As described in films, songs, and literary works, New Orleans is perhaps most commonly associated with carnival or Mardi Gras, a festival that signifies the city’s celebration of life’s joys whilst revealing hidden struggles over social class and racial issues…
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As stated by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, “Mardi Gras was a smoke signal to the rest of the world that New Orleans is on its way back” (Gotham 2007d, 170). Even though Hurricane Katrina severely destroyed the city, local authorities declared the 2006 Mardi Gras as a sign of New Orlean’s revival. Hundreds of news outlets from across the globe made a trip to New Orleans to broadcast the Carnival celebrations to audiences all over the world. This essay analyses the celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, particularly the challenge of reconciling commercial interests and the preservation of local traditions.
Overview For New Orleans, Mardi Gras symbolises many. It expresses not just the day prior to Ash Wednesday, but the local custom of ‘performing’ Mardi Gras. Assemblies of costumed participants in trucks or riding on horseback wander around the streets of New Orleans. At least twenty Mardi Gras could be performed in a year, but the festivities are different in various communities (Gotham 2007c, 320). One aspect that has remained is the tradition of racially divided Mardi Gras performances. Both Afro-French Creoles and Cajuns perform Mardi Gras, but normally separately. Numerous Cajuns, tourists, and marketers currently relate Mardi Gras performances wholly to Cajun traditions, in what is referred to as the ‘Cajunisation’ of Mardi Gras. Performing Mardi Gras symbolises Cajun culture, even though for several partakers trying to show their Cajun identity, this could be mainly a symbolic culture (Stanonis 244). Nevertheless, Mardi Gras performances as representations of ethnic identity are somewhat new. Throughout the 20th century, Cajuns aspiring for Americanisation view French Louisiana traditions, and Mardi Gras particularly, as ‘primitive’. By the mid-20th century, community recognition of Mardi Gras performances— widely related to aggression and drunkenness—had gradually disappeared, and the Second World War terminated almost all existing performances (Ware 157). Most community Mardi Gras performances vanished completely. The first to purposefully re-create its Mardi Gras culture in the 1950s was the city of Mamou. Local cultural advocates, inspired by a ‘deliberate sense of tradition’ (Ware 157), agreed to restore and rebuild Mamou’s inactive Mardi Gras performances, making it less risky and more reputable than before. The Mamou Mardi Gras eventually became very popular, the first Mardi Gras performance to attract huge numbers of tourists. The beginning of what Nicholas Spitzer refers to as a ‘romantic cultural revival’ started transforming the public reputation of French Louisiana traditions in the latter part of the 20th century (Ware 157-158; Statononis 248). Cajuns began renewing their ties to their language, music, and other customs. Heritage tourism emerged in the 1980s. Local leaders “began desperately to look around for the ideas to develop and diversification became the buzz word of the decade” (Ware 158). Their plan was to endorse, support, and advertise their own heritage. Nowadays, Mardi Gras also is a vital seasonal festivity in New Orleans. Policies to Enrich New Orleans’s Mardi Gras For hundreds of years, Mardi Gras and Carnival have been strongly embedded into New orleans’s social realm and have consistently conveyed the city’
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