Mardi Gras riots
February 28, 2001 4:13 AM   Subscribe

Mardi Gras riots are a disturbing trend as almost every celebration these days turns bad. What's different that these things happen? My personal experience in Seattle inside (because it's a self-link)
posted by john (17 comments total)
Here is my Seattle Mardi Gras riot report.
posted by john at 4:18 AM on February 28, 2001

I don't know what else people would expect by trying to mimic only the outrageous aspects of Mardi Gras like a lot of places do with Mardi Gras Parties, etc. If you try to attract a crowd based solely on the stereotypical Bourbon Street/flashing/drinking aspect, of course you're going to get chaos. You're not drawing a crowd to celebrate, you're drawing a crowd to get drunk and fight.
posted by Hankins at 5:13 AM on February 28, 2001

you're drawing a crowd to get drunk and fight.

As a veteran of 10 Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I must assure you that this is precisely the nature (if not the glory) of Mardi Gras itself...
posted by rushmc at 5:18 AM on February 28, 2001

Sure there is that aspect. And sure there are people that will go for that aspect. But Mardi Gras is also about family and celebration. Watch the parades and festivities from further up St. Charles -- it's lined with ladders and makeshift platforms for children to obtain beads over the heads of the taller crowd in front of them. It too, is a very cool part of the celebration.

I'm not denying the nature of the French Quarter and the atmosphere that is truly accustomed to the event; however, there is a completely different angle and attitude given to the festivities in other parts of the town. I think by refraining from incorporating these into a Mardi Gras celebration in a different city, you lose some of the balance.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans has something everyone can enjoy - you can go downtown to get wasted if you'd like - or you could hang out with your kids in the garden district for a more low-key experience. At these other cities' Mardi Gras parties, you don't necessarily have that option - it's centered solely around the stereotypical Bourbon Street.
posted by Hankins at 5:46 AM on February 28, 2001

At these other cities' Mardi Gras parties, you don't necessarily have that option - it's centered solely around the stereotypical Bourbon Street.

I grew up on the small Mardi Gras celebrations typically held in many towns between New Orleans and Mobile. A decade ago, these were all family affairs, and a lot of fun for children and those adults capable of enjoying a nice day out without drinking themselves insensate. From what I hear from my parents these days, even the small-town parades are being taken over by the drunken louts.

I definitely agree with Hankins about the differences between downtown New Orleans and the Garden District. Seeing the festivites in Lee Circle (downtown, but not in the Quarter) is a much different (and less kid-friendly) experience than just a mile up St. Charles.
posted by harmful at 6:05 AM on February 28, 2001

I spent a serious portion of my childhood in one of those towns between N.O. and Mobile (about 20 years ago); while I remember plenty of floats which were more or less comprised of the local elks chapter getting sauced in the back of a pickup, the whole atmosphere was as Harmful says, one of an older America's idea of a mildly chaotic civic festival -- the Shriners in their cars, the high school band, and shiny things for the kids. Even when we went in to New Orleans -- and yep, we went to the Garden District, certainly -- I can't recall hearing about Mardi Gras as a general incitement to riot. Drunken party, yep, but still a local and culturally specific thing.

It's my impression -- though I may be wrong, and current residents of Nawlins should correct me if this is so -- that the idea of Mardi Gras as a frat-party destination is something of a spinoff of the creation in the 80's of the Spring Break Industry, which quickly outgrew its Florida spawning ground. The spread of the ugliest elements of what is otherwise a rich cultural institution (I always liked the idea of Carnival -- pre-fast revelry) didn't, I think, just happen.
posted by BT at 6:41 AM on February 28, 2001

...I remember plenty of floats which were more or less comprised of the local elks chapter getting sauced in the back of a pickup...

True enough, but somehow the atmosphere tended to produce more friendly drunks than belligerent trunks.
posted by harmful at 7:22 AM on February 28, 2001

"belligerent drunks", dammit. And no, I'm not recovering from a hangover myself; I just not type good.
posted by harmful at 7:59 AM on February 28, 2001

"Alcohol may have played a role.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. I must admit, I stay away from Pioneer Square even when it's not Mardi Gras. This was actually the third day of the melee.

"The Seattle unrest occurred despite an increase in the number of police officers on patrol, removal from downtown streets of items not bolted down and the spraying of vegetable oil on light poles to discourage people from climbing them."

Vegetable oil? Geez. Sounds like more of a challenge than a deterrent....
posted by jessamyn at 10:47 AM on February 28, 2001

The more interesting question to me is, what does it say about our society that people seek/create such an outlet for the wanton abandonment of inhibitions of all sorts? Is it a consequence of an increasingly permissive and undisciplined environment rife with confused messages about sex, violence, and responsibility, or is it a reaction against excessively puritanical and unnatural constraints from which many long to escape?
posted by rushmc at 12:01 PM on February 28, 2001

Simplify, rushmc. What it says to me is, "Euthanize frat boys."

I think I'm kidding.
posted by Skot at 12:16 PM on February 28, 2001

I was caught up in the one in Austin last Sat. Police moved in to stop a fight and ended up pepper spraying people, many of them just walking out of bars (which were just then closing) on their way home. This made some people mad and they started throwing bottles and chunks of cement. Police responded by forming a line of cops in riot gear and chasing everyone out of 6th St. with pepper spray and rubber bullets. This created a mob of 100,000 drunk people stampeding towards I-35 (where most were parked). Most, including myself, did not know what was going on.

Several people got hurt, including one guy who was blinded by a rubber bullet that became lodged in his skull. About 56 were arrested. They ended up canceling the parade last night (Tuesday), and Fat Tuesday was a dud. I stayed home and watched Buffy.

We have bigger crowds for Halloween and they work out OK. I can't help but think if the cops weren't so aggressive spraying innocent people the situation wouldn't have gotten so out of control. Fat Tuesday in Galveston is much bigger and wilder, and the police maintain a higher level of control by being mellow and targeting individuals instead of crowds. I know where I'm going next year...
posted by clayintx at 2:09 PM on February 28, 2001

These riots, like the New Year's riot that occurred in Portland's Pioneer Square, are a reaction to the increasingly oppressive tone that society (esp. in large cities) is taking on, imho.

I'm actually a little amused by all the people who wonder why these things are happening. It seems fairly clear to me. We live in a nation where everything we've been told about what America is about (freedom, liberty, justice) is being eroded to the point where it is impossible to maintain the facade anymore. Instead, we're getting what looks for all the world like a police state:

Surveillance everywhere. Routine interception of electronic communication. Russia-style "justice". Did you know that 25% of all prisoners in the world are in the U.S? Even though we have 5% of the world's population? I remember being taught as a youngster that one of the indicators that the USSR was evil was that fact that they incarcerated a higher percentage of their population than anyone else. Now, it's us, but how do I reconcile this without concluding that the US is turning evil, too?

I know that the thoughts I've expressed here, I also hear expressed by many other people I talk to -- the younger, the more likely they are to say these things. I suspect the tension resulting from this is at the heart of the rioting.

posted by Zal42 at 4:07 PM on February 28, 2001

And I thought it was because of the growing number of Limp Bizkit fans.
posted by john at 4:19 PM on February 28, 2001

Now, it's us [who are incarcerating large chunks of our population], but how do I reconcile this without concluding that the US is turning evil, too?

Giving up the simplistic notion that an entire nation can possess an identifiable moral character might be a good start. No nation is sufficiently homogenous that every citizen acts and thinks as one.
posted by kindall at 4:39 PM on February 28, 2001

But be certain that the management of N'sync is working on it.
posted by john at 4:53 PM on February 28, 2001

No nation is sufficiently homogenous that every citizen acts and thinks as one.

And the corollary, "nor should it be."
posted by rushmc at 2:42 PM on March 1, 2001

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