"Down in the Treme": media's spatial practices and the (re)birth of a neighborhood after Katrina

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"Down in the Treme": media's spatial practices and the (re)birth of a neighborhood after Katrina

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In this project, I take the HBO series Treme (2010-present) as a case study for theorizing contemporary relationships between media, urban space, and raced and classed geographies. I argue that textual analyses of media's representations of city space and place, which comprise the bulk of contemporary scholarship on media and urban space especially as it relates to New Orleans and questions of race, are not sufficient in understanding the work of media in contemporary cities, and in post-Katrina New Orleans, in particular. Treme does not just represent race and place in New Orleans, it participates directly and materially in the rebuilding of the city and its marginalized neighborhoods by soliciting practices of community and neighborhood engagement, city branding, tourism, employment, and historic preservation. HBO also enjoins viewers to participate in the rebuilding and revitalization of the city by eliciting the spatial practices of viewers in the form of tourism, ethical consumption, and utilizing online interactivities to create emplaced material communities. Moreover, city and cultural policy, as well as HBO branding efforts, are aimed at fostering these kinds of interactions and spatial practices. Treme is therefore literally helping to drive, create, and intervene into the city that it represents, putting the spatial practices of media production and its viewers to work in ways that present solutions to racial, class, and spatial antagonisms made manifest in the Katrina event. This project therefore aims to contribute to media studies of city space by theorizing Treme as a spatial practice in the neighborhood. Treme provides a poignant case study that enjoins scholars to go beyond the text to consider the broader and more material aspects of HBO's original programming as well as in how media intervenes into particular city sites. It thus brings into focus the innovative ways in which both media and cities are increasingly articulating themselves to each other in the neoliberal city and provides some possible tools for media scholars to analyze those articulations. Theorizing media as a spatial practice, I consider how Treme participates materially in the production, governing, regulation, and organizing of urban and media space at the present conjuncture. I query how the series provides a vehicle for both cultural and economic revitalization and renewal in post-Katrina New Orleans, and I ask what this means for media scholarship on cities when the media industry takes up a role in the transformation of lived, material, and vernacular urban space?


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2012. Major: Communication Studies. Advisor: Dr. Laurie Ouellette. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 348 pages.

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Morgan Parmett, Helen. (2012). "Down in the Treme": media's spatial practices and the (re)birth of a neighborhood after Katrina. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/158900.

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