Title: New Orleans Revisited: Tourism, Race, and Historical Memory after Katrina
Presented by: Lynell Thomas, UMass-Boston
Date: January 22, 2015
Location: Avery Research Center (125 Bull Street)
Overview: By the eve of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, collective dissent over the slow, uneven and inequitable recovery was displaced by a blitz of favorable media coverage that refashioned a tale of national disaster into a fable of American resilience and rebirth. In this presentation, Lynnell Thomas explores how events, such as the election of a white mayor, the New Orleans Saints’ NFL Super Bowl victory, the critical acclaim and local fandom surrounding the launch of the HBO television series Treme, BP’s tourism promotional campaign following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the positive national attention generated by the city’s neoliberal solutions to public education and affordable housing relied on and reclaimed the racialized tourist tropes central to New Orleans’s place identity. The city’s post-Katrina tourism narrative advances an idea of recovery that obscures painful post-Katrina realities. As the script of New Orleans’ recovery is being written, the city is poised to emerge as an international symbol of rebirth, renewal, and racial unity or a harbinger of the systemic social, economic, and ecological disasters that plague all U.S. metropolitan areas. The nation – indeed the world – is watching (and touring) to see which symbol will win out.