e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu

4/09/2008

heard on the streetcar

The rhetoric and composition community discusses New Orleans: Should the conference return to N.O. sooner than later to "support" the city financially? Does academic analysis of the city have the potential to prompt social change? How can the field turn its attention to how language ("post-Katrina" and so on) constructs realities?

The WPA list had a brief conversation--that seems to have died out quickly--about urging NCTE to interrupt the scheduled rotation of conference locations and hold Cs in New Orleans again. I respect the urge to make such a gesture. It's an urge to spend money in the city, an urge to offer some solidarity, and an urge to feel relevant in the face of a complicated and unjust situation. Jeff and Jenny have both rightly pointed out that these urges also create an opportunity for outsiders to pat themselves on the back despite how ineffectual (yay...we've helped expensive hotels pay low wages to members of the working class and working poor) and unethical (the awful "Katrina tours" that Jenny mentions) some of the manifestations of the gesture are.

Obviously New Orleans is a place that has relied for a very long time on tourism and business travel. Going to New Orleans *does* provide the city with revenue. But who benefits from the types of revenue we brought? Most of the hotels where Cs attendees stayed are certainly operated by godless corporations, but many attendees also took part in the city's arts scene, including the scene beyond the French Quarter. Such participation certainly doesn't warrant back-patting, but may play a small role in supporting the good work of a musician or artist. Some attendees may have been moved by the underpasses' "tent cities" to take part in advocacy work. Visibility (i.e., the visibility of difference and inequality) can lead to change.

But I was struck by the words spoken by a woman on the streetcar I was riding. We struck up a conversation about the streetcar's closure through the stretch of Canal Street where a movie was filming. The woman, who lives off Canal, was talking about how the interruption of service screwed up her ability to get home. I wondered aloud whether movie production brings in as much money as folks often insist it does (Mitch Albom's leading a movement to bring more Hollywood productions to Detroit) and the woman responded: "Yeah, it brings in lots of money. But I'm tired of people from the north spending money here and then thinking they can do whatever they want."

2 comments:

Jeff said...

Sorry for the blank look in the bar area on Friday. I had a brain fart for half a second. When I recovered, I said: that was Bill. But you were gone.

bdegenaro said...

I had a brain fart, too, that I think had something to do with that friggin' coffee line. I don't even like Starbucks coffee all that much. Jeesh.