La Vie Bohème

In class, the word bohemian was used to describe New Orleans’ red light district, the origin of the venerated Baby Dolls tradition. The word choice felt a little bit off in context of today’s meaning of bohemian, but historically, this has not been the case.

Part of my discomfort with the use of bohemian in that context comes from my experience working at the mall over the summer. When it came to clothes, we had three “trends” for women: sporty, pretty, and boho. So, I spent my entire summer trying to label people’s style as bohemian or one of the other two. In my mind, bohemian became associated with flowy clothes, floral patterns, and musical festivals.

However, my classmate was right to use bohemian in the context of Storyville in New Orleans. Only recently has bohemian come to have the connotations of young 20-somethings going to Coachella, fairy lights and tapestries in dorms, and a certain style of dress.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (I know it is a cliché to quote dictionaries, but bear with me), bohemian means vagabond, wanderer, especially a gypsy, or a person (such as a writer or an artist) living an unconventional life, usually in a colony with others. The labeling of a certain type of clothes as bohemian seems particularly ironic once faced with the dictionary definition, as someone who is unconventional should, by all reason, not want to buy any particular style, especially those labeled boho by a large corporation, but I digress.

Moving on to the etymology of bohemian, I once again find myself faced with Roach’s idea of performance, particularly the conscription of people into roles that they did not sign up for. The word bohemian originally meant someone that comes from the region of Bohemia, located in the present day Czech Republic. Mistakenly, the French thought that the Roma came from that region, possibly because another group was forced to leave their homeland in Bohemia around the same time the Roma first appeared in western Europe.

The Roma, because of their nomadic lifestyle, were conscripted into a sort of performance: the romanticization of their lifestyle while at the same time being persecuted by pretty much all groups in Europe. They were expected to play the happy nomads, the kind you see in any novel involving “g*psies” (which I have censored because it is now considered a slur by the Roma). Because of this romanticization of what is considered an unconventional lifestyle, bohemian came to mean any lifestyle out of the societal norm.

Undoubtedly, this was exacerbated by the French artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris that called themselves bohemian, vividly portrayed in La Bohème by Puccini (on which the musical Rent is based). This definition best fits Storyville. From there, it is easy to see how the word was commercialized and romanticized until it means what it does today.

Through a simple idea offered by Professor McCoy, to write a blog post about the etymology of bohemian, I did not expect to find Roach, but I did. Through geographical and historical errors and the conscripting the Roma into a stereotyped performance, bohemian means what it does today.

Beer, Civilization, and Hurricanes

There was a portion in When the Levees Broke that really stuck out to me: one of the Katrina survivors was talking about when he was watching as people left to drink soda and beer in an attempt to hydrate themselves; water, the very thing that had brought destruction to New Orleans, was, paradoxically, just as necessary to the survival of its people, but they were unable to attain it. Yet the usage of beer reminded me of a point earlier in the semester when Beth made note of the consumption of beer in the wake of Katrina, which made me stop and think about beer’s presence there.

My first thoughts went to a book that I read in the summer before my sophomore year of high school, A History of the World In 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. In the novel he charts the history of civilization through the lens of beverage, moving chronologically from beer to wine to liquor to coffee to tea to Coke. However, what I honed in on for this topic was beer and it’s presence at the onset of human civilization. According to Standage’s research, beer was one of the first major inventions of ancient civilizations, and it held a role both secular and sacred in society. In Egypt, beer was a salary for the slaves as they built the pyramids, a beverage which provided purification of the Nile’s filthy water as well as nutrition akin to that of bread, and in Mesopotamia it was a drink to be shared at celebration feasts in honor of the gods. In short, beer was an important part of their society, and it was with this in mind that I considered its presence in the wake of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

According to Roach, “[an effigy] consist[s] of a set of actions that hold open a place in memory into which many different people may step according to circumstances and occasions. I argue that effigies – those fabricated from human bodies and the associations they evoke – provide communities with a method of perpetuating themselves through specially nominated mediums or surrogates” (36). In the context of human civilization, beer can be seen as an effigy of celebration and happiness, and its presence from society’s inception and continued usage throughout history speaks to its state a a method of perpetuation. People make toasts and share drinks in celebration of major achievements and events, but they also use it as an escape, which is still a method of societal perpetuation; rather than using the beverage to celebrate the achievements of a person and perpetuate society in that way, beer is instead used to omit and forget the failures or troubles of a person, perpetuating the society through omission instead of celebration.

New Orleans has a tradition of perpetuation through celebration in the form of Mardi Gras, and I feel that the opposite, perpetuation through omission of memory, was practiced in the consumption of beer in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Some residents of New Orleans were in need of an escape to deal with the storm, so they turned to beer to cope. In order to get through the day and begin the rebuilding of the city in the coming days, they omitted the moment they found themselves in through drink, even if only briefly. By escaping the current memories through alcohol, some survivors of Katrina were able to prepare themselves for the rebuilding of the city of New Orleans, a literal perpetuation of their society, and those citizens who drank also communed with the early civilizations history through the effigy of beer, as both groups used the alcoholic beverage to perpetuate their societies, albeit in different ways.

Wake, Wake, Wake

I’ve been milling among the ideas circulating in my mind about what I would concentrate on for my second blog post, and to be honest, it has been slightly disorientating. I believe that I was getting lost in the emotional minefields that kept popping up for me after enduring our continual viewings of When The Levees Broke, similarly to how Erin articulated her feelings on this turbulent documentary in her post. I instead took a step back after today’s class and decided to focus on the word “wake” that Beth brought up as the subject of a potential blog post. What I initially thought was going to be a fairly straight-forward post led me down a new strain of thinkING regarding etymologies and the many varying performances of individual words.

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Ostracized and Undervalued

Roach in our class reading of “Echoes in the Bones” discussed how performers are thrown into the roles of effigies, often becoming “alternatively ostracized and overvalued.” After bringing up celebrity names such as Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, etc., I started thinking about public figures that throw themselves into the roles of effigies and how this differs from what Roach brings up. The first example of this that came into my mind was Beyoncé and her Super Bowl 50 performance.

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Comparing Movie Introductions (Feat. Roach)

From the very first moments of When the Levees Broke, I was struck by the contrasting imagery shown in its introduction. The introduction to this film in the place of our class serves to transition us from from the fictional apocalypse of The Day After Tomorrow to a documentary about true devastation in When the Levees Broke. Beth, in her careful planning of the course, decided to have us watch these two movies back-to-back in class while slowly working through Joseph Roach’s chapter “Echoes In The Bone,” so as students we should be asking ourselves why this juxtaposition is important.

I want to focus on the introductions to these two movies, analyzing how the types of footage and styles of cinematics compare between and within the two movies, the importance they have inside their respective movies, and how this relates to Roach and our class. Read more

Some Sunday thoughts on effigies and bodies

After completing my first blog post with relative ease, I found myself slipping into a state of acute stress regarding my impending second post. I, much like Jenna explains in this post, was worried that whatever I had to say wasn’t going to be significant enough, or worth a reader’s time. The content in this class seems TOO significant for me to put into words in a single blog post. Yet, I’m going to keep trying.

So, there’s my disclaimer: I can’t solve the world’s problems on the blog, as much as I may want to. Now that that’s out of the way and I can write without feeling like I need to do something revolutionary, Roach’s definition of effigies and his explorations of the implications of dead bodies in propinquity (hopefully, I used that term right) to the living have all been circling around my brain. These thoughts were only heightened with watching When The Levees Broke in class.

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Parrots, Self-Harm, and That Violet

“Maybe everybody has a renegade tongue yearning to be on its own. Violet shuts up. Speaks less until ‘uh’ or ‘have mercy’ carry almost all of her part of the conversation. Less excusable than a wayward mouth is an independent hand that can find in a parrot’s cage a knife lost for weeks. Violet is still as well as silent. Over time her silences annoy her husband, then puzzle him and finally depress him. He is married to a woman who speaks mainly to her birds. One of whom answers back: ‘I love you.’” (24)

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc., 2004.

“Self mutilation may occur during dissociative experiences and often brings relief by reaffirming the ability to feel.”

“These individuals are very sensitive to environmental circumstances.”

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.

“We found that creating sub-optimal environmental conditions via deprivation of enrichment had significant and lasting effects on abnormal behavior. However, these effects were not the same across individuals. As predicted, we found that personality was an important factor in the severity of abnormal behavior in both optimal and sub-optimal housing conditions.”

“Furthermore, we extend this observation by providing evidence that different aspects of personality are related to distinct forms of abnormal behaviors. This has important implications for future studies investigating the relationship between personality and abnormal behavior in captive animals.”

Cussen, Victoria A., and Joy A. Mench. “The Relationship between Personality Dimensions and Resiliency to Environmental Stress in Orange-Winged Amazon Parrots (Amazona Amazonica), as Indicated by the Development of Abnormal Behaviors.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 26 June 2015, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0126170.

White People Whitewash, Again!

On first seeing When the Levees Broke on our syllabus for Metropolis, my mind immediately went to one of my favorite songs, “When the Levee Breaks” by the classic English rock and blues band, Led Zeppelin. Given the bands propensity for sexual innuendo, I always skimmed the lyrics and assumed that the song was just about sexual tension building and exploding based on the two main hooks: “If it keeps on rainin’ levee’s goin’ break… All last night sat on the levee and moaned…”
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“The Dead Stay Dead”

In his book Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, Joseph Roach titles a chapter “Echoes in the Bone.” Roach himself acknowledges the title as a nod to a play by Jamaican playwright Dennis Scott entitled An Echo in the Bone. The allusion is fitting for the chapter in Roach’s book that deals primarily with remembering, forgetting, and the deceased, as Scott’s play is centered around a Nine-Night Ceremony. The Nine-Night Ceremony, according to Roach, “welcomes the spirit of a deceased person back into his or her home on the ninth night after death has occurred.” It is a ceremony that engages in the wider, cross-cultural discourse on the remembering and forgetting of the dead. Read more