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How Carnival Has Changed

I was talking to a parade captain, someone who has been very active in Carnival for many years, when he told me something that was surprising: His kids, he said, seem to be disengaged with going to parades. In their world of video games and smart phones they just don’t see the wonderment in the parades that he did when he was a kid.
As the captain and I talked, a couple of concerns were pinpointed. One was the overemphasis on throws. If people see Carnival parades as just a competition to snag a barrage of trinkets (which seem to get bigger and more lethal each year) than that’s how they’ll judge the parade and, if that’s the case, why do the better krewes put so much effort on design? Carnival would be better if there were fewer parading krewes, but the ones that survived worked hard at being visually exciting. Sure, items could still be tossed from the floats, but that wouldn’t be what the parade was all about.

In 2000, when the Krewe of Proteus returned after a seven-year hiatus, it presented a beautiful, classic parade – a masterpiece of historic preservation built in old world-style. Yet one publication dismissed the parade saying that the riders didn’t throw much. Such a comment was the sort of dimwittedness that damages Carnival. To justify a parade by the quantity of its throws is like critiquing a wine by the size of the bottle. Heaven forbid the Mona Lisa be criticized for not being framed with blinking lights. We need to be more demanding and appreciative about style and elegance. Those who don’t appreciate it can go home and count their beads.

Parade geography was the other concern. There was a time when parades were dispersed throughout the city.

Someone in Gentilly could go see the Krewe of Pontchartain; Mid-City had both the parade by that name and the Krewe of Carrollton. The Freret parade would wind along that street and through its neighborhood. Now all the New Orleans east bank parades, except for Endymion, march along the same St. Charles Avenue route. It used to be that there was only one parade on weeknights; now most are clustered together as double- or triple-headers. The act of going to a parade has changed. Most people can no longer go down the street from where they live for an hour or so; now they must go to another part of town and prepare to stay late.

There are practical reasons for those location changes, mostly having to do with police and crowd control yet, just as in nature, each change had an effect.

To the positive there are more walking groups, some spawned through Muses, and Marigny has emerged as a great scene for masking and partying. Carnival is about tradition but it’s also about evolution. It needs both for survival.

May the disengaged find something new in the season to excite them; and may those who are already excited never cease to love.

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