When It Rains, It Pairs

Art by Ben Passmore

Art by Ben Passmore

It's a busy time. I'm looking forward to next week, when I should finish what I expect is the final rewrite of my novel Fuckboys before I submit it for publication.

In the meantime, I continue to churn out what a generous heart might call "journalism." Since my last blog post, I've written two cover stories for Antigravity-- one an interview with anti-capitalist rapper Truth Universal, the other a lengthy disquisition on surveillance in New Orleans.

The surveillance piece is something I'm particularly proud of; a lot went into it.

Jules Bentley February Houses Brooklyn Paper

I've also published two more li'l book reviews for the Brooklyn Paper. The Paper's given me my own monthly small-press review column, complete with an author caricature that, though I am fond of it, makes me look both more aryan & more emo than I am. I reviewed a graphic novel, Iron Bound, and A Long Day in November, a short, unforgettable book by Louisiana author Ernest J Gaines.

I meant to mention this previously, but I was grateful & gratified that my six-part essay about the destruction of the Times Picayune was quoted twice & cited in the footnotes of a new and authoritative account by Rebecca Theim of the paper's dismantling, Hell and High Water: The Battle to Save the Daily New Orleans Times-Picayune.

In further long-tail news, my 2012 piece on the wrestler Junkyard Dog, an interview with the author of The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling’s First Black Superhero, was recently discussed on Metafilter, and made that site's front page.

Jules Bentley on the front page of metafilter


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Fresh Embassies and Suits

illustration by Ashlee Arceneaux for Antigravity

illustration by Ashlee Arceneaux for Antigravity

While my novel, Fuckboys, slithers slowly through revision, I've been busy getting my nonfiction into some new places. This week's Brooklyn Paper has the first of what I hope will be many book reviews by Jules Bentley and here at home, my account of a New Orleans Wrestlemania ticket "On-Sale Party" is up at the Gambit's blog.

It feels great to be writing literary criticism. I love reading interesting books, and teasing out what makes them interesting is an exercise that enhances my enjoyment rather than diminishing it. I'm not as well-read as some, but my catholic tastes have given me a breadth of comparison that I think is useful.

Also, as those who've endured me interpersonally for any length of time know, I love professional wrestling. I have been following, watching, attending and thinking about pro wrestling for decades. I love the small-town deep-South indie shows with 20 attendees, the giant slick spectacle of a WWE pay-per-view and everything inbetween. I love how crazy it is, how magical it is, and even how corny it can be. Wrestlemania, the biggest pro wrestling event of the year, is coming to New Orleans, so it's time I upped my game a little and tried sharing my enthusiasm for this art form with as broad an audience as possible.

Back on more familiar territory, I'm very pleased with my piece in October's Antigravity Magazine, in which I hunt Vampires in 2013 New Orleans. Beware!!!

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Hashtag #Douchebag

Here, here, hereI'm gonna totally overhaul this website real-soon-now. So: a few months back, I woke up not just with a hard-on but very specifically with a hard-on for Hackathons.

New Orleans is lately awash in undersunned messianic dweebs who seem to genuinely believe their post-flood fortune-hunting is somehow doing New Orleans a favor. There's a long history of people coming from elsewhere to make a buck in New Orleans; what bothers me about the App schmucks is not their fortune-hunting as such, but their inexplicable self-congratulatory attitude.

They somehow think by rolling into town, taking advantage of tax breaks and venture-capital rent subsidies, and starting software-related businesses that exclusively hire other white people from elsewhere, they're doing New Orleans a favor. It's crazy. Compounding their cluelessness, they inhabit an echo chamber: there's a new-minted media stratum, including a dedicated reporter at NOLA.com, that exists entirely to run unedited (and unread!) these newcomers' masturbatory press releases and their announcements of the latest in an infinite overlapping series of conferences, panels and hackathons to do with #Innovation and #Startups and #Disruption and #Entrepreneurship.

You think I'm joking about their arrogance, or about the delusional bubble they inhabit? "What the Dalai Lama and New Orleans Entrepreneurs Have in Common."

These kids are smug, rich, boorishly unselfaware... and, down to the last man-child, thin-skinned. All those elements combined in the southern heat make for a raw batch of San Francisco tech-sector sourdough I just can't resist punching the lumps out of.

What pushed me over the edge was a particular loudly-touted June "hackathon." "Hackathons" are where these geniuses gather for a 24-hour period during which they code up solutions to various problems other, lesser humans have wrestled unsuccessfully with. They're all fucking ridiculous, but the Hackathon that raised my hackles above what I could endure was "Hack the New Orleans Murder Rate." They were going to gather and develop iPhone Apps that would somehow remedy our impoverished, historically oppressed and significantly illiterate city's horrifically high incidence of homicide. Wish I was joking!

Anyone who's read this far in will likely be unsurprised to learn that there are at any given time a number of things ambiently aggrieving me-- a cloud of annoyances, hovering like horseflies around my greasy head. Mostly I go about my days without squandering much time swatting at them, but every so often the cloud coalesces sufficiently to become a target, and however fleetingly, my wroth overtops my sloth.

Thus it was one morning I woke up, registered the URL nationaldayofhacking.info, and built a website there. It was a day's work, and a means of expressing-- in the medical sense of forcing out-- some of my accumulated disgust towards these creepy god-complex freaks. I'd figured the site would be an inside joke at best, but my critique resonated with a far wider audience. It "went viral," as even people like myself say of such things. In its first ten-or-so hours of existence, nationaldayofhacking.info drew thousands of visitors from all over the world, thanks in large part to the URL being tweeted by some prominent techno-critics, as well as, it must be said, some techno-evangelists with senses of humor. Then, late in the afternoon, Wikileaks itself promoted NationalDayofHacking.info (which it described as "delightfully viscsious" [sic]) to its more than 2,000,000 twitter followers. At that point, the visitor numbers went fucking bonkers.

They think I'm delightful!I hate technology, science, all that shit. Basically, everything since penicillin I think we'd be better off without, and I'm open to arguments going back way further. Having said that, it's pretty remarkable that some words I wrote upon waking up in a bad mood can be in front of the eyes of hundreds of thousands of strangers within a single orbit of the sun around the earth, or whatever.

So that's my post about nationaldayofhacking.info. It was initially unsigned, but eventually people locally started to ask me if I was behind it (although I think most knew from the get-go, since the trail of tweets mentioning it began with me), so I copped to it. And hey: if you don't think I take a savage, ugly & unwholesome satisfaction in seeing some shit I wrote critiquing the social-media-obsessed NOLA technology economy garner more attention and more readership, via social-media technology, than anything ever produced by the social-media-obsessed NOLA technology economy, then you must have mistaken me for a far, far less venal person than I am.

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Culture and Conquest

The cover story of April's Antigravity Magazine was my interview with New Orleans bounce rap legend Ricky B. He and Bigalow were great company, and rather than type up the interview as we talked (as I usually do) I recorded the audio of the conversation, and then transcribed it.

This entailed hearing a recording of my own voice for the first time in a while, and it was humbling to say the least. Whether it's cause or effect, part of being a writer is that I express myself best in writing, ideally after two or three drafts. I don't like public speaking (listening to it or doing it), I'm not a live performer as such-- I like to be at my desk, at a keyboard, writing. I know this is not an experience unique to me, but hearing how I sounded on that recording was horrific. Stammering, adenoidal, ineloquent to the point of incoherence... it was one long wince. What I'd remembered as a very natural, comfortable and informal conversation sounded on tape more like a Sasha Baron Cohen skit, where the tension is just how terrible the interviewer can get before the interview subjects catch on they're being pranked.

Regardless, since the bulk of my recent non-fiction entails savaging people and things I find terrible, it was rewarding to write something positive, and try to help elevate the profile of a musician I admire.

The bigger reward, though, was seeing Ricky B perform later that month at the Blue Nile, joined onstage by the Stooges Brass Band... and Big Chief Brian Harrison Nelson of the Guardians of the Flame. In a time when culture is treated as a disposable commodity, seeing the love and respect that the Stooges had for local hip-hop pioneer Ricky B-- a man many of them had grown up listening to-- was a reminder of why New Orleans is worth fighting for. This is a city that values culture, that respects and celebrates its history. Then, when Big Chief Nelson emerged onto the already crowded stage, resplendent in his feathered suit and attended by a retinue of other Indians, an already awesome moment crossed the threshold into something transcendent.

It is moments such as those that allow me to believe New Orleans can survive the onslaughts of capitalism and modernity, just as she's survived poverty, exploitation, centuries of occupation by various imperial powers as well as the disasters-- floods, oil, destruction of affordable housing-- that those powers have wrought. I'm a New Orleans exceptionalist: I really do believe this city is different.

Many have thought they knew the secret to resisting the crushing homogenizing superforce of global capitalism, and history has so far proved all of them wrong, with a couple notable exceptions (mostly in the mountains of Afghanistan), but my belief in New Orleans is not rational. It's a religious conviction, grounded in the power she seems to have over those who live here, grounded in the feelings I experience in a good second line or at the Blue Nile that night in April. It's a belief that exists outside of economics, outside of politics. I believe she cannot be conquered.

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Permission to Enrage

People have opinions on my food truck article. I write provocatively. It's a choice, to the degree anything I do is a choice vs. a symptom of pathology.

Among the reasons I publish in Antigravity is that I find it a good editorial fit for this style of nonfiction, a su byorek  of journalistic expose & personal opinion-- or, let's be honest, polemical savagery. Some more traditional journalists, including writers I respect, are discomfited by how nakedly I present my own viewpoint; they feel my rhetoric is a distraction from the facts or renders the facts suspect. On the other hand, there are those who love the ranty razzle-dazzle but find the underlying politics or dot-connecting boring.

Nobody reading my work is going to mistake me for any kind of objective, professionally-detached anything. Some strive for respectability or the appearance of neutrality. I don't; I'm about war. I don't care about being "fair" to the powerful or the wealthy; I care about destroying those who would destroy what I love.

This doesn't mean I'm just a raving dickbag all the time, but it definitely means my work isn't to every taste, and it means when people bother to read my stuff-- something I don't take for granted-- I get some angry reactions. I read them all, and I wonder: should I wade in and engage? The ferocity of my writing doesn't mean I'm not bothered by people returning fire. I have the impulse to rebut, the old Usenet veteran's urge to go point-for-point.

But what would that accomplish? Shouldn't I let the article speak for itself, regardless of whether or not I'm "a left-wing Pat Buchanan?" (hilarious, btw)

On the other hand, by not entering the comment stream below the post, I feel I'm pretending to be above the fray, which I'm absolutely not. I have bad impulse control-- I upvote and downvote things within the recently-added "DISQUS" comment system, although I feel ashamed of doing so. It's a sneaky way of trying to control the conversation without further exposing myself. Is it ethical?

There are people upset by the article commenting on it both "anonymously" and under their own names. That's ethically questionable too, but I look at it as a triumph; I've pulled some of these sanctimonious liberals down into the muck.

The response thus far hasn't focused on the racial- & class-exclusion aspects of the article, although I agree with the commenter who said Ben Passmore's art makes those points far more eloquently than my writing. Maybe because the readership are concerned with whether or not they themselves are hipsters, a lot of the response has to do with hipsters. Worryingly, no-one has accused me of being one. Am I so clearly over-the-hill that I'm not suspect?

I'm not sure I even know what a hipster is anymore, if I ever did. What's going on in the Bywater these days is at least a solid Campanella-phase beyond "hipster." It's more conservatively dressed, more overtly affluent: globe-trotters with elegant evening-wear and late-model Porsches.

My frustration with a lot of the talk of hipsters, especially with regard to gentrification (and even with Richard Campanella's recent article) is the lack of a power analysis. Too often, vague talk of culture or subculture obscures the realities of who has the money and who has the power.

If everything and everyone is "gentrification," then the word gentrification becomes as meaningless as "hipster." If low-income white people who find housing they can afford in mostly-black neighborhoods are told to feel liberal guilt over "gentrifying"-- first of all, that's a waste of time, but more importantly, it lets off the hook some specific people who've been deliberately driving these changes behind the scenes-- the developers, the jail-builders, the politicos and connected corporations who stand to profit.

For the record, I'm not saying I don't  believe white people deserve extermination-- I'm just saying that belly-button-gazing guilt is pointless. Stewing in angst about your own whiteness doesn't do anything for the thousands of New Orleanians in Sheriff Gusman's deathcamp, and it doesn't shed any light on the real forces that are reshaping our communities. The same is true of the arguments over what and who is "authentically" New Orleans. At the end of the day, under capitalism, what matters is the money.

I don't believe the post-Katrina gentrification of downtown or assaults on New Orleans tradition and culture are mystical, inevitable or the result of natural forces-- no moreso than the destruction of public housing or the privatization of public education have been. These changes to the city are driven by a relatively few key people at the local level, not by artists, or punx, or "hipsters," or Mark and Mindy renovating a double shotgun into a single. The people driving change are people with real money, big money... and in the case of the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition, money apparently originating with the Koch Brothers.

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Off Twitter for Lent

The reason I don't have a television isn't snobbery; it's because I'm powerless to resist television.

Back in the 90s, I lost a spring and summer to Baywatch re-runs. In the backwater where I then lived, one of the three channels that my little black-and-white TV could receive played Baywatch re-runs all day long. When I discovered this, and discovered how fun it was to get drunk and watch Baywatch, I'd come back from a night shift washing dishes and watch Baywatch until I fell asleep. It was a simple, yin-and-yang sort of life: Dishes, Baywatch. After I was fired, life got even simpler.

The show's formula was so soothing-- I loved its predictability, its reliable, reassuring rhythm of narrative recurrence. Every episode followed the same pattern. Every episode was interchangeable. Every episode was a minutely varied iteration of every other episode. Each began and ended with someone needing to be rescued from drowning. Following, or as a consequence of that first lifeguard rescue, an interpersonal drama would unfold, a microwave-brief soap opera angle which would be resolved, instrumentally or merely chronologically, by the second rescue. In between, ITT Tech would urge me to take out loans and my homeboy Wilford Brimley would admit his diabeetus. So little in life is as we expect it to be; Baywatch always was. So little in life delivers on its promises; Baywatch always did, as faithfully as the sun (presumably) rose and set out beyond my closed blinds.

Although lying on a dirty mattress, drinking Mad Dog and watching endless episodes of Baywatch surely don't rank among the habits of highly effective people, I don't consider that summer an unhappy time of my life. I suppose at some level I must have been depressed, as I often am, and I remember I felt annoyed with myself for being poor, as I often do. I was aware of how frustratingly unlike Baywatch my own existence was, but mostly I think I was successfully, comprehensively numbed, lulled by sugared day-glo alcohol both literal and televisual.

When I thought about the few other people in my life, I contemplated them in terms of which Baywatch characters they were most like. The show began to seem archetypal, a useful lens for understanding the inferior-- or at least less sun-tanned & cheerful-- facets of the universe. Most of my dreams took place in a context either directly or indirectly drawn from the show. I didn't think it was awesome or healthy to be absolutely lost in Baywatch, but it wasn't uncomfortable. Baywatch didn't take itself too seriously, anyway; it wasn't ponderous or pretentious. It knew what it was, and it did what it did. I knew what I was too, and I did what I did. It wasn't such a bad way to be. If I hadn't run out of rent money, it probably would have gone on much longer.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I no longer own a television.

While I'm no less fallible than I ever was, I'm more mature now; I know myself better. I have experience (if not wisdom) and tools of analysis at my disposal I didn't useta. I came of age before internet "social media," thank heavens, and like all right-thinking people I abhor Facebook. I consider it as close to objectively evil as technology can be. Let's not get into all that right now, right here; suffice it to say Facebook is as vile a realization of Debord's idea of the Spectacle as famine is a realization of the idea of hunger. Facebook is almost everything I hate about the internet. I don't use Facebook, and I bullied my partner into quitting it as well. Twitter (I tell myself) is not as bad. It doesn't encourage or require the cultivation of a specifically capitalist-situated persona; it doesn't want to know what I look like or who my blood relations are.

Still, it's insidious. I began using Twitter for the same reason I built this website: because I'd like to have my work read, and it seemed a tool with which to build readership. Of course, I quickly settled into using Twitter the same ways everyone else does. In February when I "retweeted" something supportive of Christopher Dorner, however, I lost some "Followers," the first time that had happened. Losing followers (oh my god, the terminology!!) bothered me... and it fucking horrified me that it bothered me. I realized I was thinking of Twitter as if it mattered; I had given it power over me. So, while on a walk the first Thursday after Mardi Gras-- on Saints Cyril and Methodius Day-- it occurred to me I ought to give up Twitter for Lent.

Denying myself my desires is among my greatest gifts. It's what's made possible my perfect record as a monogamist & my years of abstension from alcohol, and is not incidentally why I haven't done most of the horrible things I feel myself powerfully moved to do every second of the day I'm around other people. That is, compared to the levels of self-control I must continually and consciously exercise in any social setting, refraining from Twitter is nothing.

My hiatus from Twitter does mean, however, that when I've penned a juicy piece for Antigravity Magazine, raining fire on the (it turns out super-crazy right-wing) Food Truck movement, I lack a convenient means to promote the piece. If you're reading this, let me assure you: it's a great article, anchored by some really shocking tip-offs from comrades about the powers behind the New Orleans food truck movement, enlivened by hilarious/brutal art by Ben Passmore. It's worth seeking out a print copy of March's Antigravity to see.

The editor says the online version will be up in a week or so. Since I can't "tweet" a link to my article, I'll have to post about it here again.

In the meantime, I'm relieved to find I don't miss Twitter too badly. Because I don't find myself fighting a strong compulsion to use Twitter, I'll let myself get back to it after Easter.

On balance, I like Twitter. It's interesting to follow a weird hashtag and read some distant Sam's Club employees shit-talking their manager. It's interesting the way younger people use Twitter to flirt; it's interesting how racially segregated Twitter is. I feel Twitter provides intriguing glimpses into other peoples' lives, and I think that's worth the trade-offs. Is Twitter inane? Sure. Is it ridiculous to attempt expressing anything worthwhile in 140 characters? Of course! Is it a time sink? Often... but christ almighty, it's not Baywatch.

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Summer Thunderstorm of the Month

I miss summer. Been reading & greatly enjoying H.D.'s semi-auto-bio novel HERmione. It's no more semi-auto-bio than many novels are, but probably because H.D. was a woman and consorted with famous men, the book's dustjacket & introduction promise characters who are Nin-like transpositions from the author's personal life.

I prefer H.D.'s wonderful (and underappreciated?) novel without tabloid context. When our narrator canoodles in the moss with a suitor, I'd rather imagine him entirely based on H.D.'s language. Since I've been instructed by the dustjacket that this suitor is "really" Ezra Pound, however, the suitor must sweat inside a great Ezra Pound bobblehead, like a space helmet with Pound's visage painted on it.

HERmione is a book of many virtues. H.D.'s prose has a slow-building hypnagogic quality: a hothouse, heavy-lidded lushness that can be cozy or claustrophobic. Although she controls the reader's attention with paranoid rigor-- we mayn't look at very much, for very long, and only just where she directs us-- the velvet glove's so plush that her grip feels like a caress.

In the excerpt below, we're treated to a morning rainstorm as viewed from indoors. It's Cadillac writing, though I'll admit some bias; as a lazy gardener, I do dearly love rainstorms.

Thunder reverberated across wet lawns, shook the middle forest, prolonged itself like some beast growling under deep-sea water, shook the water above their heads, broke through it and let down more water through a funnel. Water poured through a funnel on the roof above them, slid off gutters, made a sheet across the window, darkened the dining room and blotted out the dining room silver. Silver forks, spoons, a bowl on the side table became lost in silver, mist in and out, a sheet of silver hung permanently across the dining room window. Window tight-fastened, odd shut-in feeling on a summer morning. Outside the odd tight-fastened window, a sheet of thin metal hung wavering ominously. "I feel we're shut up inside a submarine or a bomb that will burst suddenly."
Brrrr-ooooo-ommm-- the bomb burst suddenly. "This is ghastly. I thought the storm was over." The silver went platinum-white in the succeeding sudden flashes. "The whole world's blown up suddenly." The silver went lead, less than silver in the reassuring heavy downpour that almost drowned the distant BRRRooming drum, reassuring drum of raindrops beating; we're coming to help, we're coming to help, we're on the way to rescue you from lead and shot and silver turned to gunfire...


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In Print, Death of Print, Printing

Having survived another Mardi Gras, I'm renouncing Twitter for Lent, and my intention is to post more often here. To begin with, I've been remiss in posting links to some of my recent writing in Antigravity Magazine.

Jules Bentley cover storyIn the February 2013 issue, I profiled the couple who run Creeping Hemlock Press, a successful independent publisher here in New Orleans.

Interviews are fun for a couple reasons. I get paid without having to write nearly as much, and I also love hearing about a subject or field-- almost anything-- from people who've spent a lot of time studying or working in it. Among the material cut from the interview (by yours truly, not by an angry editor) were hundreds of words of RJ & Julia analyzing the history, present & future of the paperback industry.

With so much already in the piece, I had to let the publishing-industry stuff go in favor of subjects that grab a broader audience, but I learned a great deal from the conversation. I accept-- grudgingly, unhappily-- that making a living as a writer increasingly involves online texts and "downloads." I don't much mourn the death of Big Publishing, but to me, the words book and novel will always connote a real, physical, bound & printed-on-paper object.

Speaking of which, I also wrote about the re-opening of the New Orleans Community Print Shop, the cover story of Antigravity's 100th issue. The article shocked a few people... a few dickheads, really. People who deserved it.

A couple months after writing the piece, I availed myself of the Print Shop (or "Printshop") facilities for the first time; I went there to print up some custom handkerchiefs as favors for a Carnival Walking Krewe. It was a messy and frustrating process, like most first times at most things, but the results were thrilling. I'm happy to have the Print Shop open and nearby me!

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My capsule history of O.C. Haley Blvd.

As a New Orleans anarchist, I'm involved in helping organize the 4th annual North American Anarchist Studies Network conference.

Some of my best friends are academics, and I love learning from them, but I don't generally find the scholarly facets of anarchism compelling. Many of the subjects of the conference's workshops and presentations strike me as abstruse. I do like to make myself useful, though, so I'm happy to e.g. help set up chairs or write a capsule history of the neighborhood where the conference will be taking place.

I am fiercely defensive of where I live; my specific corner of the Upper Ninth Ward is being roiled by powerful & moneyed outside forces hostile to the community as it's been-- "New Urbanists" want to make my working-class neighborhood into a playground for young white affluence from elsewhere. If a conference like NAASN were to be held in MY neighborhood, I would at the very least want the attendees to be aware of what larger dynamics they were stepping into.

Since this conference is taking place in Central City, I researched & wrote up a li'l history of the O.C. Haley corridor.

The research was endlessly interesting, and of course that same street a few miles away was where in July 1900 a brave and heroic man named Robert Charles, accosted by racist New Orleans police (plus ça change), took a stand... but more at length about that some other time.

Among the things I learned about O.C. Haley Blvd was its importance to the early New Orleans Orthodox Jewish community. I love New Orleans' long and complex Jewish history-- f'rinstance didja know we hosted the first U.S. Jewish congregation outside the original thirteen colonies? Or that we had a Jewish mayor from 1904-1920? Or that one of the first female doctor in Louisiana (and one of the first in the South) was Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, a Jewish woman who began her practice in 1857?

...Bonus fact: Cohen came from Pennsylvania, but Dr. Ella N. Prescott, who ~50 years later became the first black female doctor to practice in Louisiana, was born here.

New Orleans has long been a home for outsiders and searchers, as well as in certain limited ways a shelter from popular prejudice, so it's not surprising that history's most famous tribe of exiled wanderers have been integral to it for centuries, notwithstanding the sniffy (and inaccurate) dismissal from the Gale Catalog's Encyclopedia Judaica-- "Originally, because of its unhealthy climate and poor economy, New Orleans received little of the Eastern European Jewish immigration to America..."

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A Defense of the Robot Parade

Here in New Orleans, we are blessed with an overabundance of things to do on a given day. Last Sunday, my partner & I went to a Robot Parade on Piety St. in the Bywater, which I greatly enjoyed. Not everyone liked it as much as I did. NOLA Media Group's art critic, Doug MacCash, wrote:

In the hollow aftermath on Piety Street, I felt sorry for the Robot Parade organizers. I felt sorry for the members of the crowd, who certainly had better things to do. And I was embarrassed for having enthusiastically recommended the event, which had been in the planning stages for months.

I'm not chiding Doug MacCash for his response. Opinions are an art critic's stock in trade, and anyway I don't begrudge anyone who answers to the psychotic commentariat of NOLA.com. I would however like to contest his & others' characterization of the parade as a dud and a disappointment.

I attended on a whim-- I worked Sunday, but had a little time right around when the Robot Parade was set to kick off. Because these were robots (and because the Bywater is increasingly full of people for whom "New Orleans time" has as much meaning as "New Orleans food" or "New Orleans culture") I felt this parade might begin punctually, and I hustled my long-suffering partner out the door.

"A big-time serenade / it must be a street parade""Come on!" I said. "I don't want to have to jog all over the Bywater looking for robots. It's twenty after; they could be anywhere by now!"

As it turned out, we weren't late. The issue of where exactly the robots were remained largely unresolved, but a large, good-natured crowd filled Piety St. by the Ironworks, including more children than I usually see at events downtown.

Since there were no robots to gawk at, I was able to talk to neighbors and friends, many accompanied by their partners & kids. It was still warm enough to enjoy Piety St. Snoballs, and Pizza Delicious was doing gangbusters business across the street.

Expectations & turnout were high. This was partly due to the organizers' track record of amazing mechanical creations, but mostly I think owing to the vivid evocative power of the phrase "robot parade."

The various possible Robot Parades I'd anticipated ran a gamut: perhaps there would be towering metallic floats bedecked with strobe lights, belching steam--a Truckasaurus Rex built of shopping carts and bicycle parts. Or perhaps the robots would all be very small, like radio-controlled toy cars, creating a 'Tit-Rex dynamic in which a thick & passive crowd huddles around a tiny, close-to-the-ground trickle of movement, light & creativity.

When the robots finally emerged, many in the crowd seemed underwhelmed both by their numbers and by the robots themselves. I too had expected more robots, but I found the two who paraded unexpectedly sympathetic.

One of the robots was a balky quad-copter; its operator nudged it along with his foot like an impatient dog owner. The other robot rolled on treads, with only a foot or two of wiring separating the creation from its Pygmalion. Neither it nor the recalcitrant whirligig looked capable of shooting hellfire missiles or putting assembly-line workers out of business.

The Robot Parade had planned an ambitious route, from Piety St. to Franklin Ave., thence up to St. Claude "and maybe as far as Cafe Envie" in the Quarter, but instead they barely managed 30 yards. Anyone who's ever compiled a huge day-off to-do list and then spent the day cooking breakfast or making love should find this as relatable as I did. Plans change.
Coulda been worse
It's important art challenges our most comfortable and long-held notions. One's sense of what constitutes a parade was challenged. Ought we blame the robots, or ought we instead examine our own desires, our own untouchable imagined Robot Parades that we came hoping to see obligingly enacted for us?

My go-to in such cases is Proust: all fulfillment of expectation is disappointment. I brought my own expectations to the #robotparade, as did MacCash and others, but no real and specific #robotparade could ever match the multifarious & ideal #robotparades of our imaginations. Whether what we anticipate is a robot parade, a love affair, or the church in Balbec, from the seed of our desire grows the greenery of achievement whose flower is discontent.

But would you have rather seen the young gods of the Bywater unveil a gleaming, soulless mechanical army, marching in lockstep? Would that have been preferable? Did you really hope for gargantuan, precision-engineered metal monsters frightening the children, blaring noise, commanding attention? Is that what you wanted, to leave the parade convinced of robot superiority, demoralized by your own organic inadequacy, ready to replace the mules of Krewe Du Vieux with Go-Bots? Would THAT have constituted a more worthwhile afternoon?

The parading robots were reassuringly harmless. These were not the chrome golems of the Terminator films, not the heinous protean leviathans of "Transformers." No, these were New Orleans robots, and you know what? They were doing their best. They were getting along as best they could.

There are no doubt other cities where one is surrounded by functional, competent, efficient robots. Boston, perhaps, or Tokyo. Here in New Orleans, our robots are janky. On a given day, only a couple will show up; the rest were probably somewhere getting high. I have compassion for our city's robots. Feeling generosity-- towards these mechanical creatures, towards whatever organizational or technical problems-- costs me nothing, and is also one of the only important things we humans can still do better than machines.

"Hurray!"An afternoon spent standing outside in comfortable weather chatting with neighbors & meeting friends' families is neither a waste of time nor a disappointment. MacCash needn't feel sorry for me, nor for anyone else who attended. Nobody paid for tickets. The event wasn't a failure; it was funny, unexpected, and sociable.

A failed event looks and feels much different-- for instance the astroturfed gentrifier-oriented debacle that was St. Claude Main Street's recent invasive, neighbor-alienating "Night Market."

The robot parade may have tweaked our expectations, but it also gathered a lot of humans who live in this part of town (and welcome visitors from elsewhere) together near some interesting art, and there was good food and drink. People looked to be enjoying themselves; even a career curmudgeon like Library Chronicles' jeffrey couldn't deny how pleasant it all was. A little music wouldn't have gone amiss, but then again the ambient sounds of kids and people talking in the open air was nice in its own right.

On our way home, a couple blocks from the parade, my partner and I saw someone who'd painted his face like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz. He might have been affiliated with the robot parade, or seen it as an opportunity to practice his face-painting, or really, it could have just been coincidence.

He had a drink in one hand and was dancing, sort of-- moving like one of the spray-painted buskers in Jackson Square. He was surrounded by laughing people; he was laughing himself. While I'm not here to tell anyone how they ought to feel about anything, I will say that those who didn't get what they wanted from the robot parade might do well to learn from this gentleman's example. Perhaps he too came out hoping for a grand spectacle he could passively watch or consume, but he was just as ready to step up and be the spectacle himself.

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