Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mardi Gras

Well, another Mardi Gras has come and gone for the city of New Orleans. I've gone to a few festivals, but haven't attended any as much as I have Mardi Gras, which has been a consistent milestone in my life since I moved to New Orleans in 3rd grade.

But, as many people ask, what is it? Like most things New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a strange amphibian, slippery and resistant to categorization or explanation, but more and more I've found myself comparing it to the major festivals around the country, musical and otherwise. Unfortunately, its national reputation has been boiled down to little more than a girls gone wild video, deterring a lot of would be revelers. At times I wish we could attract all kinds to the party, including more creative/artistic types, not just friends of friends and drunk college kids looking to see boob. I'm especially convinced of this because I think so much of what is emphasized at other national festivals is something that grows naturally in New Orleans, and does so without any specific dogma or marketing. So here's my go on why Mardi Gras is the best festival in America.

1. It's Multi-Generational: There's an incredible thrill as a child to see your teachers, parents, friends parents, grandparents, baby cousins, and neighborhood weirdos all gathered in the street doing exactly what you're doing--enjoying themselves. There's no age for Mardi Gras, and there's something for everyone.

2. It Spans Socio-Economic class: Sure, the richer you are, the more likely you are to be on a float, go to balls and dress up fancy, etc. etc. But on the whole, it would be hard to make the argument that these experiences are in any way 'better' than just the regular guy watching the parade, or riding on the truck floats, or waking up early to bbq in his backyard. Unlike most festivals, the concept of a "VIP" pass to the event would be ridiculous. Its one of the few festivals when having money/status doesn't translate into a better experience.

3. It's not motivated by Money: To the above point, unlike almost every other festival, Mardi Gras was not created to make money. Krewes don't get anything for having parades (they just lose dough), and although the tourism generated from the event is certainly an economic boon for the city, it wasn't as some mastermind manufactured it for that purpose. Plus, there's tons of free stuff all over the place. Sometimes I think I could go through a whole mardi gras just grabbing beers from random folks, eating the occasional hot dog that floats by and munching on the moonpies they throw out, not spending a dime.

4. It's limitless: While this is not entirely true, as all Mardi Gras' begin and end, the possibilities for what your Mardi Gras are seemingly limitless. Want to dress up in elaborate costumes and wander around? Check. How about listen to music every night? Sure. Be in a krewe and throw beads? Done. Watch as the parades go by? Course. Go to house parties every night? K. How bout clubs? Why not? Since every type of person is involved in the celebration, any type of party you can imagine is happening at any given time during the course of the festival. The only hard part is finding it.

5. It has no 'point': This is the best thing about Mardi Gras. There's nothing you're suppose to 'get' about it. It doesn't have a message, it's not trying to make a statement, and no one's out there trying to prove anything to you. It's a celebration of life for life's sake. The only point is to try and enjoy yourself, exactly in the way you like best, and as long as you let others do the same then you are doing Mardi Gras right.


  1. Allow me to play the devil's advocate.

    While there may be no "point" to Mardi Gras today (or is there?), its origins have been sanitized and glamorized. Mardi Gras was intended as a form of social control, a flaunting and displace of class. Even today, only the social elite are on the floats and the parade routes are through upper-class streets. Furthermore, have you noticed the segregation that still exits within the krewes? There is a sobering documentary about where the beads come from and where they end up that will alter your perception and, possibly, enjoyment of Mardi Gras. Beyond the festivities and joie-de-vivre, "the mind-forg'd manacles I hear."