Imagine 70,000 people on one city block, on one special day, all there for one purpose. Imagine over $100 million going into bringing those people together. Imagine a Super Bowl atmosphere, complete with the media frenzy and global interest in what is happening on that day on that block.
Sounds magical, doesn’t it?
Now, imagine that the city block the masses have come to is in Gentilly, or Mid-City, or Lakeview, or the 9th Ward, or New Orleans East. Imagine that they are not there to sit in a comfortable seat and watch grown men play a game on artificial grass, but have come together to be part of the action and participate in the rebuilding of that neighborhood. Imagine how much work could get done.
Yeah, I know. I don’t believe in magic either.
I will be one of those fans in that number this Monday. I plan on seeing Rebirth at the pre-game show. I will then head home and turn down my TV and turn up my radio. I will yell at the TV (and more strangely, the radio) and lil’ po’ boy will imitate me, leading to yet another words-we-say-only-around-daddy conversation.
If the Saints win, I will be elated. If the Saints lose, I will still be elated. Okay, I will be deflated first, but elated afterwards that they’re at least losing at home again.
But I can not pretend like this Monday’s game is the best thing that has happened in the recovery of New Orleans. I felt the same way about Mardi Gras. People want to make this a symbol that the recovery is going just fine:
Joe Horn said that the quick repair of the Superdome should give people a sense of hope that the rest of the city can bounce back.I am not so sure that a functioning Superdome is a symbol of a functioning city. If the city were functioning properly, this game would not be such a big deal. It would be expected.
"If you can rebuild a place that's 1.9 million square feet," Horn said, "you should be able to come back here and rebuild a 3,000-square foot house."
Make a list of all the services a city needs to function. From health care, to police, to firefighters, to electricity, to sewerage and water, to small businesses, to infrastructure upkeep, to housing – none of them are “bouncing back.” Limping back, maybe. But no bouncing.
This Monday we will prove to the nation that we can still put on a world class show – even when we haven’t yet recovered. But the next day, will anybody be trying to prove to the city’s residents that we can put on a world class recovery? Anybody?
Let me repeat: I will be in that number. I will be distracted for a day by Jesus in cleats (“Cleatus” for short?). But it’s only one day, and I am not waiting for a savior to come down from on high to fix New Orleans. I don’t believe in Jesus in a Tyvek suit.
People are making money off this game. That’s why there is so much attention. The NFL and ESPN want this game to be like a Super Bowl so they can make Super-Bowl-like money off of it. I didn’t expect a lot of the real news of the recovery to be told this weekend. The money makers want this Monday to be pleasant for all the money spenders. The news need not always be pleasant.
Edward R. Murrow said in 1958:
We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.We in New Orleans are not, for the most part, wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have gotten over our built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. We had to.
But the rest of the country lives in a pre-Katrina world. They will be sitting on their fat surpluses Monday night distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the totally different picture we see down here every day.
I am not saying don’t enjoy the Saints or don’t go to the game. I know I’ll be enjoying the game. I’m just saying that this game will not change my opinion of the recovery.
Only a recovery will change my opinion of the recovery.
EDIT: Yes, symbolism.
"When people come in here and see what's been done in less than a year's time," says Doug Thornton, general manager of the building and the driving force behind its revival, "they are going to say, 'If the Superdome can be rebuilt after that tremendous destruction, my house can be rebuilt, my neighborhood can be rebuilt and my city can be rebuilt.' So much of this recovery is about confidence and belief. You've got to want it to happen. You've got to believe it. This is symbolism."