff was a good idea. In that time, New Orleans has suffered thru hurricanes, floods, 2 fires that ravaged the city, the War of 1812, yellow fever, the Civil War and the New Orleans Saints. Thru it all, Mardi Gras -in some fashion- has persevered.
To think the people of New Orleans would abandon a 300 year old tradition because the city suffered another tragedy is to insult modern New Orleanians. I spoke to a Jefferson City Buzzard the other day. They have been marching for 116 years. The buzzard was telling me that within 3 days of the storm, when phone contact was still all but impossible, he had already heard from 12 buzzards who were going to march if “marching” meant doing the traditional route in flatboats.
That sprit of determination and defiance is usually lauded in this country. When New York put on the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade just days after 9/11, people applauded the spirit of the people of New York. But when New Orleans has Mardi Gras 6 months after a flood we’re just hayseeds who don’t take life seriously. (Not that we’re insulted or anything.)
People (cough the media cough) who ask, “Should the city put on Mardi Gras?” don’t understand who puts on Mardi Gras. The CITY does not put on Mardi Gras. The PEOPLE do. Mardi Gras is not the city’s gift to the people, it is the people’s gift to the city.
Mardi Gras, which costs million of dollars to put on, is completely privately funded. In fact, several years ago when an ordinance was proposed to forbid corporate sponsorship of Mardi Gras parades, it was passed -by some accounts- before it was even introduced. Sure, corporations of every size try to weasel into Mardi Gras. Bacardi Rum gives away beads that have “Bacardi Gras” on them for example. But as long as corporations don’t get too obnoxious they are welcome to the party just like everyone else. Mardi Gras doesn’t have too many rules. (Although during the dot-com era it was getting out of hand.)
Mardi Gras can’t be cancelled.
Mardi Gras can no more be canceled than Christmas. If Muslims took over Washington D.C. tomorrow and declared Christmas verboten that would hardly stop it. People by the millions would put up Christmas trees, exchange gifts and attended religious services. When asked by the media if New Orleans should put on Mardi Gras, a local woman replied, “New Orleans was going to have Mardi Gras if it was only me and my red wagon.” That sums up how many of us feel. No matter the size or shape, Mardi Gras is one of loves of our life and the hurricane wasn’t going to take it away.
Some say the money the police are spending on overtime could be used to help the people who were devastated. That arguments is baseless. In a typical year, Mardi Gras pumps over $1.2 Billion into the New Orleans economy. The city government MAKES money on Mardi Gras. From seeing the crowds this year, the city will make millions.
I didn’t want Mardi Gras this year at first. Not because I thought it was a bad idea but because I just didn’t feel like it. Thankfully, people with a larger view of things were making the decision. Because Mardi Gras is more than parades and beads, Mardi Gras is political speech. It has always been the way we in New Orleans lampoon the ruling class. And this year -much more than most- we have plenty of lampooning that needs to be done.
New Orleans still has much work to do. As I drove to parades this weekend, boats could still be seen on the side of the road 6 months after the flood. On the way home I saw a body-board leaning against a stop sign… A grim reminder of a grim week in our history. Sure, somebody will eventually consider them a priority in the reconstruction, but as for this week, we need a few days off.