Skewering okay if it creates an equitable noise ordinance.

New Orleans needs more skewering of politicians and greedy residents and businesses when it comes to the legislation of an equitable noise ordinance.

Earlier this week I watched a splendid documentary on editorial cartoonist Herb Block aka “HERBLOCK”) who started his career in 1929. Block worked as a respected political cartoonist at the Washington post for many years.

Sample of Herblock's genius: his cartoon on Columbine.

Block took on every politician, every injustice that you can think of: everything from Hitler and rise of fascism and the Nazis; Joe McCathy,  Watergate and Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton. He was actually one of the most feared journalists in Washington, because he had a talent to produce a succinct drawing and a few choice words that could skewer and expose anti-semitism, Jim Crow, cover-ups, dirty politics and scandals. His aim was pitch-perfect.

Block started out a middle-of-the-road Republican but essentially turned into a liberal, advocated for liberal issues. He stood up for what he believed and he believed that the little guy was the basis of American democracy, and that an informed electorate was the foundation of a democratic way of life. “The worst kind of corruption is the acceptance of corruption,” he said. He was a man who wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. His role was to speak truth to power on the behalf of the people who couldn’t speak to power. He picked up on a cause and hit it again and again.
Block believed in and practiced the support of the public interest, and promoted social responsibility in drawing cartoons that skewered, exposed, and in some cases, savaged political corruption and over-the-top capitalistic greed. And once herb Block exposed an issue, others followed suit. He precipitated change, and he continues to do this, 13 years after his death through his foundation.

Wow. This man is my hero.

How often have I heard that in Louisiana, we seem to accept corruption. How sad is that? Does this mean that we need a little more oomph from local journalism to stir people up to really precipitate change?

An ill-informed electorate is not the way to maintain a democracy. I’ve mentioned this before, but a culture that’s obsessed by celebrity and needs to fill up time on the hundreds of televised news programs, internet sites (and blogs) with content—any content, disguised as news—doesn’t necessarily create an informed electorate.  It’s the obligation of journalism to keep an eye on politics, report on injustice and to, at times, editorialize on what’s right.

What Block did was so exceptional: with his pen, his wit and his talent: he made people think. He drew attention to an issue. Sometimes his cartoons were exaggerated, but they always made a sharp point. Because he expressed an opinion for what he thought was right, he managed to point out issues that actually may have precipitated positive change. That’s big.

Like I said, this guy is my hero, and I sure wish I could editorialize via cartoons because they surely do have an impact, if they’re done well (kudos to local cartoonist Walt Handelsman).

My dear husband is always saying that in order to make a real change, you may unfortunately have  to create anarchy, revolution, and sometimes violence. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s certainly in my nature to stir things up. Sometimes It’s the only way people will pay attention to an issue. This certainly applies to my comments on the noise issue over the past few years.

From what I’ve been able to determine, so far the recent brouhaha over the introduction of the VCPORA’s noise agenda has perhaps unwittingly worked to further the agenda of a reasonable compromise so that our musical culture is maintained; businesses that showcase music will be able to operate; and residents will be able to deal with the consequences. I think it’s disingenuous to think that the VCPORA’s “Seven Essential” points are viable. They are not. But neither is booming bass and loud cover bands that are pungent enough to drown out music in another club viable either.

However, I have a definite issue with the fact that politicians tend to listen more carefully to those people who contribute to their campaigns, rather to their entire constituency who can only get to them through their vote and not through their campaign funds. This is anathema in the democratic process.

As I have noted previously, the noise issue’s puppet master is attorney Stuart Smith, who regularly contributes to a number of political campaigns. (If you want to see who contributes to political campaigns go here). This will give you an idea of who is going to get the most traction when it comes to getting anything done with Louisiana politicians (this site also gives you information on lobbyists in the state; there are none who lobby for arts and culture that I can determine).

I know, I know…this is the way things work,unfortunately. So how do the standard-bearers for culture make sure that their issues are also in the game and are being considered? Does it mean that we need a music PACs to lobby politicians who need to consider the impact their action (or inaction) has on our musical culture? Do the clubs have to donate $1,000 a pop to make sure their interests are covered? The Mardi Gras Indians? The brass bands? Social aid and pleasure clubs?

We know that money talks. One person with money can get a lot more accomplished than a few citizens who don’t have the dough. Plain and simple…only numbers talk. Unless there are a lot of people who come out against an issue, we don’t have a shot in hell in being heard. This is where a group like MaCCNO comes in. This is also where OffBeat and other other editorial voices need to chim in. We need a Herb Block, but in the meantime, OffBeat will keep on pushing for music and culture.

One more thing: in the video of Monday’s meeting where voices were heard concerning the VCPORA-sponsored noise legislation, Councilmember Stacy Head said: ” I do hope that some of the hyperbole be brought down some and we can get to a point where some people may believe, and I think Ms. Ramsey may be one of them,  that we shouldn’t have any rules regulating sound. And that is a position, that is a position that some people can take, but on the other side there will be people who don’t want any noise, don’t want any sound, don’t want any noise to disturb the crickets. That’s also an irrational position.”

I would challenge Ms. Head to actually read the editorials and blogs on this issue where I have consistently said that enforcement is crucial and compromise was necessary, but that one side—that is bankrolled and promoted by a moneyed attorney with a penchant for winning his battles, no matter what the cost to our culture or city—should not be the voice that’s heard over the majority of citizens.

Sometimes “hyperbole” is needed to point attention to an issue that’s dominated by one side with money and power versus a majority that’s concerned, less powerful (read poorer) and needs to hear its voice heard.

I think Herb Block would approve.


  • Beadhead

    Sorry, Jan: Ms. Head is correct in pointing out that your editorials have been pretty much one-sided in advocating for music, period, and anyone troubled by volumes be damned. May I point out that Mr. Block’s cartoons didn’t succeed as they did due to hyperbole. The problem with one-sided positions is that they quickly become fodder for the equally obdurate opposition — a “see, we need a silence ordinance because they just want to make as much noise as possible” response. And, since (as you point out) they have the money, their hyperbole is more likely to be heard over your hyperbole. Better to take a more thoughtful position, devoid of hyperbole, and hammer away at a reasonable, balanced solution, i/m/h/o.

    • bigEZbob

      You don;t have to defend what you have never said, so Ignore Beadhead Jan.

      You are being heard and you are one of the only voices for those without money.

      An unreasonable plan disguised and positioned as 7 essential points is hyperbole. The word essential is not an accident. It is used to give the impression that it is more than an opinion, more than the interests of a select few with lined pockets. The only hope for a real solution is to continue to engage and involve those without money but with a voice. If that takes organizing parades and public displays of support then good!!.

      Our LOUD voice will serve to do two things those with cash fear. 1 it will keep this issue in the eyes of the public and away from a back room deal solution 2 and this is the more important result. It will convince those who join this cause, that a determined group of people without money can still influence this issue and come election time influence who gets in, based on how they resolved this issue-big cash money be damned!!