Eyes of the World – Wake of the Flood

Every decision we make pushes us down a particular path. At each moment, our choices narrow the possible futures to one singular future, and so we must bear the burden that each choice we make shuts the door on an infinite number of possibilities.

Sometimes being given a choice is harder and more damaging than if we’d never had a choice at all. Usually when we decide between options, we must also accept part of the responsibility for not choosing otherwise. This is an expected consequence if we paint humanity as moral.

Often, making a choice relies on morality. For instance, if we’re parallel parking in the city and accidentally dent one of the surrounding vehicles when no one is around, we have a choice. Do we leave a note explaining what happened and our contact info, or do we beat a hasty retreat, reasonably assured that our crime will go unpunished? The moral choice is obviously to leave a note on the dented vehicle. Even though we may not like having to compensate the owner and take responsibility for our actions, it’s infinitely more fulfilling to be able to do the right thing and choose that option as well.

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Fear City Reemerges from Memory in the Form of a Wish

Search “new york in the 70s” through Google and you’ll notice a trend of links with titles like “1970s New York in 41 Terrifying Photos,” “A decade of urban decay,” and “New York City Used to be a Terrifying Place [PHOTOS].” Likewise, you’ll find articles that take the opposite approach and address the era’s glamour, like The Guardian’s “Why we’re still obsessed with the 1970s New York of Lou Reed and Patti Smith.” A 2015 T Magazine article calls the ‘70s the  “last period in American culture when the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow still pertained, when writers and painters and theater people still wanted to be (or were willing to be) ‘martyrs to art’ […] the last time when a New York poet was reluctant to introduce to his arty friends someone who was a Hollywood film director, for fear the movies would be considered too low-status.”

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A Note on the Forgotten

I will be completely honest: when I was watching Levees, the one thing that didn’t cross my mind was the absence of animals. I mean, I love them, but maybe I was just so caught up in the powerful narratives of Lee’s documentary? As Beth said, Levees is “a work of art.” It’s supposed to move us. When Beth brought up animals in the classes afterward, I was stunned that I had forgotten about them. What happens to people’s beloved pets when they are forced to evacuate due to a natural disaster? I decided to look more into it.

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We Have to Talk About Ray Nagin

When Beth suggested the we look into former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin’s fate post “When the Levees Broke,” I felt a sense of dreadful anticipation. I knew corruption was the inevitable conclusion conclusion to his story, but after listening to his charismatic interview juxtaposed with heartfelt interviews with survivors of Katrina who spoke of loss and devastation, I felt more upset than I expected. I’ll do my best to summarize concisely. Ray Nagin tooks bribes and personal payout in exchange for awarding rebuilding contracts to large corporations in the wake of Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans. His corruption apparently started before Katrina hit, and his sentencing began in 2014.

Political editor of the alternative magazine Gambit originally excused Nagin’s behavior. He posited that the all-encompassing hurricane could crush anyone’s resolve, but he soon amended his view of the former governor, saying, “He did not enjoy the work of being the mayor. He only enjoyed being the mayor.” This same article, provided by USA Today, revealed that there was a deep sense of betrayal from New Orleaneans who believed Nagin to be the one politician who was incorruptible.

In researching articles that ranged in details from an extremely detailed account of what Nagin would experienced when he surrendered on his first day at the prison to announcements that a federal judge agreed that he was very poor and needed to be assigned a public defender. The question I kept coming back to was overly simple: What does this mean in the context of our class? Is Nagin an effigy? A scapegoat? A pariah? The conversations surrounding his conviction were certainly a purge of violent sentiment. There was a sense that a wrong had been righted, but only through the net effect of causing pain to people who had already seen too much of it.

Ray Nagin was not the only one at fault for the devastation and lack of quick and effective response to Hurricane Katrina, but he paid one of the highest prices for his misdeeds out of any government official. In some ways, his conviction was the closest government concession that its response to Katrina was extremely flawed and full of oversight and personal greed. His incarceration was a public sacrifice, satiating New Orleaneans’ need to see some consequences. To do this, however, the cycle of remembering and forgetting presented by Roach dictated that those feelings of being foresaken by one’s own government had to be dredged up again. Nagin’s incarceration doesn’t invoke a feeling of satisfaction for me. In the face of all of the insurance claims that went unfulfilled and the FEMA trailers that sat empty for months after the storm, it feels futile and ineffective.

The Power of Art as Experienced in When The Levees Broke

I mulled over my thoughts on When the Levees Broke during spring break, and my conclusion was that the film as a whole was incredibly dense, both in factual and emotive value. Since the film was informative, I was able to know more about the timeline of the events during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and more about the reactions and stories of individuals. The film evoked real feelings from me, as I’m sure it did for everyone who watched the documentary.

Beth’s words ring true when she said, “when you were moved by Levees it was done as a work of art.” Through our reaction from When the Levees Broke, I think it’s really important to consider the effects that are created from art. This is especially important as well considering our current political climate and how art is the salvation we need to cope with current events.

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Secondhand Memories, Framed and Forgotten

They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.

There are several portraits in my home of my great-grandparents and other relatives from before my time. Quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t know a single thing about them if I didn’t have these relics that sparked stories from my parents and grandparents.

In one of his stand-up specials, the comedian John Mulaney gave an anecdote of when he met a person who spoke about his hobby of stealing old photographs from family homes during parties. Naturally, all John could muster was “Why?”, to which the person responded, “Because that’s the one thing you can’t replace.” Obviously, the humor comes from the absurdity in the devilish intent. My recalling of this joke, however, comes in a context that is notably humorless.

The story was what kept popping in my mind when I watched the ending credits for When the Levees Broke. The way each person credited his or herself, with their head put in place by a picture frame suspended before them, symbolized how their names and voices will be immortalized in the wake of the tragedy, and how each person has a uniquely framed perspective of it. The motif of picture frames in the context of Hurricane Katrina begs the question: With the destructive power of the floods, how many beloved portraits were lost? How many old photographs were stolen by this kleptomaniac of a storm? It’s difficult to imagine the quantity of memories, intended to be preserved indefinitely, that were forcibly forgotten in one fell swoop.

Many people died as a result of the storm. How many more had their proverbial “second death” in the time that followed?

Sentinel Species, Range, and New Orleans

Science and literature are different languages to express similar concepts about humanity. This blog post is an attempt to explore the relationship of science and literature in the context of some class concepts. Weeks ago, Beth (1) mentioned the concept of “the canary and the coal mine.” We did not unpack it at the time, but that moment made me think about range, as discussed in my Biogeography class and When the Levees Broke.

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Doing the Best We Can: X-codes and retrospective memory

Several classes ago we discussed, in our small groups, how to interpret the FEMA USR signs that were, and still are, widespread across the wretched landscape of New Orleans. At a glance, these symbols (known as ‘X-codes’) appear to be mere displays of vandalism; however, when deciphered, they represent something much larger. During the primacy of hurricane Katrina, these symbols served as devices that notified the people of government aid and interference. The destruction done by Katrina left thousands of New Orleans citizens stranded and helpless, so even the most inadequate forms of Government assistance were accepted. X-codes were primarily painted on buildings (and sometimes cars) to alert people that the interior has been investigated or scavenged; if people needed help. While serving as symbols of government relief, X-codes also simultaneously represent, through a ‘Roachian’ lens, an agency to the performance of memory.

Roach states that memory is “an alternation between retrospection and anticipation,” and in this case, we should focus on the retrospective memory. It’s been 13 years since Katrina, and during that time most of the symbols have either faded or have been removed by current homeowners, but the memory of devastation and allochthony suffered by the residents of NOLA is still present. The scrubbed and faded symbols (known as ghost-codes) serve as an agency to the performance of memory by providing a narrative that tells of transformative loss and destruction. We are able to trace the outline of these ghost-codes which allows us to focus on the aspects of aid and assistance dealt by the government, as well as the destruction itself (i.e. number of deaths). The traces of ghost-codes left behind act as portal to remember the past, and only through retrospection can any step towards anticipation be taken.

Remembrance and Forgetting: Who Benefits?

I first came across the work of Rudyard Kipling as a child. My favorite Disney movie was (and still is) The Jungle Book. You can imagine my surprise when I first encountered Kipling’s other works in a sociology class in relation to colonialism; in that class, we read “The White Man’s Burden” and “Gunga Din.” In this blog post, I will be addressing “The White Man’s Burden,” an 1899 poem encouraging the United States to join in on imperialism. Continue reading “Remembrance and Forgetting: Who Benefits?”