Confession: I am a stone-cold fan of HBO's "Treme" for a thousand reasons ~ most importantly the way they show the intricate, complicated, non-linear, beautiful, offensive and life-changing ways that race and culture shape so much of who we are, what we say and how we live into our lives as Americans. And I was blown away by the closing segment of season two wherein a variety of story lines overlapped to show how caring for the common good involves feeding our better angels on humility
In this clip, DJ Davis, a rich white boy from Old NOLA money who loves the diverse musical culture of his city, has been told that his old timey jazz-funk-rap band has landed a new record contract. Only problem is, the label wants him out. This breaks his heart because he is a true musical pioneer, but his talent never quite matches his vision. So, in his swan song before bidding his musical mates farewell, he satirizes his plight by adopting an ULTRA white persona on stage - almost George W Bushish - while performing the Godfather of Soul, James Brown's, "Sex Machine. Freakin' brilliant.
At the same time, another story line involving a skanked-out, white guitar player who is slowly being brought to sobriety by working every day on a shrimp boat owned by a savvy old black man, brings the arch of his love story to a close. In order for the guitar man to even think about dating a young Vietnamese woman, he must prove himself to her daddy - another shrimper - so he goes out on daddy's boat in the Gulf for three days. And after the ordeal - during which daddy puts him through his paces - the father welcomes the dude into a Vietnamese karaoke family dinner so that a proper courtship across race, class and culture might begin.
What knocks me out about all of this is that Treme explicitly exposes our fears of race and class while never exploiting them. Sometimes the writers show us what can happen personally and socially when EACH of us does our own inner work. This episode offers a vision of a stronger, more loving way to live than our current polarized, hate-filled and fear based existence. At other times, however, we see how human fraility and even sin is too much take as people are murdered on the street or even take their own lives.
That's the beauty of this visual novel: it explores our quest for our better angels in a way that honors the hard and messy work of nourishing a multi-cultural life without sentimentality. It reminds us that even our mistakes can be used to grow more healthy if we're prepared to embrace them with humility. And it drives this home with music, art and culture - not only giving much of America a taste of the true New Orleans - in a way that is energizing, tender, often fun and harsh but never preachy.
Like DJ Davis, we're asked to learn to laugh at ourselves in humility so that we all might make better music together. (And for those who might need a cultural comparison, here's the man himself singing: get uppa!)
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