PBS's American Experience seeks to answer that question in its program airing tonight. In New Orleans, the show runs from 8:00 PM to 10:00PM on our local PBS affiliate, WYES. Check your local PBS listings if you live elsewhere.
Whether you love New Orleans or hate it, whether you dream of coming here, you've always lived here or are a recent transplant or replant, whether you will stay and fight or are planning your escape, watch this program.
And if you think we're all just a bunch of deadbeats living in a below-sea-level garbage dump that the world would be better off without, it is absolutely crucial that you watch this program.
New Orleans has never been an easy place to understand without having had more than a casual experience of the city. And when you do understand it, it's never easy to put into words. From Dave Walker's Times Picayune article on the two-hour program, filmmaker Stephen Ives says:
One of our jokes in the office was that we should have a subtitle for the film: 'New Orleans: A Complicated History,' " Ives said. "It's the most complicated subject I've ever encountered, and I've done the American West, which is fiendishly complex. In New Orleans, everything is more nuanced and multifaceted than it first appears. There are shades of gray and brown and black and white and everything in between. As soon as you think you've got it figured out, it moves.Please watch this program --and I'm primarily talking to my non-New Orleanian readers, who don't know this place like the rest of us do. I really want you to know us better. And I especially want the nay-sayers to understand the value that is here, so please spread the word to these folks too, and to everyone else.
This city is important.
Watch it tonight on PBS.
Please spread the word.
(Thanks to Mark for the heads-up.)
UPDATE: Well, I had the impression that this program was going to put the economic and cultural value of New Orleans in its proper national perspective but now I'm not quite sure that this was ever the film's aim. I do think it was well done as a historical documentary. I'm not really a *history* kinda person, and as such, I can say that I really learned a lot from watching it. But I don't necessarily believe that the people who think "we're all just a bunch of deadbeats living in a below-sea-level garbage dump that the world would be better off without" will have their minds changed by this program. I hope I'm wrong.
I'd love to hear what others thought about it.