Rising Tide 7 :: Community or Commodity?
We’ve all heard it said that “tourism is the lifeblood of the New Orleans economy.” The city is a frequent host to major conventions and high-profile special events and boasts a burgeoning film industry subsidized by a generous state tax credit.
But as the city’s economy becomes more and more dependent on the selling of its culture and entertainments, does the commodification of those elements also stifle them? As we focus more and more on selling “what makes New Orleans New Orleans” to visitors, at what point does the culture produced and revered by the city’s residents cease to belong to them anymore?
At times it feels like our most beloved public spaces are always up for sale. Jackson Square becomes the site of a private corporate party, the Superdome gets a hood ornament, the city streets are frequently appropriated by film crews, the sidewalks become guerrilla advertising vectors. Residents can be forgiven for wondering whether just going about the business of living their daily lives they might be interfering with the set of a commercial… or maybe an HBO drama. Even the Mayor, at times, doesn’t make distinguishing what’s real from what’s fake any easier.
What, then, are the real costs and benefits of the “cultural economy” in New Orleans?