Prof. Anthony Pennino to Present Paper at Southern Chapter of the American Studies Association 2013 Conference


Prof. Anthony Pennino (Assistant Professor, Literature) will be speaking at the Southern Chapter of the American Studies Association 2013 Conference to be held in Charleston, SC on Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2013. The title of the conference is "We All Declare for Liberty". Prof. Pennino's paper investigates the HBO series Treme (created by David Simon, The Wire) regarding its portrayal of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

Below is his paper abstract:

The paper explores and celebrates the unique blend of cultures – African, Caribbean, French, Spanish, Native - that constitute the city’s heritage and those who maintain unique practices of those traditions. The community faces many challenges that seemingly place its integrity and very existence in question.

Numerous characters, particularly in the show’s first season, express how they are losing a sense of their city’s heritage and culture and hence a sense of self. Simon dramatizes this construct in two important forms: the loss of the freedom of expression and the loss of the right to assemble. As to the former, Davis McAlary is arrested after a confrontation with the National Guard and decries that he lives in a city under occupation. Antoine Batiste is beaten by police officers and his trombone – his livelihood and his means of expression – is taken from him. As to the latter, Albert Lambreaux, Mardi Gras Indian chief, is stopped in his protests over the closure of city housing and kept in prison during Mardi Gras.

But for Simon the greatest loss results from a temporary evacuation from a natural disaster that evolves into a seemingly permanent diaspora. Many who fled have not or cannot or have been prevented from returning. New Orleanian culture is an oral one with traditions dating back to Congo Square. Take away the people, disperse them across the country, and the culture vanishes. New Orleanians need to be in their city with one another in order for their culture to survive and thrive, in order to be who they are. Will there be a Mardi Gras celebration in 2006? This question hangs like a pall over the entire first season. And in Simon’s construct, cultural expression is inexorably tied to one’s individual freedom.

Simon, though, is a wary optimist. Ultimately, the community slowly revives (as seen in Season Two), and the importance of French and Creole ritual and tradition are reasserted. The characters of the series come slowly to an important epiphany. Mardi Gras 2006 is celebrated because it serves as psychological salve for New Orleanians. It is freed from the shackles, if only momentarily, from the needs of the tourist industry. The characters of Treme rebuild the sense of community by turning to the past, by rediscovering the roots of their public rituals. So celebrating Mardi Gras serves as a raw need to express both cultural distinctiveness and political resistance; Carnival has once again become carnivalesque (in the Bakhtin sense).