Chewbacchus vs. Tradition

Yesterday’s Jarvis DeBerry’s column recaps last week’s brouhaha over whether or not the Krewe of Chewbacchus should call a parade a tribute to Carrie Fisher a “second line.”

I myself once gently chided Bike Easy’s Executive Director for calling a semi-annual 10-mile bike event a Bicycle “Second Line.”

In my brain, a second line is a traditional New Orleans parade that has deep cultural roots in the African-American community. It’s the basis for many brass band traditions, and in some ways, it’s totally iconic of the deepest of New Orleans musical traditions.

But over the years, as Chelsea Brastead’s research revealed, the term “second line” has become corrupted to mean any small parade that is permitted through the city (note her research pointed out that the vast majority of hundreds of permits for “second lines” are for weddings). Second lines are, well, fun. They’re celebratory in a basic human way. Everyone loves a second line parade.

How is this different from seeing “Mardi Gras Indians” in full regalia in Jackson Square soliciting tips? Or seeing a billboard that blasts “MardiGras.com” to suck in some more page views? Or changing Bourbon Street from a haven of music and burlesque to a street of debauchery, drunkenness and topless co-eds? Or Frenchmen Street, a once-quiet place for lovers of local music that has turned into a tourist-dominated party area with “weed” trucks, illegal street vendors, and barkers luring passers-by into hear cover bands (please note that there are still come classy and authentic music-oriented places on both Bourbon and Frenchmen).

The point is that everything—including culture—can be, and is being, co-opted for the almighty dollar.

Let’s call it like it is: we don’t value our sacred and unique cultural traditions enough to make sure that they are preserved and presented exclusively in a cultural context. Those days are over. We’ve moved into a new world of fake authenticity, skin-deep disguised as substance, and entertainment-everything. It’s not real cultural tradition.

This is not just in New Orleans. So it is in America, too. Whenever there’s a buck to be made, someone will find a way to exploit culture for money. It’s a pity and a shame, but that’s just the way it is. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to make a buck (after all, this is a nation that is steeped in capitalism), but at some point in time, there will be nothing real left. The authenticity that has made New Orleans so attractive to so many people throughout the world is slowly being subsumed. And as anyone in arts, culture and music knows, there’s not a helluva lot of money to be made in America if you’re an artist or a cultural standard-bearer because art and culture are not what is valued here.

So what else can we expect?

Do we dump on Chewbacchus for doing what everyone else does on an almost daily basis? I think not; that’s not fair. I would challenge the people who are the authentic creators and guardians of the arts and culture to come together to create a strategy to keep cultural activities pure and to make them more easily discernible, if that’s possible. Maybe develop standards that comprise an “authentic” second line, and license those criteria. At least consumers would more easily understand the concept that it’s a cultural event, not just entertainment you can pay for.

And how about we come up with some new traditions? Like a Chewbacchus parade, maybe? Just do it all with respect, and we’ll be better off.

What’s your opinion on “Chewbacchus-Gate” and second line parades? Take our poll and get a chance to win tickets to see Ron Gallo at Gasa Gasa on Friday January 13.

  • Michael

    Jan I think you are missing a critical point that fueled the controversy- specifically not just dilution of the culture, but the attitude of Chewbacchus. Specifically, it’s founder comparing critics (including Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs) to a “tyrannical Empire” and claiming he was “giving Carnival back to the people,” suggesting critics were opposed to “inclusiveness” rather than cultural appropriation, and ironically co-opting the term “won’t bow down.” This arrogance feels different than tourists buying a permit.

  • Jay

    I think a good place to start would be use some of those fees for those wedding “second lines” to defray the costs of the real parades. Perhaps even raising those fees making it slightly more expensive and again using that money to defray the real cultural activities…

  • Becky Rosaly

    Uh dude. We already have a chewbaccus parade. Weve had them for a few years….