Editorial: Tourist image warps character of New Orleans
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 12:01
New Orleans is a fascinating and intriguing city with a culture and atmosphere quite distinct from that of the United States at large. It also plays host to one of the world’s most expansive Mardi Gras celebrations, so it’s no wonder that it has become such a tourist hotspot. And this year an even larger host of tourists will join the armies that usually invade it in order to watch the 2013 Super Bowl.
We at The Maroon do not protest this tourism — for one, New Orleans is an experience well worth having, and for another, the city thrives on tourism — but we do protest the way it is executed. This tourism has a nasty tendency to pigeonhole New Orleans in particular ways. New Orleans is many things, but it is not a permanent Mardi Gras. It is not Bourbon Street.
There has been some backlash against the various measures taken in preparation for the Super Bowl — both with the NFL’s attempt to take exclusive control of Who Dat and local restaurants trying to prevent the NFL commissioner from eating on their premises. These are reactions against attempts to warp elements of New Orleans’ culture to fit outside needs — to cash in on a phrase the city has used to support its Saints, the same Saints whom the NFL have punished repeatedly and, it sometimes seems, unnecessarily.
But New Orleans culture is constantly warped by outside expectations. The very existence of Bourbon Street — where beads are thrown from balconies year-round and every store always sells Mardi Gras gear — attests to that fact. It is fine to cater to tourists — it’s a way to make a living — but some of this catering has begun to affect the general view of New Orleans. It is not a city of eternal vacation, where people party on a whim and fail to work.
There is more to New Orleans than partying. The city is filled to the brim with music and theater and spotted with museums of art, history and culture. There are beautiful parks and myriad shops.
Yes, the people of New Orleans party hard, but they also work hard. New Orleans is not merely an amusement park — it is a living, breathing city, with all the complexity and depth that implies. To pretend otherwise is to do both the tourists and the city a great injustice and to miss out on the opportunity to explore a community unlike any other in the United States.
A little bit of Bourbon Street is not a bad thing — a little bit of gaudiness, a miniature party so that brief visitors can have something to relax to even if that something is not authentic New Orleans. But when Bourbon Street becomes the cardinal image on which tourism in New Orleans is based, something has gone wrong. Let people think of Mardi Gras when they come here, but also of food, of drink, of music, of theater, of a cultural melange distinct from the United States and the world.
So enjoy Bourbon Street and a faux Mardi Gras that never ends. But do not mistake this for the true spirit of New Orleans, and make sure to experience the real spice of the city if you get the chance.