A Mardi Gras Documentary (sort of)

23 Feb

The other day I watched Mardi Gras: Made In China. I knew it wouldn’t be a feel-good Carnival movie, as it’s about a Chinese bead factory. But I didn’t think I’d dislike it as much as I did, or that it would make me feel defensive about Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

I will start by saying that I used to have the Bourbon Street image of Mardi Gras, and that is why it didn’t interest me in the least. I ended up visiting on Mardi Gras one year by accident (really) and that is when I discovered that there are lots wonderful and creative aspects of the holiday. Walk down Royal Street instead, just one street towards the river, and you see tons of people in great costumes…I was going to say instead of the drunk throngs, but I should amend that to say drunk throngs of a different kind. A more fun kind, if you asked me.

Carnival is a time when everyone celebrates together. It’s a family thing, a partying thing, an open house thing, a meet-your-neighbors thing. I know some people just look to Mardi Gras as a time to get drunk and flash or be flashed, but for me, it’s so much more.

And while I sympathize with the issue of worker exploitation and hate the terrible reality of a Chinese factory worker making one cent for every twelve necklaces she makes, I felt the filmmaker went wrong with the narrow focus of the film. It really touches on so many complex issues like globalization and different economic systems and tries to make it all simplistic. And in doing so, I think he also does a disservice to the culture of carnival in New Orleans.

And, I mean, I do agree that beads and throws can be a bit silly. They are just cheap, plastic things. But I’ll confess that I forget myself when I’m at parades and I get into the thrill of it all. Heck, last year I almost climbed over a police barricade to get one of those giant toothbrushes. It’s fun, for goodness sake. And I defend fun with all my heart.

One thing struck me about the restrictive factory life, which is really life inside a factory compound for the people who work there. I had a thought that, in a way, Mardi Gras is part of what is right with our lives and what everyone deserves. Everyone deserves leisure time. Everyone deserves freedom of behavior and expression. You can denigrate Mardi Gras, and goodness knows there are elements begging for denigration, but there are elements that are just about the best things in life as well.

And so I will say with equal vigor, “Workers of the world unite!” and “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!”


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