Accepted paper:

"I ain't goin' north of Belle Chase": how Deep South isolation, Fox News, and natural disasters make you into a 'real' American


Seumas Bates (Maynooth University)

Paper short abstract:

In a southern Louisiana community cultural and economic norms are being challenged by new ideas seen as coming from ‘elsewhere’. Big oil, conservative news, and large natural disasters have intensified this debate, and two visions of the American Dream compete to legitimise the ‘real’ American.

Paper long abstract:

Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill have made the landscape of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana uniquely complex and culturally dense. This peninsula in southern Louisiana has experienced decades of obscurity, but now, with multinational oil companies, national news media, and massive natural disasters threatening to unbalance the long established cultural norms of the area, some locals fear the 'proper' order of life is being interrupted. Here, two different interpretations of the American Dream are colliding, causing a cultural crisis for many in this community. On the one hand, the long established expectations of 1950s capitalism, personal freedom, and racial segregation. One the other, incoming notions of neoliberalism, national unity, and a Black President in the White House. Conservative news media confuses this confrontation, by being trusted reporters of the 'truth', yet often giving a truth at odds with local experience. Such a context provokes questioning of the very notion of a unified vision of either an 'American Dream' or even a single 'America'. Instead, the experience of these local men suggests a local interpretation of this dream which is at odds with a vision they see as being forced upon them by a distant, uncaring, and largely mysterious economic elite based in the 'Yankee' north. Yet an economic elite which they feel the need to support and maintain through tax breaks, free-markets, and the limitation of the welfare state. Throughout this, one thing local people are certain of, is that they are truly what is described as a 'real' American.

panel G25
Missing out on manifest destiny: anthropology on the periphery of the American dream