Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Paper Trail of New Orleans' Culture War; The Battle of New Orleans continues

Sometimes, things float across my line of sight from both sides of the wire, an indication of Friction in Paradise. This happened just yesterday, and with enough passion involved for me to take note.

  I received an email from City Hall, announcing 'The Campaign Against Signs on Public Property'. Great, I thought. Maybe those kabillions of John Georges campaign signs that littered St Claude Avenue during the race for mayor are a thing of the past. Maybe the endless supply of coroplast signs, a non-biodegradable plastic material, in our landfills, would come to a timely end. Maybe those kids who Georges paid (by financing their sports teams) to stand in the street, waving his signs & shouting at cars, would find something better to do than block traffic in the name of Another Rich Guy Who Wants To Be Elected To Something.

Then the patter began to rise about band & gallery fliers.
The email from City Hall reads:

"We are mindful that cultural businesses may host musical groups, have gallery openings or other such events that require advertising.  However, the law requires that you keep signs off of public property and do not distribute fliers on public streets and sidewalks."

There's various opinions about this, of course, including the belief that this will seriously hurt New Orleans performing musicians. I don't personally subscribe to this one, as the only time I've attended a 'fliered' show, it was so packed I couldn't get inside. I think it more notable that music licenses are so often withheld in the City Where Jazz Was Born. I imagine no end to the attendances that might be seen, should the music be allowed to play in the first place.

 Then there's the opinion that these fliers are legitimate art, and deserve a place in our society. This same argument was used regarding tagging graffiti, and begs the question of who decides what 'street art' can be posted, by the local artists or the Klan, or Koch brothers.
Again, the struggle to see & be seen in the world of art & entertainment is the battle all artists, be it on paper or in music, must face. Somehow, covering telephone poles with bits of paper doesn't seem to be an egress into that world, either.

And then, while informative, is it really worth the trouble to place these things on light pole, rather than on a privately owned store front or window? Certainly that works around the law while still allowing the fliers to be seen. And the very term 'Public Streets' brings to mind that fact that much of the public may NOT want to see or use this methodology. And theoretically, the majority rules, right?

This is when I got schooled by the guy who knows more about this than anyone I know...
Enter Rex Dingler of NOLA Rising.

Post K, Mr. Dingler took it upon himself to replace city street signs that were long missing, and yet to be replaced by the city. This lead to the hanging of more artistic signage, offering messages of hope, desperately needed at that dark time. Long story short, he encountered the attention of Fred Radtke, the Grey Ghost, who was much more inclined to roll bland grey paint over every single thing he saw that he found 'offensive', including entire traffic signs, if they held so much as a word of graffiti. Eventually, Mr Radtke had Rex dragged into court on about 50 charges of vandalism or some such rot. From what I understand, the judge found both the charges & Fred Radtke (who has since been arrested for vandalism, himself) ridiculous, and gave Dingler a slap on the wrist.
So, I assume Rex Dingler knows a little something about this.

At this point, I can hear you thinking "Fliers? Are you kidding me?"

But this is where we encounter the ugly term Rex pointed out to me, "Selective Enforcement", a standby of the Serpas Police Squads, and a handy tool for eliminating or gentrifying the culture of our city.

During the 2011 Mardi Gras season, a local hat & costume sale was busted & shut down like a wannabe meth lab, a book store & non-profit bike repair shop were closed, not by Quality of Life officers, but by the notorious 5th District NOPD. And most notably, the Eris parade was set upon by the same NOPD District, and hammered with chemical pepper spray & tasers, for parading without a permit and the vandalism of a few.
While 12 of the Eris paraders face charges over this, some of them felonious and with possible jail time, the NOPD officers who were under investigation for brutality have yet to be dealt with, except for their captain at the time, Bernedine Kelly, getting a quick wash, as she wasn't there, as if holding her responsible for the acts of rogue thug cops held water at all. As yet, the only evidence against the Eris 12 is the testimony of these same cops who were never properly investigated.
  During this same past Carnival, Mardi Gras Indians were, again, hassled by police. Even though this tradition predates the permit structure of New Orleans by generations, here they are, getting messed with like teenagers drinking dad's beer in the school parking lot. Again.

  While all this was going on, the Party on St Charles Avenue was in full swing. After Mayor Mitch announced that there would be absolutely no 'Parade Camps" on the St Charles neutral ground, there they were, back to back & side to side, stretching for over a mile, like some damp Burning Man village, with watchmen who stayed all night, and impromptu fences, so that one might have to walk a block down & back to simply cross their own street.

 The worst these thousands of offenders could expect was a $100 ticket, hardly a high price to pay for a private street side parade camp. Not a single arrest for this was noted. Nobody got a beating or chemical mace sprayed on them in front of their kids. Nobody got dragged to jail, to kneel in a hallway for 3 hours, bleeding, while a cop sprayed Lysol on their wounds, calling them 'motherfucker' and promising off duty retaliation.

If the City of New Orleans wants to clean up it's act, let it begin with a fair enforcement process, and equal justice, rather than applying these myriad 'Quality of Life' laws to the very culture that makes it interesting, driving it further beneath the radar, and in some cases, out of town completely.

While I have my doubts that the Saturn Bar is going to get raided over a few band fliers, those doubts are fading these days. It should be interesting to note how many political signs appear this fall, and beyond, as we swing into 2012, an election year for both our governor & president.

While opinions are still out on the value of The Flier as a viable advertising method in the days of Smart Phones & Face Book, et al, let there be no difference whatsoever in the treatment afforded John Georges vs Wildman John of the Wild Tchoupatoulas or the White Bitch performance schedule.

There is a Culture War going on in New Orleans, folks. While some of this legislation is much needed and worth consideration, it still has to pass public scrutiny, so I suggest paying attention. Of course, being out voted is an American right of passage, I know. But the selective enforcement of any law, good or bad, to control & persecute a selective group of individuals, in this case, the creative classes, less monied & connected than others, is a sure sign of Fascism, plain & simple.

Without these creative efforts, New Orleans would quickly become The Mall.
Without the liberty for creativity, the prognosis is worse: A society unable to create.
And this is a sure sign of the oncoming Death of The City Where Jazz Was Born.

If we are to be ruled by such confining ordinances, let them be applied across the board. The very first time you see a political sign on a neutral ground, take a picture of it, and demand prosecution. In the meantime, get out & see some music & art.
It's everywhere.

We just aren't allowed to leave you a note anymore.


Alexander Fleming said...

A lot I agree with you on, A lot well...from a guy who used to drive all the way here from shit town Gulfport to see the flyer wall, a guy who still stops his bike and reads the flyers to see who is coming to town, from a guy who used to book DIY punk bands...look...
Flyers work! Flyers attract a crowd. I know we are now in the internet age but they still work! You used to be in bands? Right? This is income! This helps pay bands and pay venues! Like I told you I just find the thing silly.Are they gonna go after lost dog flyers?
Culture war...yeah I'm glad I'm not the only one screaming that!

Alexander Fleming said...

One more thing...Call me paranoid but part of me sees this as a way to quietly run off venues who play "that kind of music"! Think about it...small venues who book DIY and metal acts can't really afford to advertise on the radio so they flyer the town. But..I admit I am a very paranoid person. OR AM I!!??? DA DA DUMMMMM!!!!!!!!!! * cue close up *

Lord David said...

First, let's deal with the second comment; I still beleive this is more directed at the indiscriminate signage that I see EVERYWHERE, from political signs (in season, of course) to the endless "I Buy Houses" & "Cheap Rooms for Latinos" or "Consolidate All The Money You'll Never Have" and so on. It's really pretty out of control out there, and much more than other cities I've seen.

On the other hand, yeah. Counter Culture is frequently seen as 'bad' or 'dangerous' or 'a rogue element' until it catches on, and then everybody takes credit for it, and it gets rammed down our throats until we hate the very mention of it.
I certainly beleive (Especially with Ms Clarkson in the mix) that there's a strong sentiment to create Disneyland where there used to be Jazz & Art & anything else untoward by creepy old lady standards. Consider it a bonus to having all the bullshit removed, that all the fertile ground will be gone with it. In my opinion, there's way to much of this going on in New Orleans these days, but then, I actually write to City Council members and go to hearings and shit, when it really gets under my skin.
Maybe we could put up fliers about it. Oh, wait...

As to the first comment, yeah. Right.
Twinkle the Dog fell into the wrong purse, and can't find her way home? Can't find your pet chickens? Your mad auntie wandered off in her slippers, wearing only the remote control? I hardly think that making those fliers illegal is going to help anything, any more than some neighborhood band fliers are going to bother anyone for very long.
But the nature of law makers is to make vast and sweeping judgements that only they can truly understand the beauty of, largely because there isn't any.

Again, I see a quickening current in New Orleans to cater to corporate investment, the New Citizens, and a cleaner, blander environment.
Unfortunately, as that environment gets sanitized, it also loses it's ability to bolster it's own immune system. Imagine Kenny G infections at Donna's (now closed. It's not hard to imagine Jazz Fest & Voodoo as becoming venues for mediocre bands that have no bearing whatsoever on New Orleans, Jazz, or even creative music, because it's already happening.

On the other hand, I can't imagine another city with such a wealth of wildly creative citizens as I've seen here. And keeping a lid on that is fucking impossible.
Personally, I intend to be as the water, which as we all know, gets in everywhere, no matter how you try to stop it. And instead of being contained & thwarted by these ordinances, to continually find new ways to break through, until the law makers who spend their time on such silly crap, while kids are killing each other & the mentally challenged die suspiciously in OPP, are overwhelmed themselves in trying to keep up with the creative elements of New Orleans, be they new or generations deep.

In any case, don't quit or give up over this little bump in the road. Look at what the Mardi Gras Indians have dealt with for the past hundred years.
And they ain't goin nowhere, brother. No way, no how.

Lord David said...

The unenforceable nature of this law has me baffled.

If "The Club" is to be fined $50 for every flier out there advertising it, wouldn't it be easy to drive one out of business by simply posting fliers for it, everywhere & all the time?

How can they be held responsible for the actions of another, anyway?

If someone chose to put up fliers for a business, without the knowledge of said business, how can that business be fined for those fliers, when they have nothing at all to do with it?

I suppose putting up endless fliers for City Hall is out of the question, even though it's deliciously intriguing...

Alexander Fleming said...

Dave, there is a lot of fun and mischief to be had with this! MUHAWHAHWHAHW!

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah! How about flyers for all the big-name real estate companies? And does this only apply to "real" businesses? What about Club Clarkson, "inoffensive music for the wealthy & bland"? Maybe fine the "club" & then add on a violation for running a business without the proper permits or licenses...

Laney GoMobile said...

Might I suggest that this ordinance violates constitutional rights of due process?

From 28,479:
("b) The existence of any illegal sign on the public right-of-way constitutes prima facie evidence that any individual or entity depicted or advertised on an illegal sign caused, authorized, allowed, or is allowing the placement or posting of the sign on public property and is in violation of this section."

As the commenter above suggests, anyone can post a sign referencing any one business or person. While this would violate fraud and defamation laws, that might not relieve identified party of guilt since the signage itself is prima facie evidence. This provision, while intended to make enforcement of this stupid law possible, is ripe for challenge.

Section A can also be challenged on First Amendment grounds. Seems classically over-broad to me.

"It shall be unlawful for any person or entity to post or paint advertisements of any kind on any street, sidewalk, public buildings, utility poles, light standards, street signs, parking meters, trees located in public right-of-way or traffic signal standards."
(Text of the ordinance available free of charge at

If members of the creative community want to preserve the non-mainstream culture in New Orleans, folks may want to be more aggressive politically. Its not much fun but its how democracy works.