The Allusions of Waste: Violence Preformed on Hurricane Katrina Victims

“Waste” is a term that can reference a broad array of allusions. For some, waste can exist as a form of physical garbage, bodily excretions, or other tangible debris. And yet, for others waste holds a greater significance in representing concepts such as time, energy, thoughts, or even people. In an expansive sense, “waste” is something that has the ability to be spent, ridden of, abandoned, rejected, or discarded. Another implication of “waste” could be supported as something that could be sacrificed or expended with a sense of disregard and lack of care. Most importantly, however, I feel as though the strongest ability of “waste” lies within its capability of being forgotten.

People forget what they deem unimportant or unworthy of remembrance. This coincides with “waste” because the many insinuations of this term all reference the lack of merit that we deem our waste to have.  As for remembrance, memory is the process of retaining information, analyzing it, and storing it so that it can be brought to mind later. In Joseph Roach’s performance “Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance”, he explained how the process of “memory operates as both quotation and invention, an improvisation on borrowed themes, with claims on the future as well as the past” (Roach, 1996, pg.33). Therefore, memory is persuaded by the source and the environment from which the memory is being recalled; it is an easily influenced concept. He further explained that “memory circulates and migrates like gossip from location to location as well as from generation to generation, growing or attenuating as it passes through the hands of those who possess it and those whom it possesses”(Roach, 1996, pg.35). Comprehensively, he is reaffirming his idea that memory is interpretive and can be manipulated through interpersonal communication. It can be a biased misinterpretation of the past that can be wrongfully expounded in the future. Overall, our ability to forget “waste” and the misconstruction of memories create a threatening combination for our past, present, and future. 

Within his performance, Roach also referenced the consequential undertone that the term “waste” could carry, especially in regard to representing groups of people. With this, he explained the harm that is led to arise from the classification of people as waste, and he referenced both historical and more recent contexts in doing so. Historically, human societies have often turned to violence when one group of people identifies another group as “waste” that could be sacrificed, as they are considered inferior and worthless. Through this, he ultimately supported his claim that “violence is a performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, pg. 41).

Promptly after this claim, Roach clarified his definition of what violence truly entails; he explained, “first, that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point; second, that all violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things—material objects, blood, environments—in acts  of Bataillian “unproductive expenditure” (or Veblenian “conspicuous consumption”); and third, that all violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an audience—even if that audience is only the victim, even if that audience is only God” (Roach, 1996, pg.41). Comprehensively, this definition exploits the true intent of violence as a purposeful performance of brutality upon an “expendable” victim. Personally, I have always felt as though violence stems from an accumulation of internal anger that is eventually “taken out” on another through a physical or verbal act of rage. Furthermore, I have always believed that people tend to become violent against those that they deem inferior, as they are seen as unworthy of respect and civility. The collaboration of my thoughts on violence and Roach’s own personal and elaborate definition therefore both support Roach’s ultimate claim that “violence is a performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, pg.41).

As mentioned prior, groups of people have been categorized as “waste” throughout history and have therefore been considered to be expendable; consequently, suggesting that violence could be administered upon these groups. Such examples of historical violence have often resulted after a catastrophe, a word which Roach defines as a “…word rife with kinesthetic imagination, which carries forward through time the memory of a movement, a “downward turning,” redolent of violence and fatality but also of agency and decision.” (Roach, 1996, pg. 33).  Hurricane Katrina is an example of such a catastrophe that revealed a sense of violence against the people of New Orleans performed by national leaders and organizations of the United States. 

The tragedy of this category 5 hurricane and the violence that followed was depicted in Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke: a film that exposed the truth behind the events before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina occurred. Throughout the four acts of this film, Lee unveiled an array of people that were involved in or affected by Katrina and had them tell their side of the story. Many of these stories explained their mentality prior to Katrina, and then the hardships they faced as a result of such a severe storm. Most of these people referenced their frustration and helplessness during and after the storm’s outbreak, and many pointed their fingers at the same common enemies: the United States government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Following this hurricane, thousands of New Orleans residents were left stranded in the flooded city and forced to deal with starvation, dehydration, unbearable heat, and unsanitary living conditions. Over one thousand people died as a result of this tragic event, and yet, many feel as though this high death toll could have been avoided. 

Returning to Roach’s performance, the people trapped in New Orleans felt “expendable” by the U.S. government. There were countless preparations that should have been executed prior to the hurricane, especially knowing the damage that a category 5 hurricane is capable of causing. The main example of this was the structural incompleteness of the levee in the 9th ward of the city of New Orleans. For this, many residents blamed the federal government of Louisiana for their ignorance of the inadequate design and construction of the levee; and as a result, this levee was incapable of withstanding the force of the hurricane. In the book, Unfathomable City Solnit and Snedeker referenced the federal involvement in New Orleans in stating, “Like many urban Infrastructure systems in the United States, the city’s trinity of waterways has not been well maintained. People haven’t been willing to or able to pay up– and we haven’t adapted these systems to the problems we had” (Solnit, 2013, pg.156). From this, I, like many of the New Orleans residents, questioned: what is the true reason why the levees were inadequately constructed? Knowing that a majority of New Orleans’s geography lies below sea level, as well as its proximity to a quickly eroding coast, why wouldn’t the federal government prioritize the establishment of adequate flood protection? These were the questions that fueled so many residents’ frustrations following Hurricane Katrina, as preventative measures could have been taken to potentially have avoided the storm’s detrimental effects. This idea was further expressed in the lyrics of the Wood Brothers’ song, “River Takes the Town”, as they stated, “nothing’s ever for certain until the levee breaks down–The water comes in and the river–The river takes the town”.  Overall, as these precautionary measures were not taken to prevent flooding water from drowning the city, it could be argued that the U.S. government was willing to sacrifice the people of New Orleans. 

This argument was further supported by the aftermath of the storm depicted in Spike Lee’s film, whereas the people of New Orleans were abandoned in dehumanizing conditions and left helpless. Families were separated, dead bodies lay in the streets, people remained trapped in buildings, and thousands faced starvation and dehydration, and yet, where was the United States Government to provide relief? The Federal Emergency Management Agency was not sufficiently prepared for the severity of the storm and took multiple days to begin helping those in need. Furthermore, President Bush remained on his vacation following the hurricane, and waited three weeks to arrive and begin assisting the flooded city. This delay infuriated the many scared and desperate New Orleans residents. One example of this was expressed in a poem by Patricia Smith, where she wrote from the perspective of a  New Orleans woman in stating, “Looks like this country done left us for dead”(Smith, 2008, pg. 22).  Evidently, there should’ve been a greater sense of urgency for the government to assist the people of New Orleans. These people felt expended by a government that is supposed to protect and care for them. Their helplessness quickly transformed into frustration against the powers of the United States that had sacrificed them as “waste”.

Throughout history, Roach explained how we  “tend to place catastrophe in the past, as a grief to be expiated, and not necessarily in the future, as a singular fate yet to be endured”(Roach, 1996, pg.35). Yet, considering all of the hardships faced by the victims of Katrina, I argue that we should not allow this catastrophe to be left in the past. The hardships these people faced impact their lives to this day, and the United States government should still be held accountable for the wrongs they executed. In the context of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath, it is important that we do not forget the truth that the United States government was willing to sacrifice the people of New Orleans.  The government enacted violence against these residents as they abandoned them and left them helpless. The horrifying injustice of this catastrophe is something that cannot be ignored because this violence could be repeated again if another tragedy were to occur in an “expendable” city. As civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”. With this, we must hold the United States government accountable for their consideration of people as waste and remember the true violence that the people of New Orleans underwent during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Violence is the Performance of Waste – Remembering so as not to Forget

“Violence is the performance of waste.” I have probably read this quote from Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone” one hundred times trying to find what it means to me. Ultimately, it just means what it says. Violence emphasizes waste, it breathes life into it, it is a performance resulting from it. Waste, in this case, is something spent; it is something used then tossed aside like trash, something no longer wanted, and usually forgotten. Roach follows this idea by saying, “violence is never senseless, but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or another, to make a point…violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things–material objects, blood, environments,” (41). What Roach appears to be saying here is that there is a cost to violence; there is a waste that comes with it, but it never comes without reason. 

This idea of waste ties heavily into the concepts that center around our course on hurricane stories. Our course concentrates on themes of forgetting, memory, origins, death, and waste, among others. With these in mind, over the last few weeks we have been watching Spike Lee’s docuseries, When the Levees Broke, about Hurricane Katrina’s effect on New Orleans. The series calls itself a “Four part requiem,” meaning that it is a call to the dead, or a way to remember what was lost. Throughout the episodes the survivors of Katrina tell us the beginning of the hurricane, the devastation during and following its destruction, and finally the beginning of the healing of New Orleans. All of this happens while continually memorializing the dead and the waste left in Katrina’s wake. This idea of a requiem makes the series itself a performance of the waste Katrina caused and left in New Orleans. Not only did Katrina cause waste in its destruction–houses, grocery and convenience stores being torn down and drowned–but it also in how the people of New Orleans were forgotten in their time of need. In When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee shows the living conditions New Orleaneans were put through following the hurricane. There was very little food and water, tight spaces with extreme heat, and terrible hygiene circumstances. They lived like this for days with no help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), before being evacuated to different states and separated from their families. This inconsiderate and forgetful treatment of the people of New Orleans following Katrina is a show of people being treated like they are nothing, a performance of waste. 

This being said, death, forgetting, and waste are not our only course concepts. New Orleans celebrates what is known as the Dirge and the Second Line. The dirge is like the requiem, a recognition of death. It is something mournful, something sad. The second line can be described as hope. It is the beginning of something new and optimistic. From the dirge we are brought to the second line and to our other course concepts such as origins and memory. After the hurricane, as people were returning to New Orleans, many of the survivors never forgot where they came from. New Orleans itself, and what it meant to them, was their home. The New Orleans culture and community is where they are from, it’s where they began, and that could never be destroyed. Upon returning, parades and funerals were held in memory of what was previously lost, as shown in When the Levees Broke

It is important to think of violence in this way for the very reason not to forget it. Remembering violence as something that carried any sort of meaning, makes it memorable, as Joseph Roach was trying to say at the very beginning. Keeping these things in mind–acts of remembrance, forgetting, origins, and waste–as we move through these hurricane stories in class will help to better understand how people survive these disasters and what they do after. Making a performance of what has been wasted, or treated like so, breathes life into the waste itself, and makes it unforgettable. 

Decay in the Face of Storms: Violence by Omission of Care

I remember very vividly the first time that I saw what a hurricane could do. I was young, maybe eight or nine, and my entire family had piled into our used minivan to make the journey from upstate New York to the southern coast of North Carolina, to visit my grandparents. A few days before we were set to leave, rumblings of a storm started to make their way across the TV screen, but we had been set to make this trip for a long time and my parents wouldn’t be deterred. Besides, my grandmother gently reminded us, there were always storms. Just a part of living on the coast. We rode on the heels of the hurricane, missing the worst of it and only being showered with the remnants of the storm as we steadily wound down through the state to the southern coast. A few hours from our destination, we started to come across cars flipped upside down in ditches, trees crushing a house in half, felled by winds. The water on the road grew to a few inches deep and everyone in the car held their breath as we glided slowly through the water. It was the closest my father ever came to driving a boat and lost any desire to pilot a real one afterwards. Mailboxes, garbage cans, street signs, and traffic lights all lay strewn about like loose change on the counter. All this from a storm we only heard the first of a week ago. Destruction had been unrelenting and swift.  

All these twenty years later, almost all of those structures we drove past are still wrecked. North Carolina charges a hefty fee if you want to raze a building on your own property, which most of the people in my grandmother’s area did not have.  Even when some of the land got repossessed by the government, state officials too felt that the cost of removing the debris or rebuilding was too high for such a poor county. What most people ended up doing was building new structures right beside the destroyed ones, forcing them to live in a constant shadow of their own fear– an act of violence by omission of governmental assistance. Driving through an almost-uninhabited area that is littered with residuals of lives once actively lived is a hostile thing. It makes me feel relief that I’ve never had to rely on the government to determine my worth after a life-altering act of nature, and guilt because it feels like, as a viewer of these “abandoned” buildings, I am complicit in their value judgement.  

These buildings sit in a state of decay, holding a tether between memory and forgetting that just about smacks you in the face and makes you wonder, who is worthy of a rebuilt home? Who does the government believe is worthy of a rebuilt home? And by extension, who does the US government believe is worthy of the violence of being unhoused, displaced, and never reinstalled?

These are some of the integral questions posed in “When the Levees Broke” directed by Spike Lee, which considers the cause, aftermath, and ultimate consequences of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  

In his article “Echoes in the Bone”, Joseph Roach considers, “The binary distinction that creates two categories, dead and alive, simultaneously creates in its interstices a threefold process of living, dying, and being dead. The middle state (dying, or more expressively, “passing”) is the less stable stage of transition between more clearly defined conditions: it is called the “liminal” (literally,”threshold”) stage, and it tends to generate the most intense experiences of ritual expectancy, activity, and meaning.”. A binary must always force us to consider a third option and the middle ground between living and death is, according to Roach, a liminality between tangible existence and shedding of identity. Roach’s conception of “dying” manifests in many ways in Lee’s “When the Levees Broke”.  

Lee’s documentary begins with tracking the storm as it forms and approaches New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and underscores the duality of how slow officials were to take it seriously and how reticent inhabitants of New Orleans were to evacuate, both embodying Roach’s “dying” and setting the framework for the government to elucidate us with what and who they consider disposable. When both the inhabitants and officials came to the simultaneous realization of the immediacy and gravity of the storm, there was no way to feasibly get people out of the city or to protect New Orleanians from the wind, rain, flooding, and heat that resulted from the storm.  

In her book of post-Katrina poems “Blood Dazzler”, author Patricia Smith writes “I don’t ever have to come down. I can stay hooked to heaven, dictating this blandness. My flyboys memorize flip and soar. They’ll never swoop real enough to resurrect that other country, won’t ever get close enough to give name to tonight’s dreams darkening the water. I understand that somewhere it has rained.” Smith manages to distill the government’s performed indifference and highlight their active choice to not perform caring. A lack of care which resulted in death, destruction, and violence.

As an informed viewer watching the film 17 years post-Katrina, Lee’s pacing seems both too fast and too slow. Lee reveals, in his pacing, the agonizing pressure of anticipation and stark immediacy with which Katrina hit New Orleans. Once a storm of such a magnitude is set in motion, all humans can really do is get out of the way—when given the appropriate tools and incentive. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, most of the multi-generational inhabitants or plucky transplants of New Orleans relied on public transportation and did not have access to private cars nor were complimentary evacuation vehicles provided. The two-day time span for an entire city to evacuate dovetailed with a bred mistrust of the US government’s historically racially and economically motivated bad intentions towards the citizens of New Orleans couldn’t have reasonably been expected to truly evacuate their city. A mandate of evacuation issued two days before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall is where the die is cast and New Orleans transitions from Roach’s conception of dying to death, because many citizens have no other options. Another omission of care by the government, another passive act of violence revealed by the equalizing power of Katrina.

Lee’s interviews with government officials reveal that the administration’s hesitation to act more quickly and intentionally was motivated by worries of financial loss and stands out in hindsight as potently inhumane. The prizing of fiscal incentive over human life undulates as a gritty undertone of Katina, and what turned into a narrative of complexities lain bare by natural catastrophe. In a certain light, it is refreshing to see the governmental exploitation of human lives for consideration of profit margin told plainly. In another light, you hope to God that the lack of care and humanity shown to people in need during Katrina would never happen again.

Nothing about the hurricane is one thing, but the unnecessary violence shown to United States citizens by blatant disregard for their well-being during a catastrophe cannot be overstated. Cruelty from the government manifesting in a lack of care or willingness to perform care during a time of great need cannot be dismissed. Willingness to align with the governmental and social acceptance of loss of life, resources, and memories by passively cosigning the sacrifice of a whole city has revealed itself as far too easy.

Performance of Waste: The Dehumanizing Treatment Faced by The People of New Orleans After Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, a devastatingly impactful storm, left the city of New Orleans and its people turned upside down. After the Levees broke, walls were put up to protect the already below-sea-level city, and New Orleans drowned. What came after Hurricane Katrina was not only visible physical destruction, but the inequality faced politically and socially by residents of New Orleans. The media portrayed these people as helpless, while our government’s response showed to be not just unbearably slow, but insufficient. These people were left to their own devices. Throughout this essay, the concept of “violence as the performance of waste” (Joseph Roach) in relation to the devastation faced after Hurricane Katrina will be analyzed, using Joseph Roaches Cities of the Dead: Circum Atlantic Performance “Echoes in the Bone”,  Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, and the documentary: When The Levees Broke by Spike Lee. These sources allow us to examine just how the people of New Orleans were treated as waste, and how they were dehumanized and cast aside after Hurricane Katrina. Though despite the unimaginable hardships faced, the resilience of the New Orleans people refused to perform as the victims that society and the media were portraying them as.

So far in this semester’s course on Hurricanes, a lot of important concepts have circulated in and around discussions about the course content. In Joseph Roaches Cities of the Dead: Circum Atlantic Performance “Echoes in the Bone”, the concept “violence is the performance of waste” is presented. One way to interpret what Roach means by this statement is to look closer at what would be classified as waste, and then again at violence. Waste is typically tossed to the side after being expended, used up, and forgotten about. The people who suffered through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were expended, cast aside during the time of a natural disaster. Abandoned, neglected, and left without basic survival necessities, the people of New Orleans became expendable waste at the hands of a disorganized government response to a crisis among its own people. After failing to meet the basic needs of these people, the individuals of New Orleans were forced into a position of performance. Humanity was thrown out the window as these people were thought of, and portrayed by the media, as victims. In the documentary When The Levees Broke by Spike Lee, news reports were shown of struggling city folk, who weren’t being helped by the government, and the people of New Orleans were consistently referred to as “refugees”. This is an incredibly frustrating label for these individuals displaced within their own nation because, during that time, military forces that would have been called on to help the people of New Orleans were focused on another country, and not the agony being faced at the time by people in their own country. The People of New Orleans, after having to face traumatic events from Hurricane Katrina, were to perform as weak victims of the storm.

A poem from Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, a collection of poems highlighting the devastation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, tells a story of a child after Katrina in a new community just trying to adjust to the sudden new life they were thrown into during the diaspora (a scattered population separated from the place of origin). Smith writes, “They keep touching him, brushing past his scarred arms, tugging lightly on his clothing, some boldly reaching out for his cheek, sorry, so sorry. And he wonders how long he can stand this still, be this sort of trophy, how long he can stay bended, going from one to the other, slipping their winged feet into God’s loafers, slipping deftly into his role as child who drowns, again and again, who opens his mouth to scream, but river rushes in.” (Smith, page 71). This poem allows the audience to grasp an idea of the pressure put onto a child who has no choice but to disperse from their original life. Phrases like “trophy” and “role as a child to drown” scream volumes to the forced performance the people of New Orleans are unwillingly apart of. Portrayed as victims just taking handouts who, in the words of Barbara Bush, “were underprivileged anyway”, the origin of these strong human beings was forgotten, and they were treated as waste. I like how Roach quotes Dido’s Lament, Roach writes, “‘Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate’ (Purcell and Tate, 75).” (Roach, page 45). This quote emphasizes that for the people of New Orleans, they are more than just the fate of Katrina. In New Orleans, there is a custom at funerals to perform the dirge, followed by the second line. Sad, mournful music is appropriately played for the funeral, but in a city of parades, there is always something to celebrate. The life that person lived, how blessed everyone was to know and love them, and now moving on to the next life. The dirge and the second line are a powerful New Orleans tradition, just as the people of New Orleans are powerful. 

Despite everything, the pain, the loss, and the slander of the city, the people of New Orleans continued to persevere through it all. Through the lens of Joseph Roach’s “violence is the performance of waste”, it is clear to see how the people of New Orleans were treated as waste, forced into a position of performance as victims, and then the violent emotion felt by these people who refused to be portrayed as such, they rebelled against this judgment. The power of their community and the resilience of human spirit fought back against the wrongful portrayal, these individuals refused to be defined by the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and continued to celebrate life in New Orleans culture. Overall, the New Orleans people have shown they are far more than just the fate of Hurricane Katrina. While many will see a Hurricane as a “cleanse” or a “resetting” of a narrative, Katrina should be seen as a lesson. One to the government that nearly failed the people of New Orleans, and especially humanity as a whole. As a society, it is our responsibility to make sure that what we witnessed during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is not forgotten, and that no one is expended during future times of crises.

Hurricanes as Destruction and Creation

Hurricanes are often seen as a destructive force, however; they can also be seen as a way to create new beginnings. In Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone,” he says: “amnesia as the inspiration to imagine the future.” (Roach 1) In this phrase, Roach is basically saying that in order to build upon the future, you have to fully erase the past. In class, we discuss death, sacrifice, and forgetting as major course concepts. Hurricanes serve as all three of these; bringing death, forcing sacrifice, and forgetting the way of life you had before everything was lost. Hurricanes are the thing that is ending creation and reset the narrative to bring change in life. 

To begin, focusing on death and renewal, Roach says: 

“Turner and others have hypothesized that celebrations of death function as rites of social renewal, especially when the decedents occupy positions to which intense collective attention is due, such as those of leaders or Kings.” (Roach 3)

In viewing death as a celebration, most people allude to the things that come after death. How they’ll either be “born again,” or in a “better place,” etc. Viewing death as a form of rebirth coincides with the idea of death bringing new beginnings. If we are talking about viewing death as a celebration in order to bring new beginnings, we are also discussing the dirge and second line. The dirge would be the hurricane itself: the sadness; and the second line would be the way of viewing the damage caused by the hurricane as a positive: a way to start a new life. According to Roach, the death of a leader is the most important role in the continuation of a community:

“‘It seems that the most powerful natural symbol for the continuity of any community, large or small, simple or complex, is, by a strange and dynamic paradox, to be found in the death of its leader, and in the representation of that striking event.’” (Roach 3)

This quote alludes to the idea of the dirge and second line, as well as death and renewal. In the stance of hurricanes, the hurricane coming in and destroying a community will in turn bring the community together as a unit. This is prevalent when you look at the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the way the people of New Orleans banded together after the disaster. 

When watching the film, “When the Levees Broke,” you can feel the pain coming through the screen. The people being interviewed in the documentary have lost everything in their lives, and all they have left is each other. The disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, brought death to over a thousand people, as well as bringing death to homes and communities; however, it brought the people left with nothing closer together as a community. There is nothing that can truly replace the damages caused by Katrina, or the lives lost, but the rebirth of the community in New Orleans stands alone. As Roach says: “Death, as it is culturally constructed by surrogacy, cannot be understood as a moment, a point in time: it is a process.” (Roach 4) Death is a process in the same way a hurricane being able to destroy everything in its path is a process. 

In, “When the Levees Broke,” the interviewees often criticize the government in regard to how they handled Hurricane Katrina. The article: “What Went Wrong in New Orleans? An Examination of the Welfare Dependency Explanation”, continues this same argument, saying that: “The main argument is that the incomplete pre-storm evacuation of New Orleans, which exposed thousands of residents to catastrophic flooding was largely a function of a culture of dependency.” (Brezina 5) When Katrina happened, the government could have seized the opportunity to do right by the people of New Orleans; especially since they had done them the disservice of not being prepared for the flooding in the first place. Instead, they left them with nothing but waiting lists and each other. (“When the Levees Broke”) They paraded on the news the tragedy that struck New Orleans, but never whole-heartedly tried to help them. I believe Roach puts it perfectly when he says:

“That is why performances in general and funerals, in particular, are so rich in revealing contradictions: because they make publically visible through symbolic action both the tangible existence of social boundaries and, at the same time, the contingency of those boundaries on fictions of identity, their shoddy construction out of inchoate otherness, and, consequently, their anxiety-inducing instability.” (Roach 4)

The government could have seized the opportunity for rebirth when Katrina struck, instead, they chose to watch the people struggle, waste away, and live homelessly. All these people had was each other, so they chose rebirth on their own accord. They took the violence shed upon them and turned it into a community effort to rebuild, without relying on the government to rebuild for them (even though the government definitely should have done this and not put them on mile-long wait lists). (“When the Levees Broke”) The hurricane caused the ‘death’ of their community, but it also caused the rebirth of their community. The violence that Katrina unleashed allowed the community to adapt together, and the violence that the government allowed to happen let the community realize they only had each other. Roach says:

“…first, that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point; second, that all violence is excessive because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things–material objects, blood, environments–in acts of Batallian ‘unproductive expenditure’…and third, that all violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an audience–even if that audience is only the victim, even if that audience is only God.” (Roach 5) 

Considering a Wider Understanding

Violence is the act of intentionally causing harm; harm, in and of itself, is not beneficial or advantageous to an enterprise of any kind. Violence and the energy generated in order to execute those efforts are, understandably, perceivable as counterproductive and wasteful. Within Cities of the Dead, Joseph Roach provides us with the notion, “. . . violence is the performance of waste” (Roach 41). He supplies corroborations further supporting his idea, to paraphrase: violence is always meaningful because it is done for a certain purpose, all violence is excessive because it involves the act of spending in some capacity, and all violence is performative because there is always an audience. Roach’s development of this concept is beneficial for the class purposes of Hurricane Stories because it acts an illuminating agent, helping to clarify the course concepts that are being explored and providing the necessary scaffolding that allows for comprehension to transpire. Being aware of this conviction and having it in mind while interacting with the course materials permits us to explore the themes we encounter in greater depth and further investigate the meanings and significances of them. It prompts thinking and understanding that help to organize our thoughts surrounding the material and aid in the cultivation of analysis.

A concept that Roach’s notion is obvious in helping us explore is performance, the word is quite literally in his statement. Performance can have various interpretations by different people, it can include probably an infinite number of definitions based on the diverse considerations of what people deem to be qualifying of one. Violence being the performance of waste helps to deepen the understanding of performance itself because it leads to thinking about how violence is a performance and what constitutes a performance as well as the significance. There is intention behind violence and there is intention behind performance. People perform or put on a performance with a predetermined objective in mind. Performing is for a purpose, it is a way to express the message you want to convey in a manner of your choice. Not everyone will perceive a performance the same way and people will have different opinions on performances and how they influence. Within the documentary, When the Leeves Broke directed by Spike Lee, there are multiple scenes of celebrations and parades that take place in New Orleans. Parades are like a performance of celebration, their goal is to commemorate the event or day. As Professor McCoy discussed in class and the class notes, “. . . in Lee’s churn of New Orleans past and present, there are clips of people wearing blackface. They are part of the Zulu Krewe on the Carnival floats. These are Black people wearing blackface in order to send up white supremacy through mocking performance and thus to publicly take the public stage (i.e,. the streets) away from white supremacy. It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone agrees with what from the Zulu Krewe’s point of view is a good-faith performance” (McCoy, 2/13/2023).   The intent of this performance for the Zulu Krewe is empowering and a way for them to celebrate themselves and reclaim their history. Other people do not view the performance in the same regard, performances have the ability to mean different things to different people. Some performances can be viewed as a performance of violence; violence and performance are connected because you can both use performance in a way to be violent and your performance can have violent impacts. There are so many ways to put on a performance, laughing loudly to get someone to notice you could even be viewed as a performance. You’re putting on a show for a purpose. It is possible to convey almost anything through a performance, it acts as delivery tool for meaning. There is an always an audience to a performance, whether it be a giant theater or your mother. There will always be some type of reception to your actions. Violence requires performance because there is no way to express violence without it being experienced.

The theme of expenditure is also able to be furthered explored and given a deeper meaning with Roach’s idea in mind. Expenditure is the act of spending, when considering this almost anything can be spent in some form or another. Performing violence can involve any number of things to be spent depending on the type of violence that is taking place. Beating someone up spends energy, buying objects like guns or knives spends money, planning out an intent to hurt someone spends time. The actual act of performing the violence, as Roach states, is excessive; it requires something to spent. Excessive means unnecessary, to be viewed as wasteful. There is no real need for it, and there is no real need for violence. By instigating violence and putting on that performance, which as already discussed all violence is, you are wasting whatever resources are involved in that performance. It is not ethical to waste for the purposes of seeking to incite violence; it is not productive or contributable to a positive goal. Thinking of expenditure in terms of Roach helps to conceptualize what it means to spend something and consider the effects of those actions. In class, we watched the “Urban Garden” Steve Prince residency video. Within this we witnessed students work with artist Steve Prince to create a work of art that represented America as a garden, confronting the problems within society through drawing to promote thought and change. This community project was an act of expenditure, but for a constructive and positively impactful purpose. Students and himself spent the time to draw and come up with their creations and the messages they wanted to spend, someone bought the resources and materials necessary for the project to occur, and I’m sure a lot more was spent in the duration of setting up the entire experience. This demonstrates a useful and valuable expenditure. By exploring expenditure in terms of considering that wasteful expenditure occurs when violence is performed, understanding that there can be different forms with different intentions and outcomes also results from that exploration and allows for the appreciation of expenditure in a positive context. The community project displays how time, money, resources, etc., can be the opposite of waste. Having intentions to cause violence and then putting effort toward that is expending in a wasteful way, Roach helps to provide the tools to understanding this and the broader context of what expenditure can mean through his views.

Memory, as well, can be considered through the lens of Roach’s ideas on violence. Remembering moments, people, interactions can be small or large, seemingly important or unimportant. However, there are reasons why, even if unknown, that we remember. There are so many aspects that can be related memory, you could spend years of life figuring out and investigating all the different ways memory can act. Roach explains that memory and performance are connected, “Like performance, memory operates as both quotation and invention, an improvisation on borrowed themes, with claims on the future as well as the past” (Roach 33). Memory always surrounds us, people are constantly thinking about things that have happened, what they’ve said and how they acted, what other people have said and how they’ve acted. In your memory things may not always be clear, they might be blurry or hard to depict. Your memories influence you as a person and therefore your actions and how you perceive things. In this respect, it is clear to see how memory can be related to performance. Most likely you will remember when you preformed violence and most likely you will remember when violence was performed on you. It takes root in you, stays with you. The victims of Katrina will never forget the treatment they endured and the response to their tragedy. In When the Levees Broke, we see the victims as well as the administration that was involved, we hear both sides. A completely life altering and shattering event takes place, and it seems that the government that is supposed to support and care for them had barely any consideration for what they had experienced. The actual event of Katrina was traumatizing, severely detrimental, and absolutely unforgettable coupled with the aftermath response and in addition that influential figures like the former First Lady were sayings things like they were better off demonstrates how actions are so significant and can’t be forgotten and how performing violence will be remembered.

Almost any aspect of life can be connected to another in some sort of way or thought process. Roach’s concept on violence gives insight on how our actions matter and forces us to come to deeper conclusions and revelations about how and why actions are done, what that can mean, and how those actions have affects. Light is shed on our questionings and topics from his notion because, at least from my interpretation, what it basically boils down to is that what we do matters and should be thought out. It makes you consider the effects of anything on everything which can force a more considered perspective on relatively any concept.

The Performance of Violence and it’s Consequences

In Joseph Roach’s Echoes in the Bone, he introduces the idea that “violence is the performance of waste.” There are many examples of this, both in the book and in real life. People can be seen as waste by others. This view of seeing others as waste allows people to commit violence against others without remorse. Throughout the history of human society, this idea of some people being beneath others because of race, gender, sexual orientation, social status, etc. allowed for unspeakable acts carried out by people onto other people and treated as normal or acceptable. The hoarding of resources can be seen as violence to people these resources are being withheld from. Roach also raises the idea that “all violence is a performance because it must have an audience.” Throughout this course, we’ve learned about hurricane Katrina and not just the devastating effects it had on the residents of New Orleans, but also the response of the United States government, or lack there of. The United States government’s utterly mediocre response to Hurricane Katrina and the damage it did to the city of New Orleans and its residents is an act of violence in itself, witnessed not only by the citizens of the United States but by many others around the world.

Violence can be seen as waste in that when violence is done to a person or thing, that person or thing becomes waste because damage has been done. The wasting of resources can also be seen as violence. When rich people waste tons of money on ridiculous things no one needs while others could have used that same amount of money on basic needs that they don’t otherwise have access to, that can be seen as violence. On the other hand, the rich may see poorer people as disposable or waste. This way of thinking has contributed to catastrophes across the globe. In one specific instance, this way of thinking of poorer people or people that are different as disposable or as waste had devastating effects on the victims of Katrina as the government and politicians watched as over a thousand people perished and refused to do anything about it because they saw New Orleans and it’s residents as waste.

While the entire city of New Orleans was under water politicians were seen vacationing. This blatant display of ignorance and apathy towards the situation in New Orleans is an example of the detriment done when others are seen as waste. Some politicians even going as far as to say that hurricane Katrina was a cleansing of the city. The waste of money and resources used in other areas that the United States government deemed more important than their own people was another example of the violence used against the people of New Orleans. The people of New Orleans have repeatedly expressed irritation at the waste of money being spent on the war in Iraq while residents of New Orleans continued to die as a result of the hurricane and the heat of the summer that followed. This waste of money was an act of violence against the people of New Orleans. This act of violence was a performance as the entire world was the audience that witnessed it. Hurricane Katrina destroyed countless lives but the poorly constructed safety measures, withholding of resources, and slow reaction of the United States government was the true cause of the catastrophe that came out of hurricane Katrina. Roach brings up the idea that the mistakes of our past follow us into the future. The poor construction of the levees was the past that followed New Orleans into the future and reeked havoc on residents living there. This poor construction of the levees ties into the idea of waste and the thought of human beings as waste. The United States government didn’t want to spend the money for the proper construction of the levees that would have protected New Orleans from category 5 hurricanes such as Katrina. They thought of the money spent as a waste and as a result left the levees unfinished and in turn left New Orleans residents unprotected.

The carelessness showcased by the United States government added to the death tole of Katrina. Without food and water the people that had survived the actual flood were dying. People were also dying because of the lack of shelter and the unrelenting heat that came after the storm. People were dying on the streets waiting for help that would never come. With houses destroyed, people were left homeless. The government promised them trailers, these trailers did come but it took way longer than it should have. By ignoring the suffering of the New Orleans residents, the government wasted the lives of well over a thousand people. Even today the effects of Katrina can be felt in New Orleans. This is another ghost of the past haunting the present. While people continue to come to New Orleans from all over the to celebrate Mardi Gras and experience the rich culture that survives there, the suffering of the residence is very much ignored by the rest of the country and the world. Many places have yet to be completely rebuild almost two decades later. While the initial catastrophe is over the effects of it and the government’s lackluster response continues to effect not only the residence of New Orleans but the rest of the country as people saw just how faulty our government truly is.

All the World’s a Stage: A Hurricane’s Role in “Violence is the Performance of Waste”

In Chapter 2 of Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, Roach examines how performances of all kinds are ways of keeping the memories of the dead, whether they are loved ones or strangers, alive.  The city of New Orleans, an important location in circum-Atlantic history because of its role in the slave trade and because of the cultures and communities that have risen there, is a main area of focus for Roach.  The name of the chapter, “Echoes in the Bone” is borrowed from the play An Echo in the Bone by Jamaican playwright Dennis Scott that shows how a ritual the allows spirits of the dead to enter their past homes or even the body of a living person (Roach 34), and that “…the voices of the dead may speak through the bodies of the living” (34).  Performance is so deeply rooted in New Orleans and circum-Atlantic culture that not even the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 could stop it.  This connection of performance and a natural disaster is deepened by Roach’s statement that “violence is the performance of waste” (42) and by the course concepts of memory, performance, sacrifice, and violence.

A performance is not worth the trouble if it is not seen by someone.  Roach further elaborates on his “violence is a performance of waste” statement by writing, “To that definition I offer three corollaries: first, that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point; second, that all violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things- material objects, blood, environments- in acts of… “unproductive expenditure”…; and third, that all violence is performative for the simple reason that it must have an audience- even if that audience is only the victim, even if that audience is only God.  A natural disaster like a hurricane or flood could be counted as a performance in this case, even though scientifically a natural disaster is not sentient no matter how many poems personify them, and they do not have the sense to perform anything meaningful or senseless.  If anything, the meaningfulness in this violent performance of a storm comes from the victims, how through their decision to stay or inability to leave they witnessed the loss of everything they knew.  Going off that, the victims were the firsthand witnesses of this event, along with others watching the broadcasts and getting updates.  The documentary When the Levies Broke directed by Spike Lee contains footage from before, during, and after the storm, as well as many interviews of people ranging from politicians, celebrities, and regular citizens all with different stories to tell.  It gave viewers a look at the destruction Hurricane Katrina caused and what led to it.  It showed what had to be spent as well and what there was an excess of.  1,392 people perished in the hurricane and its aftermath, hundreds of miles of city and neighborhoods were leveled and then flooded when several of the levies around the city broke.  Hurricane Katrina caused a colossal waste of human life and resources, all under the watching eyes of the world.

The course concepts of memory, performance, sacrifice, and violence all come together to form an effigy.  Roach defines an effigy as “a noun meaning a sculpted or pictured likeness.  More particularly it can suggest a crudely fabricated image of a person, commonly one that is destroyed in his or her stead, as in hanging or burning in effigy” (36).  An effigy is often created to destroy through violence, sometimes in front of witnesses as a performance of anger or protest.  The creator of an effigy makes it to remember the person it is of, either after they have passed or to remember the feelings they have associated with that person, and the likeness is sacrificed by the creator to make a statement or to be cathartic.  Roach notes that “Effigy’s similarity to performance should be clear enough: it fills by means of surrogation a vacancy created by absence of an original,” (36) meaning that an effigy takes the role of what it is meant to represent.  I remember in the last part of When the Levies Broke when a group of people were doing a funeral procession for Hurricane Katrina, some men were carrying a coffin that was labeled “Katrina.”  They sang and danced their way down the street while others watched or joined in.  This act was made to represent Hurricane Katrina being dead and about to be buried, no longer a physical threat but still something that lingers in memory.  It feels symbolic to lay Katrina to rest in a way that so many people were after the destruction, at one point in the documentary Spike Lee interviewed a woman whose daughter drowned in the flood waters and was allowed at the funeral.  There was still a procession with singing, but it was very solemn.  Roach elaborates on the connection between effigies and death, writing, “No doubt that is why effigies figure so frequently in the performance of death through mortuary rituals—and why the ambivalence associated with the dead must enter into any discussion of the relationship between memory, performance, and substitution” (36).  A performance is not wasted if it has an audience, but things created through death are waste products of violence.

There are even times when people are treated as waste after an act of violence.  The aforementioned victims of Hurricane Katrina are an obvious example, with people being found in wrecked houses or floating in water alongside other waste, but the living can be seen as waste too.  Many hurricane survivors and victims were scorned for not choosing to leave when the evacuation order came, even though they did not have the means to leave on their own and depended on others for help.  All throughout When the Levies Broke there were claims that the people of New Orleans were forgotten by FEMA and the United States government, as well as statements that the flood waters washed away filth from the city, the filth being people.  Katrina victims were being framed as criminals, looters, and lazy for not waiting for help and for not helping themselves even though they had no means to.  The victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina were unwillingly made into performers and the people standing by were the audience.  People were treated as statistics, not as a living person that died but as something to be cleared away with the rest of the wreckage.  When a person is treated as waste, it is time to reevaluate the systems that led them to be considered as waste.

Possibly the most recognizable performances that New Orleans puts on is Mardi Gras, a vibrant celebration before the church season of Lent begins.  Street maskers are popular performers there, such as the New Orleans Baby Dolls and Zulu Krewe.  However, an article from 2017 states that 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads were found in a drain after the celebration.  This performance led to 46 tons of waste that took an immense toll on the environment and water systems of the city, an act of violence that was not intended to be so that produced waste.  A hurricane does not intend to perform violence, it is simply formed one day, moves several miles over land and sea, and then dissipates.  While it unintentionally performs violence that results in waste, it is people that can do it intentionally.  Roach’s belief that violence is the performance of waste rings true in the course concepts of performance, memory, violence, and sacrifice and in the actions of humans that we have studied in class.

Violence, Performance, and Waste

In Joseph Roach’s book, Cities of the Dead, he states “violence is the performance of waste” (Pg. 41), which initially is somewhat of a confusing quote. What does Roach mean by violence is the performance of waste? Why is waste a performance? especially with violence? This quote is actually quite complex, but it helps us understand the deeper issues of our course and how people view natural disasters as well as those who suffer from those disasters.

 Before we discuss our course concepts we must unpack exactly what Roach’s quote means. The act of violence is a performance in the sense that for it to have any meaning, it must have an audience. This also highlights another aspect of this quote, all violence has meaning. There is a point to be made when an act of violence is performed. Finally, all violence is wasteful because without something being wasted, (whether that be people, resources, energy, or even time) nothing would’ve been sacrificed, meaning nothing would be lost therefore giving it meaning. 

Violence and Meaning

As discussed before, an act of violence has meaning because there is a point to be made. We can see Roach’s idea on waste be fleshed out in the 2004 box office hit, The Day After Tomorrow, a science fiction climate disaster flick starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. The premise of the movie centers around Dennis Quaid’s character, climatologist Jack Hall, a man so overly dedicated to the pursuit of science that he has overlooked his fatherhood responsibilities. Although Hall has shortcomings as a parent, he is by far one of the brightest minds when it comes to understanding the history of earth’s climate as well as what the future holds. 

Earth’s climate is expected to be a disaster in the upcoming decades (much like our real world counterpart) due to human involvement, especially by industrialization and the use of fossil fuels, meaning that the world will be uninhabitable, spelling certain death for our future generations. Hall warns the United Nations of this very possible future, which is preventable if humanity intervenes early enough, yet he is met with blow back, most vocally by the Vice President. The Vice President scoffs at Hall’s claims, saying that this is many years out and will be a massive blow to the global economy. Hall tell’s off the VP, telling him his shortsightedness will impact the lives of billions, yet this climate shift comes quite early and much more extreme.

The first victim of humanity’s carelessness is Los Angeles, with multiple tornadoes touching down on the City of Angels, laying waste to countless lives and buildings. The Violence we see in Los Angeles is meaningful to the plot of The Day After Tomorrow because it is the tipping point within the movie. Not only are millions of lives lost and the LA metro area in ruins, but this is the point of no return for humankind. Hall’s theory is bitterly correct, with LA and eventually the entire Northern hemisphere being expended due to humankind’s greed.

Violence and Excess

Violence is inherently excessive. Such excessiveness can be seen in the Los Angeles part of The Day After Tomorrow but a perfect example of how excessive violence can be is Hurricane Katrina and Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke. Hurricane Katrina was a devastating Category Five Hurricane that hit New Orleans in 2005, with Spike Lee’s four part documentary, When the Levees Broke, covering the story of the natural and manmade disaster of Katrina by covering the stories of those who experienced Katrina first hand. 

Throughout each four parts of the documentary there are countless examples of excessive violence and waste. We can see the excessive waste of Katrina with the destruction of New Orleans. Countless homes are literally washed away with people losing all of their earthly possessions, their family histories gone to waste. But the lives lost from Katrina was the greatest thing wasted from the storm, mostly when the majority of suffering within this documentary was preventable. 

One of the greatest aspects of Lee’s documentary is showing how Hurricane Katrina was a preventable disaster, that the destruction and death could’ve been avoided. The title of the documentary, When the Levees Broke, alludes to these poorly built levees. These levees that were meant to protect the city of New Orleans, which were built by the Army Corps of Engineers, were no match at handling the power of Katrina, not because of the strength of Katrina but rather the poor engineering of the Army. One of the greatest natural disasters in American history was preventable, so why would anyone allow such a violence to occur? 

Another topic that Lee covers is a course concept within our classroom which is the idea of supernumeraries. The people of New Orleans who suffered the most were seen as supernumeraries, in the sense that these people were seen as expendable and sacrificable. These people were people of color, poor, elderly, and disabled. You can see these notions when those who were not affected by the storm said New Orleans was a fish bowl, that it was the residents’ fault for living in an area that is below sea level. A more extreme case is those who saw Katrina as a purifying event that will wash away the “filth” of New Orleans, which are those who were deemed as expendable to the violence of Katrina. 

Violence and Performance 

The final aspect of Roaches quote is the performative aspect of violence. Throughout our course we spoke about how performance is not just a theatrical affair but is present in our society, with the politician being a performer within our everyday lives. One politician’s performance shows the violence within Katrina as well as broader society is that of George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States. 

To say President Bush dropped the ball with Katrina would be an extreme understatement, mostly compared with how his administration handled the Iraq War as well as the September Eleventh attacks. Bush was quite distant from Katrina, especially with how he viewed the destruction. Instead of coming to the city of New Orleans, George Bush views the destruction of Katrina from the comfort of Air Force One which is illustrated in Patrica Smith’s poem “The President Flies Over ”, from Blood Dazzler, “I don’t have to come down. I can stay hood to heaven, dictating this blandness”(Pg. 36), which greatly exhibits how this performance by Bush rubbed Americans the wrong way. How Smith uses the word Heaven and blandness shows how Bush was apathetic to the situation that many New Orealens were suffering through. By being in an Airplane, especially Air Force one, Bush was divorced from those who were stuck in a foot of water, with no power, and in ninety degree heat while he was able to sit comfortably like a god. George Bush was a powerful man, he had the power to do things for New Orleans and for those who were affected by Katrina but he sits up in the clouds looking down upon the destruction. 

Although Bush did not cause Katrina or have a hand in the destruction that came of it, his passiveness in the days following the storm is inherently violent. Kanye West states his frustration with the president by stating, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”, and West was not the only one who felt this way. The black population of New Orleans, which is the majority of the city, felt neglected by someone who is supposed to represent them, someone who’s supposed to protect them. 


Overall, Joseph Roach’s quote about violence helps us dissect the violence and the waste that is present in our society when it comes to hurricanes and to broader injustices within our country’s history and current day. Roach’s quotes also help us unpack and understand other course concepts that are present within our class. 

Communal Atonement: ancient rituals in modern injustices

Communal Atonement: ancient rituals in modern injustices

          The essayist Joseph Roach writes extensively on his observations regarding “Eurocentrists call memory (‘what’s done is done’) [and this] incites emotions that turn toward the future in aspiration no less than dread (‘God’s will be done’). The choreography of catastrophic closure” (Echoes in the Bone, pg.33).*  Roach builds on this very abstract idea by bridging it to the specific literary work of Rene Girard’s, In Violence and the Sacred, published in 1972.  From Girard’s research this term has been coined: “the monstrous double”. What is this? A communal rite whereas, “ ‘the sacrificial victim must be neither divisive nor trivial neither fully part of the community for fully outside of it; rather, he or she must be distanced by a special identity that specialized isolation while simultaneously allowing a plausible surrogation for a member of the community’ ” (Roach quoting Girand,pg.40).

          Indeed, both Roach and Girard examine the rituals of ancient people groups with particular attention of the actual decided action to make a person a scapegoat. defines scapegoat at this:
a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place. This term epitomizes the outer figure and actual practice of “violence is the performance of waste” (Roach, pg,41). A quick check on presents articles on how chronologically the Hebrew, then Grecian and Roman, and then the accounts of the Christian Gospels, practiced scapegoating. First in the Torah as law for the Hebrews, acted out not on a human being, but on livestock, thus the term “goat”. Then practiced in various rituals for specifics needs in a community with the Greeks and Roman, but not always to the point of death. Finally, a graphic demonstration of capital punishment upon Christ as atonement for humanity. Drawing on this, Roach interjects there must be the presence of three, concrete, observable, results of these ancient practices and philosophies to constitute that a type of scapegoat (noun) or scapegoating (verb) is being carried out indirectly in modern times. They are as followed:

“First, that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because     violence in human culture always serves one way or the other, to a make a point. Second, that all violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to its point, it must spend things-material, objects, blood, environments in acts of Batalillan ‘unproductive expenditure’. Third, that all violence is performative, for the reason that it must have an audience even if the audience is only the victim, even if the audience is only God”   (Roach,pg,41)   

Roach’s three deductions seem to bear out in modern times in the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, and the response of the U.S. Federal Government to not take suitable steps to prevent it, and non-reacting to the hurricane’s destruction on both citizens and property. In particular, as pertaining to citizens and property residing in the New Orleanian lower-ninth ward. The United States does have a history of using its technology and money and federal power to safeguard vulnerable communities from severe weather catastrophes. In Kathryn Miles’s book, Superstorm, she notes that in 1970 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was formed under President Nixon. In his speech outlying the need to streamline weather technology and marry it with government strength he said this, “We face immediate and compelling needs for a better protection of life and property from natural hazards…which will enable us more effective to monitor and predicts its actions” (Miles,pg.22 ). Therefore, a three-decade precedent of federal policy had existed by the time of Hurricane Katrina.

          In Act III of Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke documentary a New Orleans resident makes this statement, “This was a work of humans, not God”. Another statement in the same act, this time a British engineer when referring to the levees erected around the city as “the biggest failure of civil engineering in U.S. history”. Lastly this, “Listen, this a very wealthy country. And in wealthy countries we always find the money. It is a matter of priorities”. The three persons interviewed by Spike Lee and quotes above are a collection of testimonials of one thing: the federal government did not do what it promised in building the levees to protect the most vulnerable people and property of New Orleans. And so, the question must be asked: why did our very wealthy nation of vast means and technology not protect its vulnerable citizens? To help us think about one proposed answer let’s look at the evidence argument number one, of what constitutes as a scapegoat, according to Joseph Roach. “Violence is never senseless, but always meaningful…to make a point”. First we must understand that willful neglect is a form of violence. The laws in our country imprison parents who cause harm to their children through neglect. So, if negligence is violence, then, according to Roach’s definition, it was meaningful, or better stated, calculated loss.

Roach’s evidence argument number two points out scapegoating “violence is excessive…it must spend things in acts of unproductive expenditure”. The excessive non-reacting, non-aide, non-compensation in the wake of Katrina in New Orleans points to excessiveness in loss of human life and property and environment. It was fully demonstrative towards basically, the unwanted and the have-nots. A simpler way to say “unproductive expenditure”. Why were the people of the lower ninth ward considered this? That is very complex and multi-layered answer that this paper could not do justice. What I can do is simply give an excerpt from a favorite book and teacher. The book is titled, Radical: Taking our Faith Back from the American Dream. The author is David Platt. The scene is set of a young Pastor being invited to a home of another well-respected Pastor with several of the church’s deacons present and the young pastor, David Platt, is asked to speak about his ministry work in New Orleans (where he and his wife lived for years and lost their home and possessions to Katrina) and in several other third world countries. Platt spoke enthusiastically about the good being done, about how exciting it is that the people whom he is serving are open and accepting to the teachings of Christ, which he considers as life-giving.  After what he explains as an “awkward pause, the Pastor of whose home I was invited said ‘I was just as soon have God annihilate those people and send them to hell.’ I was shocked speechless” (Platt, pg.63). This incident became one of several catalysts for David Platt writing his book Radical: Taking our Faith Back From the American Dream. The callous materialism of the American Evangelical Church, that is so ignorant of the central teaching of Christ and the New Testament that few even realize how an extreme American influence of racism and wealth obsession goes against the central ancient teachings of Christianity. This book had a profound effect on my personal and thinking life. And this scene I think, in particular, demonstrates a core belief that certain undesirables in society are “unproductive expenditures”.

          This brings us to Roach’s third concrete presence of scapegoating. “All violence is performative…it must have an audience”. So, who was the audience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans? Again, Spike Lee’s careful research and interviews seem to point to one thing: not building the levees correctly, not responding to the disaster, and then not compensating for losses from the insurance companies, set the stage for building corporations to come into the ghost town districts and rebuild without any trace of the old neighborhood. Time and time again, in many scenes of When the Levees Broke, the interviewed natives of New Orleans expressed a feeling, almost pointedly directed from their own government that, “we are not wanted”.

          In closing, I think Rene Girard’s  cultural observations within his work, In Violence and the Sacred, written thirty three years prior to Hurricane Katrina that states “ the sacrificial victim neither fully a part of the community nor fully outside of it…but must be distanced by a special identity that specifies isolation while simultaneously allowing plausible surrogation for a member of the community” fits the bill nicely for the poorest and most disadvantaged and therefore the most unlike those with power, in the very singular city known as New Orleans. The book Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas does a great job explaining to outsiders, outsiders who know nothing about New Orleans besides it being the city of Mardi Gras, what the city is really like. In the first chapter Rebecca Snedeker writes, “New Orleans is set apart from the rest of the country, perhaps the world. Every place has its own place has its own body of knowledge, its own history, its own cultures. But what you find in New Orleans is rich, deep, strange (pg.8). Both authors build on this uniqueness in regards to its physical topography being such a sponge of water and land, that is impossible, in places, to distinguish between the two. Belonging to one element, and belonging to another, thus not belonging anywhere. She likens it to “the organ of the human liver, and its primary function to filter poisons” (pg.2). This is of course a natural consequence of living below sea level; a paradox of living conditions. This paradox of making your dwelling in a location, that by definition is not a dwelling, cycles its way to the very people of the community. Its diversity cannot hope to be explained in simple terms of white or black, rich or poor; it’s too layered.  The author continues with her descriptions: “New Orleans is a city Incognita, unknown city, because even those who live here tend to know our own fragments” (pg.11). This “strange”, “uniqueness”, the “Incognita”, and “fragments” are all perfect conditions for a scapegoat. The not quite like the rest of us, therefore expendable, and undesirable, that are of little consequence for the powerful. This modern injustice, done by those in power, does have an ancient feel to it. The oldest stories almost always revolve the strong taking advantage of the weak. However, another element present in nearly all stories, since the beginning of storytelling, is that of a hero, making things right. I believe Spike Lee, in making this documentary wanted to expose the villain, and root for the hero.

*All quotes citing Roach will draw directly from his Echoes in the Bones essay.