Last night, I went over the Kim's house and watched the first episode of Treme on HBO.
The series inspired a brigade of reviews, from news sources across the country. It also generated a great deal of internet presence, including a facebook following, "Tremeter" at Humid Beings, and my favorite - the NOLAblogga all star lineup of commentary at Back of Town.
So there's not a lot I could write that hasn't already been written. I'll not pick nits (anyone else notice the clean Superdome roof in the pan-out shot?) because this thing is fiction. It is telling a story within a wider historical construct, and that is a story that needs to be told.
What I will say is this: I think Treme will teach people more about America than it will teach people about New Orleans. We will know sometime in the next 10 weeks if Americans can handle having their pre-concieved notions dressed up and fed back to them as crow gumbo. We will see if realistic fiction based off true events wins out in the battle against pure make-believe narrative. We will see if selling a drama can change a set of beliefs. And the experimental group includes 30 million plugged in American households with HBO.
But I've already read some discouraging words written by people who should know better. From one advanced review, we hear that the Treme characters are straight out of central casting. From another, I read that the professor character speaking truth-to-power labeled as a "conspiracy theorist" for blaming the flooding on man-made, explosive-free levee collapse. From a third, we hear that the idea of prisoners vanishing for three months is the stuff of police dramas and detracts from the believability of the series.
Really? Is it easier to believe that New Orleans is a girls-gone-wild video surrounded by looting? Is that narrative too entrenched for even an HBO series to dig out?
As I watched the show last night, I found myself terribly distracted. Not by any particular thing the show got "wrong," and not because I wondered if the show made sense to folks who just don't know New Orleans.
I found myself worrying that people simply may not believe things like this can exist.
Will the idea that people dance in the streets, even surrounded by debris, be rejected as too fantastic? Will the traditions of the Mardi Gra Indians not be exploited, but dismissed as part of the "fiction" element of the series? Does Kermit Ruffins appear to those people as a character out of "central casting?" Maybe the music is too brash and too ballsy to cut through the pop culture static infecting too many ears. Nobody really plays music like that, do they? I'm not worried about people being nitpicky about a pie that should not have existed at a certain time, I'm worried about people not believing that pie existed at all.
Because I've already seen plenty of smart people reject a historical fiction's truths in favor of pure make-believe.
I'll keep hoping these fears are unfounded.