Being a native New Orleanian
, an avid alcoholic
, and a current resident of New York
, I have often sought a cultural explanation for the absence of violence and antipathy which accompanies the celebration of Mardi Gras
in my hometown, which contrasts so sharply with similar public parties in the North
. Incidents such as those at the Puerto Rican Day parade
are rare, if not unknown, during Carnival
in New Orleans
, which is astoundingly inclusive, racially, sexually, politically, and demographic
The severe difficulties which several cities experienced this year when holding their own Mardi Gras festivities demonstrated this phenomenon even more dramatically. What socio-cultural distinction between New Orleans and other American cities results in the pleasant, happily-depraved celebratory atmosphere of the former and the hostile, destructive qualities of the latter?
I think Templeton's explanation is quite accurate, but I would also cite the city's historical relationship with debauchery as an addendum. Louisiana only recently changed the legal drinking age to 21, and then only under brutal pressure from the federal government. New Orleans lacks an open container law, is not terribly concerned with underage drinking, and even has two drive-through daiquiri shops.
A laissez-faire approach to the regulation of social behavior and an indifference to efficiency characterize the local government, and the culture of New Orleans, being a peculiar synthesis of French, Spanish, and Caribbean sources, is more European than American. As a result, the inexplicable, and thoroughly American, tendency to correlate debauchery and violence, partying and destruction, fun and sociopathy is not very prevalent. (Compare Woodstock ’99 and Jazzfest).
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a sublimely affirmative experience: to hang out with on-duty police officers while drinking a beer when 17-years old, to move through a crowd the racial components of which are entirely intermingled, to easily and sincerely meet strangers from all over the world without anxiety, and to run howling through the streets of a beautiful, major city and witness no violence is as close to urban bliss as one can come.
(I hope that my love of New Orleans and Mardi Gras is not construed as criticism of any other city, or the North, in which I also have great times.)