Sunday, March 15, 2009

FEMA: We All Ask'd For You!* Mardi Gras Revelers vs. FEMA: Public Protest During Carnival after Hurricane Katrina

The act of transgression upon which humour is based, casts doubt upon every preconceived and sacred idea. Moreover, it challenges every idea, and thus brings in a new point of view which debunks and gives the situation a more human dimension. Gabriele Pasquali

Michael Parsons, speaking broadly of the definition of the role of levity in analysis, believes that humor, jokes, games, and ‘play’ allow us to explore our hostile impulses to eradicate wrongs we experience and to mediate our desire to simultaneously ‘know’ and ‘not know’ our painful and traumatic reality. He conjectures that this mediation process occurs through the mechanisms of the comic, the romantic, the tragic, and the ironic.

The comic is expressed by a wish for a happy ending. The romantic involves a quest like journey that ends in the achievement of some objective. Harder to metabolize are the tragic and the ironic. The tragic, says Parsons addresses the trauma, frightening realities of life. The ironic highlights life's paradoxes, ambiguities, and contradictions, offering us some objectivity from the traumatic. Whereas, the tragic shocks us into the recognition of the seriousness of life with its stark deprivations and suffering; the ironic enables us to bear the tragic, not by denying it, but by ‘playing’ with it imaginatively.

Gabriele Pasquali writes that humor “lowers the anxiety to a bearable level” through facing our pain and suffering and working out its causes. Humor transforms us from the sense that we are being devoured “by an unmanageable panic" into a feeling capability and mastery.

Nowhere cane we find a better example of the use of comedy, tragedy and irony than in the expression of disapproval and discontent with public officials and public policy in Carnival spectacles in New Orleans. With its endless ability to adapt to changing conditions, New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrants used Carnival season after Hurricane Katrina struck to mount a collective expression of outrage at failed leaders, failed leadership, corporate greed, and the massive betrayal of public trust targeted directly at the mishandling of Katrina relief efforts.

In the Mardi Gras periods after Hurricane Katrina, floats, tee-shirts, costumes, placards and signs have emerged with characteristic ostentatiousness of past Carnivals protesting the relief efforts.
Leigh C. wrote in her blog about the Krewe of Chaos’s 2006 parade that ‘Hades - A Dream of Chaos,’ was a “masterpiece of spoofs on everything from failed leadership to nasty refrigerators to a ‘Chocolate Divinity’ float whose riders tossed out special cups with the float drawn on them.” She continues, “homemade Carnival costumes included some more blue tarp suits, folks wearing large 45s of the top ten Katrina hits (among them "Up On the Roof" and "When the Levee Breaks"), …, people dressed as MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, given out by the federal authorities to the earliest returning residents), and people in cleanup gear with small graffitied refrigerators, pushing a Katrina Deli cart serving up some nasty treats.”

The Krew of Levee-te, appeared in 2006 steering a faux food cart called “Katrina Deli” which offered a ‘limited menu’ with starters such as ‘Levee Leak Soup’ or ‘Oysters Hepatitis-B ienville,’ entrees such as ‘Bush Baloney Sandwhiches,’ and concluded with selections such as ‘Furniture Upside Down Cake.’

New Orleans Times Picayune reporter, Steve Ritea, commented on the “hurricane humor” from the French Quarters to the suburbs. In the Quarters he interviewed “Mitchell Gaudet, whose costume not-so-subtly suggested the city's getting screwed." Quoting Gaudet, Ritea noted, ‘Look at me. I'm in a giant . . . foam fleur-de-lis with a screw through it, and people are embracing me.’ In the suburbs, during the “the Covington Lions Club and Mystic Krewe of Covington parades, a couple parading vehicles included banners reading ‘1-800-4NO Help’ and ‘Got Insurance -- Sorry That Ain't Covered.’”

PrariePundit, Merv Benson, explained that the Krewe du Vieux “has used its parade to mock corporations and politicians every year for the last two decades.” “The 2006 parade, theme ‘C’est Levee,’ is a pun on the French phrase ‘C’est la vie,’ meaning ‘that’s life.’ He reported that “floats and props built for the Saturday evening parade in the French Quarter included hand-pulled carts elaborately decorated with blue tarps, fake broken levees, cardboard travel trailers and effigies of Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco. One display asked France to buy Louisiana back, suggesting the state might get better treatment than it has from the American government. And in place of a parade map, the Krewe du Vieux had a ‘projected path’ adorned with a swirly hurricane symbol.”

From a psychoanalytic perspective, humor can be said to have enabled parade goers to become aware that they were surviving the sadistic attacks by government and corporate authorities that came to be experienced as controlling, dominating, and humiliating them. Humorous spectacles were used to subvert authority and to point out its’ absurdities, its’ capriciousness; its’ deviousness; its’self-interestedness; its’ indifference and ultimately, its’ inhumanity.

In turbulent times, humor helps us contain contradictory emotions of the desire for revenge, the desire for justice with the feelings of helplessness and uncertainty that can threaten to overwhelm the psyche. Ribald parody offers revelers the satisfaction of a communal affirmation of their reality and experiential validation of the absurdity of the shared material burdens imposed on them by the officials who have broken the public trust.

*“They All Ask'd For You,”
popular carnival song by The Meters

I wennon down to dee Audubon Zoo

An day all axt fuh you
day all axt fuh you, (fuh who?)
Well day even inquired about chuh'
I wennon down to dee Audubon Zoo

And day all axt fuh you
Duh mounkeys ast,
duh tiguhs ast
And duh elephant axt me too


Benson, M. Saturday, February 11, 2006, C'este Levee Marid Grau parade,

liprap. Tuesday, February 28, 2006
P.j. Huffstutter (March 01, 2006). The Joke is on Katrina, Los Angeles Times

Pasquali, G. (1987). Some Notes on Humour in Psychoanalysis. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 14:231-236.

Parsons, M. (1999). The Logic of Play in Psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 80:871-884.

Ritea, S. March 1, 2006 Rolling with the punches: Battered and bruised, New Orleans puts on a show for the world, Times Picayune


Photos of Menu People

Skooksie Photostream

Photos of Katrina Deli were taken by me at the Southern Museum of Food and Culture, New Orleans, LA 3/17/09
The copyright of the article FEMA: We All Ask'd For You!* Mardi Gras Revelers vs. FEMA: Public Protest During Carnival after Hurricane Katrina in “City of Spirits:” Psychoanalysis and South Culture on the T-BIPS blog is owned by Kim Vaz. Permission to republish FEMA: We All Ask'd For You!* Mardi Gras Revelers vs. FEMA: Public Protest During Carnival after Hurricane Katrina in print or online must be granted by the author in writing. Contact Kim Vaz at

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