Sunday, May 09, 2010

Treme and Authenticity

Not surprisingly, given that it comes from David Simon of Wire fame, I'm a big fan of the new HBO program Treme. One of the main subtexts the show, which is set in New Orleans just three months after Katrina, is the issue of authenticity. I often find questions of authenticity in virtually any context to be static and tedious. Nonetheless, when it comes to Treme such questions have risen to the surface of a good deal of the discussion. This past week on The New Republic's website two writers tackled this issue. One, Ruth Franklin, basically argues that Treme does not replicate the "real" New Orleans, and that's a good thing. John McWhorter, meanwhile, argues that Treme has created an impossible standard by obsessing on authenticity:

What’s especially challenging is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t quality: criticize New Orleans, or even don’t pay quite enough attention, and you’re a chump—but praise it and you’re probably doing it wrong. “Treme” is like a park with a sign that says “Welcome” followed by a long list of “Do Not”’s.

I can see McWhorter's point. Ironically enough two of the white characters are the most annoying on this front. Nonetheless, for me the power of the show comes in its ability to ask discomforting questions and to come up with only partially satisfying answers. You should be watching it.

No comments: