Feeling Place

Curator's Note

While we might explain the "newsworthiness" of the adjacent clip as a reaction to the ways in which Rep. Melancon violates some of our assumptions about gendered, national, and even regional identities (i.e., How do we frame a story about a southern statesman who cries?), I want to posit that it makes a much more radical statement about our sense of place in an increasingly mediated world.

At the very least, the congressman’s emotional display ruptures any sense of place as neutral, static, or meaningless. Sure, we might assume place is just a passive entity—somewhere we pass through, fly over, or walk by without much further thought. Yet, seeing Melancon choke back tears not only forefronts just how deeply rooted our identities are in particular places, but also makes clear how much emotion and meaning we invest in these "mere" locations. After all, home is much more than a spot on a map.

Additionally, in the wake of the BP Oil Spill (and, earlier, Hurricane Katrina), I think it is fair to say Coastal Louisiana has become a site of frenzied mediation. It continually reappears across our newspaper and magazine pages, broadcast and cable networks, and Internet sites.  These narratives and images bring so many of us at a distance into much closer proximity to the tragedy at hand—but to what a/effect?

I worry that our experience of this place is inextricably bound up with its representation. That is, our connection to the actual place itself is loose and incidental.  We briefly learn from the incessant (yet, fleeting) news coverage how to care about "them" over "there" without ever being fully implicated ourselves.

Again, I think this clip works to reframe our sense of place in a crucial way. Here, the marshes are not only constitutive of Melancon’s identity, but also central to a larger sense of nationhood. The marshes are, in fact, "America’s wetlands." The sense of "us" and "them" might waver ever so slightly in this moment as the affective qualities of place are shared across multiple communities, making the rest of us feel just as emotionally invested—equally at home—in the Gulf Coast as the congressman.


Very interesting note. I agree with your statement "We briefly learn from the incessant (yet, fleeting) news coverage how to care about 'them' over 'there' without being fully implicated ourselves." With messages that continue to support that, I wonder what influence these messages will have on what happens next?

It's a really good question. The pessimist in me worries such messages will work to displace our concerns and responsibilities (see: Haiti), but maybe there are some messages out there working to counteract this tendency? I just don't know of any (yet!).

Kevin: many thanks for getting us off to a great start this week.

I respond particularly to your idea about coastal Louisiana as bound up in its representation, and how we respond to it. Of course there's the actual news events, but now there's Treme, which takes place in NOLA and deals with the fallout of Katrina.

But also tellingly is that people are hyper-aware of Louisiana now, and want businesses to go there. Another TV example is Memphis Beat, which is shot in Louisana but is supposed to be Memphis. Which city is really being represented and for what purposes?

And another: ABC's The Gates is being filmed in Shreveport.

I love this question, and I'm not entirely certain where I stand in response, particularly because it hits squarely on some points I'm thinking through for an upcoming conference proposal. Here are two ideas I'm tossing around at the moment:

1. Place as an economic advantage hits upon the ways various locales are competing across the country (and the world) for the type of run-a-way filming you reference. Vancouver often is the default example here. But what I like about the LA example (and something I think you're hinting at) is way the economic imperatives for filming there increasingly are bound up with the affective or symoblic benefits of doing the same. We might start to consider the ways in which it becomes meaningful to film in LA other than the purely financial.

2. Treme brings up the importance of race (something I wanted to reference in my original post but couldn't work around to it). In reference to my clip, I think its ability to reframe our sense of place is very much linked to the congressman's identity. In general, the same emotional display from someone with a differently racialized idenity might not work in the same way. In Treme, specifically, I worry that race is conflated too easily with authenticity. That is, the 'real' story about this place is over 'there' with 'them.' I'm not disregarding the import of the show at all--it's an important intervention into the dominate narrative we are told/tell of the city--but I can't shake the slight nagging feeling I get each time I watch it ...

I liked the perspective shift this provides taking us from his display of personal attachment to a place – the marshlands- to suggesting that we (if American) should also see it as OUR place and shed a tear. Which I did.
It is interesting that male tears are what is newsworthy here rather than the environmental policy meeting. It tells us that facts cannot encapsulate or express the gravity of the situation – the loss of life or livelihood or way of life.
One wonders if the emotions shown by a “rational,” political male are most newsworthy because it is the most unexpected (and hence perhaps most powerful in its critique of the disaster) in comparison to how the news/we might respond to the tears of a male environmental activist or, even more “predictably,” the tears of a female animal activist.

Thanks for the posting about the site on CRTNET. I am enjoying this theme week very much, and this clip really does tap into the role of emotion in public discourse. He says very little and so much, all at the same time.

If it's not impolitic to share a link, folks following this week's theme might be interested in an online discussion of visual images from the oil spill, which includes commentary from photographers working in the gulf. It was hosted by the BAGNewsNotes blog and the Open-I Photojournalism Education Network and is archived at: http://open-i.ning.com/video/looking-at-americas-great-oil

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