We just got around to looking at an old issue of the Web magazine Triple Canopy that we got an e-mail about in September, and it’s about an old topic – New Orleans. But the link gave us a perspective so new, and so good.
The issue starts with a brilliant essay by Brian Rosa about “Katrina Tours.” Reported to be the response by a “moribund New Orleans tourist industry” to the city the hurricane left without many traditional tourists, the tours showcase damage the famous storm brought in 2005, by bus and foot. It is the damage, after all, that New Orleans is now famous for, and the list of tour stops reminds you what big stars those things became in the wake of the disaster. The Ninth Ward, Ray Nagin, the “Chocolate City” the post-apocalyptic Superdome — they are the new icons for New Orleans, stuck forever in 2005, but with the urgency of disaster woven into them in such a way that they are somehow more living and relevant than Mardi Gras beads and French Quarter jazz. Even the “villains” made in that time were so indelibly etched in the collective imagination then that I still I want to scream “LOOK OUT!” whenever I catch Michael Chertoff lurking in the background of political press conferences.
If the concept of the issue — a hip, New York based culture webazine easily adopting the theme of “New Orleans” — didn’t give you pause to ponder the complexity of NOLA-mania, Rosa’s article does, bringing the whole effort into a perfect self-awareness, and seemingly without lifting a finger.
But thinking about disasters as celebrities — and keeping their components locked in time as such — is a slippery shortcut to internal moral conflict, and in the case of anything post-Titanic, in the case of disasters that are realities belonging to actual living people in addition to being images that belong to the world, getting excited about such things seems like a one-way ticket to realizing you’re a bad person (although the faces around souvenir tables of the still-booming market for 9/11 merchandise in lower Manhattan would see to prove that not everyone feels the need to go there).
[Here’s a link to a Katrina tour company website, the customer reviews range from “
1 star. The Biggest Waste of Money. “If you are an extremely radical left-wing liberal who hates America, then this tour is for you. My husband and I paid $35.00 each to Gray Line Bus Tours and went on the Katrina tour. We literally couldn’t wait to get off the bus.”
“5 stars. A Definite Must-Do!”
Both seem to say too much.]
And just when you feel like the ugliness of your Katrina-fetishizing moral fiber has never been more exposed, Rosa takes you on a virtual version of the Ninth Ward tour, and you can’t help but be fascinated again. Fascinated by images you’ve seen countless times before, and fascinated in the good way you used to be, before you read Rosa’s introduction, when educating yourself about the goings on in post-Katrina New Orleans made you feel like a responsible citizen. Have you just been made into a “disaster tourist,” stirring your empathy for a thrill, or were you genuinely interested in what’s going on in a major city, still in crisis?
The essay just leaves you there, at the foot of the rest of the issue, wondering what just happened.
My explanation may have undone some of the magic of Rosa’s presentation, in that the essay derives a lot of power from not hitting you over the head with the work it’s doing, but it’s still more than worth the time of checking out for yourself.
In addition to the writing you’ll find some really nice design, a few nice bits of multi-media flair, and even a few NSFW (not safe for work) photos!