Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945

Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945

Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945

Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945

Synopsis

Between the World Wars, New Orleans transformed its image from that of a corrupt and sullied port of call into that of a national tourist destination. Anthony J. Stanonis tells how boosters and politicians reinvented the city to build a modern mass tourism industry and, along the way, fundamentally changed the city's cultural, economic, racial, and gender structure.Stanonis looks at the importance of urban development, historic preservation, taxation strategies, and convention marketing to New Orleans' makeover and chronicles the city's efforts to domesticate its jazz scene, "democratize" Mardi Gras, and stereotype local blacks into docile, servile roles. He also looks at depictions of the city in literature and film and gauges the impact on New Orleans of white middle-class America's growing prosperity, mobility, leisure time, and tolerance of women in public spaces once considered off-limits.Visitors go to New Orleans with expectations rooted in the city's "past": to revel with Mardi Gras maskers, soak up the romance of the French Quarter, and indulge in rich cuisine and hot music. Such a past has a basis in history, says Stanonis, but it has been carefully excised from its gritty context and scrubbed clean for mass consumption.

Excerpt

New Orleans existed, like only a few other American cities, in a realm
of mythology and fantasy and history and romance that made it more
than a mere city…. Like New York City, it is a center against which
America defines itself; and, perhaps more than New York, New Orleans
is our most foreign city. There the loose, drunken, partying society
we’ve come to think of as French and Catholic contrasts with the
Protestant and the straitlaced and the early-to-bed/early-to-rise English.
It is all myth. But in New Orleans’s romantic decay, it is possible to
project, and isolate, those antidotes to rectitude Americans want to
have.—Randall Kenan, Walking on Water

Randall Kenan’s observations at the end of the twentieth century suggest the power of New Orleans’s mythology. the myths identified by Kenan accentuate local uniqueness in a nation of homogenizing mass consumerism. Stories about the past, touched with fictitious embellishments, have defined New Orleans’s relationship to the modern world. An intertwined set of images and assumptions about New Orleans has penetrated the national consciousness. But how and when did the mythology emerge? For what purposes was it propagated? Why has it seeped so deeply into the American mind?

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