Lands of Make Believe
Written by Joe Longo
Monday, 25 June 2007 10:51
On the same weekend that the Times Picayune went front page with the dog-bites-man revelation that the real estate market in New Orleans is imploding, and the paper’s gadfly-on-the-payroll Chris Rose was griping about the condition of the city’s playgrounds, the Louisiana Children’s Museum of New Orleans began its nine-month stint as host to an interactive exhibit featuring Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
One might think New Orleans the least likely city to house such an innocent depiction of neighborhood life. It’s clear enough that few children in the city could possibly connect with the Neighborhood of Make Believe. The adults, however, particularly the ones looking to unload their homes or find a pleasant environment for their children, are obviously susceptible to fantasy. It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly endorse a visit to the Children’s Museum for this exhibit, but leave the kids at home. Adults can learn plenty about the city of New Orleans from the rules and hierarchies of King Friday’s domain.
For one thing, note how the trolley, which runs through Mr. Rogers’ home and serves as a portal into the Neighborhood of Make Believe, plays such a vital role in aesthetics and beautification. As neighborhood organizations in New Orleans clamor for restored streetcar lines, dreams of subsequent castle development dance in their heads. Who can forget the pre-Katrina Canal Street Renaissance, as the restored streetcar line chugged all the way from the river to the New Orleans Museum of Art? Who doesn’t regret not buying up property in 2004-2005 near the Canal/Carrollton intersection?
Even now, as city planners nationwide cash in on grants to develop grandiose visions for the future of New Orleans, streetcars are a key element in the equation. In my Bywater neighborhood, folks envision a streetcar line extending from downtown all the way down St. Claude Ave. to the Industrial Canal. Grander schemes even add a turn down Poland Ave. all the way to the riverfront, where it would loop all the way back to the French Quarter. A beautiful day in the neighborhood, indeed!
The trouble is, such egalitarian visions are at odds with the obvious hierarchies inherent both in New Orleans and in the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Anyone who watched “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” will recall that the trolley only passes by King Friday’s castle, and that proximity to said castle reveals the value system of the society.
The building closest to King Friday’s castle is Corney’s factory, where he manufactures rocking chairs. Corney’s shop represents business and industry, important elements to any stable neighborhood. The most delicious irony of the Children’s Museum exhibit is that Corney’s factory is not included in the installation. Either Corney didn’t pay the necessary kickbacks to operate his business, or the museum curators wanted the exhibit to accurately reflect its surrounding environment.
Next to Corney’s shop we have the tree, representing academia, where X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat live. Henrietta’s residence on the tree is a little schoolhouse sitting on a limb. Her vocabulary is limited, and she inserts “meow” randomly into her sentences. Clealry, Henrietta is qualified for an administrative position in the Recovery School District, perhaps even a seat on the school board. As for X the Owl, his demeanor seems to indicate a tenured university position, and his Wikipedia description as “flaky and dense” supports this notion. X is also described as a “friend of Big Bird,” which means he is likely more interested in teaching his students Queer Theory than trying to undue the damage that Henrietta inflicted on them while they were in the public school system.
Further from King Friday’s castle we have Lady Elaine Fairchilde’s Museum-Go-Round. Lady Elaine is frequently the source of conflict in the Neighborhood of Make Believe, as she is the one who gives King Friday the most shit. But is she really the outcast her position in the hierarchy indicates she is? After all, she is the curator of the Museum-Go-Round, so she can’t be poor. Also, you don’t get under the skin of the King unless you are in the fold. If she were truly an outcast, she would be ignored. The truth is, when she needs to raise funds for the museum, she has no trouble getting the royalty to dress in white linen and cut fat checks. There’s little doubt that Lady Elaine is staying in a Warehouse District condo for the duration of the exhibit.
Finally, past the Museum-Go-Round, Daniel Striped Tiger lives in a clock with no hands to indicate the hour or minute. It should go without saying that he represents the rest of us whose relationship with time vis a vis the city’s recovery has been skewed beyond comprehension. Also, we are used to things not working. Daniel is described in the exhibit as shy, and as one who “doesn’t like scary things.” He doesn’t speak much, but when he does, he is very smart. For instance, Daniel probably knew that the two-bedroom shotgun next to his broken clock was never going to sell for $350,000. But no one ever asked.
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