Posts tagged cliches

A Gumbo of Gumbos

September 6th, 2006

While checking for news on the Hungarian Bridge Naming Contest, I discovered that New Orleans and Budapest have even more in common than being subjected to ridiculous online polls.

It seems we’re both afflicted with tourists who butcher our cities’ names worst when they try to pronounce them most “accurately” (Boo-da-pesht is apparently the equivalent of N’Awlins), and journalists seem to find it exceptionally hard to write about either city without falling back on an arsenal of cliches, most of which revolve around foods beginning with the letter G.

Vandorlo of the Central Budapest Blog has dubbed such “semantic and cultural fudges” regarding Hungary goulash, so it only seems appropriate to call New Orleans and Louisiana chestnuts gumbo.

  • The number one gumbo is gumbo, of course. I don’t know whether Hungarian arts/music/culture etc. are ever referred to as “a goulash of xyz”, but I’ve grown a bit tired of hearing every mixture, aggregation, collection, or any other sort of group referred to as “a gumbo.” I realize there are plenty of local offenders, and it probably wouldn’t bother me as much if its use could be limited to people who know how to make a roux, or at the very least know what one is. And above all, no self-respecting Louisianan makes their gumbo toxic. Whatever foul soup it was that the Corps cooked up last year, gumbo it was not.
  • The hand-wringing “Should New Orleans be rebuilt?”: Forget about should. It was’t all gone to begin with, and it is being rebuilt. It isn’t going very quickly, but the reason for that is not that we’re waiting for the editorial staff at The Smallmindville Times to weigh in.
  • The Haves and the Have-Nots: The huge social and economic disparities in New Orleans are a very important topic, and I sincerely appreciate anyone who gives this topic a thoughtful, researched treatment. It’s not OK, however, to toss off a line or an allusion as if the whole story were The Looters versus Uptown Carnival Royalty — that does a disservice to the real issues of poverty and loss here.
  • New Orleans Music tributes that don’t include Hip Hop and/or Bounce: Full disclosure, I’m not a hip hop listener, and yes, plenty of the lyrics give me the creeps. But not liking it doesn’t make it OK to ignore the fact that it’s currently New Orleans’ most vital contribution to pop music. And besides, jazz was the vanguard of depravity once too. (Just picture: in a generation or two, pedantic aficionados hiding out in their basements with the entire ouevre of Cash Money Records on authentic period mp3 players, only pausing in their debates about the rise and fall of Master P to moan about the dangerous crap kids are listening to today.) Kelefa Sanneh at New York Times gets kudos for calling attention to the neglect of New Orleans hip hop, despite using the term “Gangsta Gumbo” in the title.
  • Stock photos/footage of Bourbon Street: I get all Uptown and pretend that it isn’t or shouldn’t be a part of the city, but it’s really not very representative unless it’s a tourism-specific topic. And do you really want your editor to know that’s all you did while you were here?
  • So there’s a few that have tended to particularly irk me. I’m still trying to catch up on my Katrina Anniversary media, but so far most of what I’ve seen hasn’t been too outrageous with cliches, although sometimes I’m bemused by the perspectives.