Feb 6, 201710:36 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The March of Krewe du Vieux
Where Even the Debris is Cosmic
This is just a guess, but if someone was newly installed in a high public office, had a thin skin and used Twitter as a public platform, that person might want to avoid social media coverage of next week’s Krewe du Vieux parade. Even fake news, when given the status of a float topic in an irreverent parade, becomes real news.
Because irreverence is one of its goals, some people have accused the krewe of being lowbrow, but that’s not true. This year the krewe even borrowed its theme from Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tennessee Williams – only changing the name of one of his plays slightly to present “Crass Menagerie.”
Because it parades a week before the law that governs Carnival parades goes into effect, and because its floats are smaller, Krewe du Vieux gets to do what no other Carnival parade is allowed to do – march through the French Quarter (as well as Marigny). Its route is an appropriate playpen for a krewe known for its creativity with a touch of naughtiness. The neighborhood and the krewe are two of a kind.
Founded as an offshoot from an earlier group once domiciled at the Contemporary Arts Center, Krewe du Vieux wanted to be more irreverent than a mere arts parade. The group is a confederacy rather than an actual krewe, consisting of subkrewes that build their own floats loosely around the theme. By now, some of those groups are legendary including Cosmic Debris, Mama Roux, Seeds of Decline and Underwear. Though the sub groups differ in their themes, a visual device that has often been used are variations of the phallic symbol. They were once all too common in the parade, perhaps contributing to the rise of Underwear. Understandably, the parade is considered to be an adults only event.
Naughtiness has always been a part of Carnival from the days of the old pagan rituals including folks immodestly frolicking in the fields. Carnival has historically sought to be, if only for a day, a liberating event. At its best, the season is a democratic experience with just about anyone being allowed self-expression. The Krewe du Vieux crowd is a hip gathering, not necessarily stifled by age, making its statement.
Even in a democracy there can be a king. This year it is cartoonist Bunny Matthews, who is known for his Vic and N’atly cartoons and his mastery of “y’at” dialect. It is no secret, indeed Krewe du Vieux talks about it on its website, that Matthews has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer – a diagnosis that draws attention in any dialect. (Matthew’s comments in the article are mostly upbeat and he does concede, as a gesture toward his doctor, that he has removed the cigarette that has always dangled from the cartoon character Vic’s mouth.) We hope his appearance on a throne to be an encouraging sign. May Bunny the monarch reign over a kingdom where survival over adversity is real news.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book websites.