Peter Athas: The State of Carnival

Mardi Gras ended last week. It’s time for repentance, reflection, and fish fries. I’m not Catholic, but the Lenten calendar is as much a part of life in New Orleans as Carnival. I’m focusing on the latter, but the two are bound together like conjoined twins and reflect the duality and complexity of life here. The state of Carnival is weird. The weather was lousy, the parades excellent, and the crowds spotty on wet days and massive when it was dry. I belong to the Krewe du Vieux sub-krewe of Spank. The forecast on our day was dire and it rained on and off much of the day. There were dark clouds as we lined up, but it did not rain on our parade. Literally. There were two issues on the mind of  many New Orleanians as we grubbed for beads, Muses shoes, Nyx purses, and Tucks plungers. First, the state of the parade route, which increasingly resemble campgrounds or the parking lot at Tiger Stadium during football season. Second, the spectre of racist throws, which cast something of a pall over the run up to Carnival but were roundly denounced even by the old-line krewes. The good news is that they were nearly invisible on the parade route but they’re antithetical to the spirit of Carnival. Recent developments in parade culture or lack thereof can also be linked to national politics and the rise of Donald Trump and his boorish, selfish supporters. Tom Wolfe dubbed the 1970’s the Me Decade. It’s got nothing on the Trump era, and its impact could be seen during Carnival 2018. The Krewe of Chad:  Back in 2013, Gambit editor Kevin Allman coined a phrase for the importation of tailgate culture into parade culture. It all started with a picture and a tweet: The term caught on and is widely used on social media to describe people who think they can rope off sectors of the public green for their exclusive use. Chaddism used to be restricted to the Endymion parade route in Mid-City, but couches, tents, roped off sectors, ladders, and the like are increasingly seen Uptown. It’s a monumental pain in the ass for those of us who live on or near the parade route since Carnival is supposed to be a moveable feast, not urban camping. For the first time in years, the city attempted to enforce existing ordinances against rampant early Chaddery on the parade route. The Chads were shocked that their selfish efforts were not appreciated by the powers that be. They continue to confuse tailgating culture with Carnival culture to the detriment of everyone A friend of mine recently said, “Scratch a Chad and you’ll hear a Trump voter scream.” I’m not sure why they’re itchy but most of the Krewe or Chad appear to be from other parishes and surrounding states, which went overwhelmingly for Trump. They’re convinced that it’s okay to do what they do, so all I can do is pinpoint the problem and hope it gets better. Selfishness is in, after all. Bigly. Let’s move on a more serious issue raised by Carnival 2018. The Case of the Bigoted Beads: The Forever Lee Circle beads were a cause celebre before the big parades rolled on Magazine, Napoleon, and St. Charles. I wrote a post about them for First Draft, Lost Cause Festers Do Mardi Gras. I wound up in an endless wrangle with a Lost Causer whose story shifted every time he commented on the post or on Facebook. The only thing he was consistent about was that he didn’t like the nickname I gave him. Whatever, dude. You don’t get to pick your own nickname, so I’ll give you a new one, which you should be willing to own: Forever Lee Circle Dude. The Forever Lee Circle beads were made to protest the toppling of the monument to Robert E. Lee. To his apologists, Lee was a gentleman and hero of the lost cause. As far as I’m concerned, he was a traitor and a brutal slave owner with no ties to New Orleans. The prospect of the Forever Lee Circle beads being thrown by float riders was the subject of much agita on social media. That was the only report I saw of those bigoted beads being tossed. It took place during the Krewe of Alla parade. The admonitions by other krewe captains seem to have worked. Score one for the Carnival community; even the conservatives among them don’t want to be associated with blatant racism and reckneckery in a majority African American city. But there was a report of blackface figurines being thrown during the Endymion parade:
“I was just totally perplexed. I didn’t know what to think!” New Orleans resident Carmen Cousin said. Shocked and appalled is the only way Cousin could describe her reaction after she says her 4-year-old son got Black face figurines during the Krewe of Endymion parade on Saturday. Her son was propped up on her fiancee’s shoulders off Canal Street when someone from a float handed him a bubbled wrapped package. “Inside of the bubble wrap were two porcelain Blackfaced figures. One who the female figure looked like she possibly could’ve been a servant and holding a tray and the other was a male Blackfaced doll with a hat in his hand.”
The offensive and irrelevant throws were reported to the krewe; as of this writing they don’t appear to have investigated other than making some perfunctory comments on social media to the people who complained. Lost Causers specialize in blowing smoke. The Facebook post below by a guy from Metairie named Rickey Entwistle is typical of the disingenuous way they handle criticism: The post was deleted, so I’d like to thank Avalanche USA for posting the screen shot. Lost Causers tend to be cowards, so I’m not surprised: White nationalists have long hidden behind, and under, sheets. Entwistle’s claim that lawn jockeys were signposts along the Underground Railroad was found to be unproven by Snopes. I seriously doubt that Endymion riders, who are best known as rowdy louts obsessed with seeing tits, threw these figures to celebrate the Underground Railroad. I suspect that they did it to offend parade goers in the spirit of Trumpers everywhere. If you’re not from New Orleans, you may be wondering why I’m banging on about the selfishness of the Krewe of Chad and the bigotry of the Lost Causers. Carnival is important to us and it reflects who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. The first Carnival after Katrina and the Federal Flood in 2006 was moving and life affirming. It proved that New Orleans was bouncing back after that horrendous disaster. Obviously, racism as exemplified by the Forever Lee Circle beads and blackface figurines is an infinitely more serious offense than Chaddism but they’re symptoms of the same disease. Selfishness and bigotry are once again fashionable among some sectors of our populace. Unfortunately, those attitudes infected this year’s Carnival, which is supposed to be fun, not stressful. Carnival should be unifying, not divisive. I hope that future attempts to color it red in a blue city will be repulsed. The Chadders and Lost Causers *are* repulsive and should stop messing with our fun. I think the former is a lost cause (pun intended, it always is), but I think the latter issue will fade away as the monuments removal controversy recedes into the past. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever recapture the Spirit of 2006, but we can dream. That concludes what started off as a brief look at the State of Carnival. I hope you won’t repent reading it.