Conversing with the Land of Dreams: Disaster Humor and Public Discourse

By Jason Saul


There's a lot of confusion over blame, and pointing fingers, and the response to the obviously horrible tragedy of the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and whether or not the government did enough, whether or not there was some miscommunication, some bureaucratic bungling, so let me just say this: The short answer is this: Yes. The long answer, of course: Yyyeeeeesss! —Jon Stewart, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina became the costliest natural disaster in American history, roaring ashore to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars of damage, the deaths of over 1300 people in Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and the dislocation of virtually the entire population of Metropolitan New Orleans. While the storm itself did much damage, it was the resultant human failure of the region's man-made protections which were the cause of the unheralded flooding and social breakdown that literally and figuratively subsumed the city.

The public is an active participant in anxiety created by disasters (Csaszi 2003), and as the initial humanitarian disaster subsided along with the muddy waters, humor became the tool of choice both within the city and without to frame the discussion of the storm and its aftermath. Often utilizing static displays, humor was cathartic and wry, hopeful, angry, and politically aggressive, and presented interesting, changing delineations between in- and out-group approaches as time progressed. In a sparsely settled post-apocalyptic landscape, with little in the way of communications, electricity, or running water, this communication often necessitated expression through these fixed forms, such as graffiti and signage, and a later evolution into items such as tee-shirts and bumper stickers.

Destruction and Initial Conversation

It's difficult to imagine the extent of the destruction without seeing it firsthand. The City of New Orleans, which is coterminous with Orleans Parish, estimates that 144,458 of 191,574 housing units on the city's East Bank were damaged as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and virtually every resident of the city was displaced for at least two weeks. As of the end of January, the city estimates only 37% of the pre-storm population of 484,674 have returned (Stone 2006).1

Whole swaths of the city lay for weeks under a murky soup of water, sewerage, oil, and human and animal remains, in the humidity and heat of an early New Orleans September, and for some time after the streets remained nearly empty, save for the occasional military patrol. Even today, nearly nine months after the storm, power has not been restored to all of the 188,981 electric customers in Orleans Parish (Entergy 2006), and mail service has only recently returned to some semblance of normalcy.

Coincident with the community-based struggle for interpretation and communication, national attention was also transfixed on the catastrophe and resultant government response, following and framing the unfolding disaster and quickly segueing into fodder for late-night comedians and political cartoonists, pundits, artists, and talking heads. Fueled by instantaneous, repetitive news coverage external media voices utilized humor focused on the disaster in manners that emphasized elements of humor such as distancing and coping, as well as obvious political joking, capitalizing on the news before the eventual public disconnect through oversaturation (Smyth 1986).

Disasters are as much special social events as special physical events (D'Souza 1979). The widespread flooding and the immediate life-and-death decisions, combined with a massive influx of out-of-town response personnel,2 effected a vast, sudden alteration to the traditional urban social and physical landscape. Ordinary concepts regarding wealth, personal property, or items' intrinsic value were suddenly and drastically shifted. Floating on her Sterns and Foster extra-firm mattress for eight days, 78-year-old Louann Mims passed the time considering her home's redecoration, but didn't mourn the loss of so many years' worth of accumulated possessions. "Nobody could ever wear so many clothes" (Kotlowitz 2005).

During the unfolding disaster lines of communication were entirely broken. As a result, there was an initial surge in the use of static communication, the creation of signs and signals to call for help or just connection.3 People stranded on rooftops utilized American flags, tee-shirts, and any kind of material they could lay their hands on in order to signal or to fashion rooftop entreaties for help. Hand-lettered signs were carried, or placed next to bodies in the streets and in the squalid "shelters of last resort," expressions of despair and of hope, and with no little cognizance of media attention. These signs, or markings directly on the flesh, often displayed social security and phone numbers, and names of family members, both on the living and left with the remains of the dead.

Returning to Powerful Symbols

"We didn't realize how good we had it. I guess we were spoiled rotten." - New Orleans Resident, in Spoiled

During the initial rescue operations, emergency services workers (often the initial generators of disaster jokes [Csaszi 2003]), ASPCA rescuers, and mortuary teams used bright day-glow neon spray-paint to leave messages on the sides of buildings they had visited. These marks served multiple purposes, identifying which buildings had been searched and by whom, and often a quick summary of whether any bodies had been found within. Returning residents found this official graffiti on nearly every structure, in stark relief to the adjoining brown high-water mark which became so familiar, and which in large part still remains on many, many buildings throughout Greater New Orleans. Some of these marks can be found near rooftops of houses, often ten feet and higher; a visitor's quick summary of the extent to which these neighborhoods' grisly tale unfolded.

As the population of the area returned—in stages due to restrictions put in place by local governments—the task of assessing, house-gutting, and rebuilding began, first slowly, and then in earnest. I would argue that the intimacy of communication during this time was much greater than normal, with a very few people sharing similar experiences in a darkened, ruined landscape. Driving through their lonely neighborhoods, and especially arriving at their own homes, people would have been quickly struck by the omnipresent water lines, another static display that rises to an almost "natural conversation," a reflection of the level of destruction, terrifyingly exacting and immutable.

As they filtered back into the area, people would have already been saturated and operating within a framework of these existing displays, whether televised or personally experienced, on the sides of houses or on the backs of uniformed machine-gun toting police. Inundation in the elements of public static display, and the loss of conceptions of value in previously-coveted items, would have potentially facilitated drawing on these new paradigms; the needs for expression and interaction combining in a utilization of the limited landscape for conversation and as a means to retake personal agency. This conception of the defining aspects of landscape has referents in the characteristics of the Berlin Wall, and the way in which it attracted and generated graffiti (Stein 1989).

Flooded houses often outwardly present an appearance of minor damage, save the omnipresent water line. However, opening the front door reveals a swirled morass of mud, furniture, clothes, and appliances; suddenly-buoyant instruments of domesticity flipped upside-down, torn asunder and left where they settled as the flood waters receded. Along with this revelation is an escaping puff of miasmatic gas, a musty rotten stench of mold and, all too often, death in the form of pets or even drowned family members. The entire region hung under a pall of these varying stenches for months.

The process of "gutting" a flooded house entails an enormous amount of work, a stripping of furniture, carpets, even the very walls and floor. This vernacular term for the demolition and initial rebuilding is itself a reflection of the visceral, invasive nature of the work. Very quickly people's most intimate items become public in a heap on the side of the road, personal tragedy writ large and repeated in front of every house. There was a sudden loss of real and conceptual value in these formerly private items.

Rediscovering the refrigerator in homes left without power for weeks in the summer heat paralleled the initial experience of entering damaged dwellings. Those unfortunate enough to open a steeping but outwardly undamaged refrigerator, often after months of evacuation, were afforded the experience of progressively moldering food and an indescribably potent odor. Often the largest appliance in the home, and a focal point for home life, these refrigerators were quickly relocated outside to take acutely implausible or incongruous places adjacent to the sidewalk. Inherently funny already through such incongruity (Oring 1987)—and normally covered in photographs, children's drawings, magnets and notes—the elimination of inherent value arguably helped ease the evolution of expression to spray-painted messages, and refrigerators quickly became the standard billboard for improvised static articulation in the city.4

Graffiti is seen as a violation of the boundaries of ownership (Stein 1989), a predominantly illicit act. The Louisiana Revised Criminal Statute 14:59(10) defines graffiti as Criminal Mischief, when its placement is:

. . . upon immovable or movable property, whether publicly or privately owned, without consent of the owner, by means of the use of spray paint, ink, marking pens containing a nonwater soluble fluid, brushes, applicators, or other materials for marking, scratching, or etching.

"Graffiti" includes but is not limited to any sign, inscription, design, drawing, diagram, etching, sketch, symbol, lettering, name or marking placed upon immovable or movable property in such a manner as to deface the property and be visible to the general public.

It is a crime punishable by a fine of up to five hundred dollars, or imprisonment for up to six months in the parish jail, or both; a very stigmatized act, indeed. However, in this climate of blunt symbolism and altered ideas of value, of general collapse of the rule of law and daily order, there is much that can be said for easily overcoming the normative prohibitions against writing on one's own fridge with spray-paint. Communication in a fractured, inverted world quickly became expressed in a fractured, illegitimate way, an especially normative response for people traditionally inundated in communal, vernacular interaction with the built and natural public environment.

Tom Varisco examines these refrigerator-billboards in his photo essay Spoiled. A graphic artist and designer by trade, Varisco traveled around the city photographing these quasi-anonymous, spontaneous expressions. While the authors of the scrawled-upon messages are almost entirely unidentified to passerby, as befits the clandestine nature of most graffiti (Stein 1989), family members and neighbors almost certainly know the actor, a combination of public and very private expression. These appliance proclamations ranged from humorous asides, through political commentary, to manifestations of rage and frustration. Fridges generated humorous responses through playing on the uncommon context (Stein 1989), such as "Come and Get It," while other responses included such things as "Loot This!!!!," "Maggot Motel," "Happy Halloween," "Katrina Candy," and "Smells Like FEMA." The most heartbreaking documented by Varisco said merely "N.O. Home" (Varisco 2005).

It's a pity there wasn't a more widespread, thorough documentation of these very outspoken inanimate objects. Perhaps more images could be culled from the huge data stores on the Internet regarding the Katrina period, and a classification of content developed. Similar disaster graffiti has been documented after the Red River Valley flooding that wreaked havoc in Minnesota in 1997. Also beginning with official markings on flooded property placed in front of private homes adjacent to the street—as a means of delineating flood-damaged from salvageable goods—the Minnesota graffiti quickly developed into a nearly subversive grass-roots community discourse, and a reaffirmation of community values (Hagen 1999). So too, in New York, public anonymous expression in the form of words of thanks and blessing were photographed two days after 9/11, written in the dust on the side of an FDNY fire truck, blocks from Ground Zero (Martha Cooper, in Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2003).

The Functions of Humor

"Laughter contains something revolutionary."
Alexander Herzen (Quoted in Gay 1991)

The modern study of humor depends in large part on Sigmund Freud's Jokes and Their Relationship to the Unconscious, widely cited as one of the standard reference texts regarding the motivations of humor, and very often informing humor-related conversation. Freud argued that jokes permit the evasion of psychic censorship regarding taboo subjects through the expression of inhibitions. As such, the topics of greatest significance are found in hostile, obscene, cynical, and skeptical jokes. These jokes serve as a coping mechanism, allowing for cathartic release and reaccessing sources of pleasure that have become inaccessible (Freud, as quoted in Smyth 1986). They permit a bridging between an unspeakably horrible, incongruous universe and the present (Oring 1987), and a relief from "the pressure of critical reason" (Freud, in Stein 1989).

Catastrophes tend to be totalizing processes, affecting most aspects of community life (Oliver-Smith 1996). They are at the same time societal and personal events, and

are accompanied by collective psychological reactions [. . .] the unexpected proximity of annihilation causes shock among the survivors, who initially experience emotional paralysis, then a sense of solidarity with the entire group, whose members they attempt to aid. Following the shock there emerge reactions of anger, disillusionment, and mourning (Csaszi 2003).

Humor is a means to cope with these disastrous conditions. It can positively affect psychological and physical well-being, is seen as playing an important role as a source of hope and, on a physiological level, laughter is even seen to decrease hormones associated with stress (Berk, in Vilaythong 2003). It can be a means for addressing fear while convincing oneself that the danger is under control (Fine 1988). In general, the use of humor reflects positivity in reframing, as well as active strategies for coping and planning (Saroglou 2004), and its duration is tied to its function (Simons 1986). However, though a joke's humorous effects are related to the distance of one's daily routinized existence from the event (Stein 1989), there is an alteration of norms from living in disaster area long enough. One's mutated environment becomes the norm, and the return of pre-disaster baseline conditions are often difficult, emotional experiences.

Local, New Orleans-specific jokes, where the teller and the receiver must both have the information necessary for the joke to be successful (Stein 1989) often utilized Tom Benson—owner of the Saints football team, who made intimations toward moving the team from the city after the storm—as a popular target, often referring to him as opportunistic and traitorous. In neighboring Jefferson Parish, refrigerators and plywood billboards reflected on the disastrous flooding engendered by evacuating pump operators, making political statements about the Parish President such as "Thanks Aaron" and "Recall Broussard." These jokes are within Freud's tendentious joke paradigm, as being favored against persons in exalted positions who claim to exercise authority (Stein 1989). These jokes' effectiveness would be limited without the close relationship and knowledge between local narrators and audience members; this is communal humor, with considerations of the limitations of group boundaries as well as boundary porosity (Fine 1988).

The production and recounting of jokes largely emerges only when the immediate danger is gone, and the processes of repairing the physical damage and searching for causes and perpetrators has begun. There is intentional exaggeration and satirization in order to promote acceptance (Csaszi 2003), but at the same time these jokes are utilized for their coping value, there is also an out-group utilization of the event as a context-specific means for political commentary or resistance (Stein 1989). This joking, in the form of editorial cartoons and late-night talk show comedians, is both the larger audience laughing, "expressing their defense against the national shame" (Dudden 1985), as well as the retaking of power from elites, especially with few other effective outlets for political expression.

Joke cycles and gross humor are examples of this largely out-group coping strategy. These jokes are typified by those arising after the Challenger disaster, are less directed toward immediate references than the underlying depictions of death, deformation, and illness (Smyth 1986), and are normally repetitious and transferable, requiring little more than an alteration of names and places. However, these jokes were noticeably absent after the storm. Even on the Internet, in an age of the expansion of the sick joke (Simons 1986), they were few and far between. This is potentially due to the wide-spread damage and the extent of the diaspora as leaving no real out-group; the visceral depictions on television and the presence of affected Gulf Coast residents across the nation may have lessened the separation or distancing from death of the type that occurred due to the Challenger's veil of fire (Smyth 1986).

This belated arrival of humor, relative to previous crises, was also remarked upon after the events of 9/11. (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2003). This is especially interesting when looking at the alteration of joke transmission with the rise of electronic communication. E-mail jokes are more impersonal than those said in face-to-face conversation, and with very little effort can obscure personal involvement or identification (Csaszi 2003).

Spontaneous Collective Generation: Signs in the Dark

Disaster graffiti isn't limited to humor or political commentary, nor to appliances. Hunks of plywood, sides of buildings,5 or nearly anything else at hand were pressed into service in order to advertise products or provide directions. These advertisements, for everything from house gutting services to soup kitchens and hospitals, became progressively more commercial and widespread as people returned to the city. This segue into primarily commercial display, finally culminating in a blizzard of plastic signs placed on the "neutral grounds" and on telephone poles, accompanied a rush of contractors looking to capitalize on the plethora of high-paid reconstruction and remediation jobs being offered.

These signs had some local precedent in the small advertisement-placards posted on the neutral grounds by political candidates. Local government officials, strapped for money and grounds personnel, and with a recognition of the necessity for advertisement in area economic recovery, neglected to enforce signage laws. As more modern communications modes regained effectiveness, however, and as conventional billboards were replaced, the signs were removed. Jefferson Parish reinstituted a ban on the signs after the start of the new year, a self-determined indicator of resurgence and a symbolic division between emergency response and long-term recovery, and began removing them from the streets.

During the recent New Orleans municipal election there was a resurgence of the public discourse through signs, in thematic continuity with pre-storm advertisement and post-flood conversation. One candidate for office stood out especially, with hand-lettered posted versions of his campaign advertisements, and the Louisiana Secretary of State erected giant billboards on neutral grounds throughout the city, urging voters to call a toll-free number in order to find their relocated precincts. However, reconstructed billboards and advertisements on the sides of city buses, as well as standard multi-mode advertisements in resurrected media, have supplanted the organic homegrown signage.

From these humorous, expressive, and intensely political signs grew the utilization of personal items such as tee-shirts and bumper stickers, which began to appear as the population and the infrastructure of the area improved. Though these are also fixed messages, there is an explicit loss of anonymity from disconnected graffiti, and through this a conscious, personal political statement. Humor is available to the less powerful as an acceptable means of challenging or subverting authority (Holmes 2002), and laughter may be self-protection directed against others (Gay 1991), but the wearing or display of expressive humor can also put one in the position of being the target of personal disapproval.

C'est Levity: Carnival as Compilation 6

They have the big parade down in New Orleans and this year FEMA has a float, but it's not expected 'til Labor Day." - David Letterman, Late Show with David Letterman

All of these aspects of humor, community conversation, and personal agency coalesced in the 2006 Mardi Gras celebration. With antecedents in the pre-Christian Saturnalia and associated rites of Spring and renewal, Carnival is the quintessential New Orleans cultural exposition, utilizing satire, masking, and role reversal as a cathartic, consumptive, creolized community exhibition. Proponents of Carnival faced an uphill battle in the early months of 2006, mired in questions of funding, logistics, and even validity. Many early on questioned whether a celebration, especially on the scale of Mardi Gras, was appropriate so soon after the flood.

There is historical precedent for communal agreement on Mardi Gras as a central element in disaster recovery. Talk of canceling the celebration due to a Yellow Fever epidemic in the late 19th century, with an accompanying 4000-plus death toll, was met with opposition by Carnival leaders. Though many krewes (the organizations that put on balls and parades) decided to cancel festivities that year, Rex, the nominal King of Mardi Gras, proclaimed that continuing the celebration would "tend to dispel the gloom caused by the afflictions of the late epidemic" (as quoted in Beckerman 2006). In fact, Mardi Gras has only been canceled a handful of times in its American history, usually under government edict during times of war.

Mardi Gras floats are fascinating combinations of interpretive and static communication, a rolling artwork integrated into a parade's overarching theme, admired and enjoyed by the crowd as an individual whole piece, while at the same time serving as platform for the ritualized interplay of begging and tossing of trinkets. The displays themselves are often traditionally satirical, from themed floats and costumes to papier-mâché caricatures of political figures. The consistent stream of debacles surrounding Hurricane Katrina, the response, and the city's staggered recovery provided an enormously fecund pool of material. Also, subversive humor is distancing—a socially acceptable means of expressing critical intent, and way in which participants can distance themselves from, and isolate the butt of a joke as an outsider. A primary function of much humor is the reinforcement of group member solidarity (Holmes 2002).

Carnival presented a creolized conception of the disaster, a community understanding of the equal nature of destruction, the losses felt equally across classes, and irregardless of race. There was a skewering of public officials and government bureaucracy, jokes recognizing compromise of their privileged place in the public conception (Oring 1987). These jokes centered largely around slow-to-respond FEMA as well as the ineptitude of the Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency seen as the primary actor in the city's demise.7

Though speaking in relation to the repressiveness of East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Röhrich talks of the powerless being "able to conquer the powerful with laughter" one can easily see how translatable it is to the temporary unresponsive police state that exists post-disaster (as quoted in Stein 1989). Political humor has been a "vehicle of popular disdain and even opposition throughout American history" (Dudden 1985), and Carnival reflected that. The deep play exhibited thousands of subversive references to the disaster and aftermath. Marchers dressed as refrigerators, mold, blue tarps, and one memorable man as a sandbag with a helicopter suspended over his head, in reference to the method of repairing the levee breaches; while parade floats mocked "premature evacuation" procedures as "cuntraflow," and implored French President Jacques Chirac to "buy us back."

Both FEMA and the New Orleans Police Department became targets of the renaming of acronyms, one of the most common techniques of satire due to its simplicity and brevity, familiarity, and inversion (Stein 1989).8 FEMA provided especially fertile ground with a 154-page list of acronyms, as humorously reported in the Palm Beach Post, though similar renaming occurred after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear disasters (Kürti 1988). These humorous performances often poke fun at the extremes and inflexibility typified by these agencies (Fine 1988), and joke telling serves as a ritualistic way of ending the grieving process (Smyth 1986); though one might argue residents of New Orleans, always suspicious of government in a place with few public institutions above reproach, took especial glee in the mockery.

Proud to Swim Home 9

"In Refrigerator Village, they'll have to pass a millage / Just to pay for all those stolen Cadillacs." - Chris Rose, 1 dead in attic

New Orleans is still in the beginnings of a period of forced, abrupt transition, in which alterations to the demographic, cultural, and social elements of its unique character have yet to be sorted out - and where there has been only the barest beginnings toward a comprehension of the meanings and symbols of the disaster itself; it was constructed rapidly and under tremendous stress, much as what has been documented after the Three Mile Island disaster (Malmsheimer 1986). However, there is hope that the upswell of humor following the disaster will ease the transition and provide a semblance of continuity.

Positive emotions can prompt the discarding of "automatic behavioral scripts," and lead to the pursuit of "novel, created, and often unscripted paths of thought and action" (Fredrickson, as quoted in Vilaythong 2003). Study participants have showed statistically significant increases in indicators of hopefulness after viewing a humorous video, and it was hypothesized that those with higher rates of humor use as a coping mechanism received greater benefits (Vilaythong 2003). So, too, in a 20-year follow-up study of Vietnamese Prisoners of War, the Navy found that there is no greater incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than in the regular population. They linked the self-identification of humor by POWs as being central to their resilience, with the implication that through communication resilience is contagious. Research maintains that a sense of humor is important for rebounding from many different types of adversity, and that in a situation where there is a profound loss of power, without the use of humor as a formidable weapon there would be a near-total loss of self-mastery (Henman 2001).

That there was a grassroots upswell of broadcast humor speaks also to the health of political and social sharing of political and social views between neighbors, and might be seen as a combinatory way in which people reasserted control over their lives and over the power elites that had failed them. Also, there is an opportunity for community reassertion through conversation, an especially ironic and interesting twist in the conception of the propriety of graffiti-based static advertisement and discussion, in a city with few surviving billboards. The city was arguably well-prepared for response to destructive events, however, with shared Latinate cultural sensibilities, widespread public expression, and a predilection for "jazzy" improvisation that transcends ethnic and racial divisions; much more so than similar cities in the American South (Spitzer 2006).

The grassroots spontaneous response to community trauma has parallels in the flowers, posters, and improvised shrines that blanketed the New York cityscape after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. However, the time-dependant official sanctioning of the specific communal response was very evident, as the NYC Parks and Transportation Departments removed the makeshift personal shrines in favor of the eventual construction of a public monument (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2003). New Orleans is lucky, however, in that it has Mardi Gras—the preeminent official sanctioning of humor, role-reversal, and catharsis—and that it occurred so soon after the disaster, despite worries to the contrary.

Finally, I'd be remiss without making mention of the difficulty of the observer in the midst of disaster. Researchers during 9/11, and after the Red River Valley flood or Hurricane Andrew, experienced the problems of being a "rubbernecker;" the ambiguity, embarrassment, and anger of observation, even within professional framing. This contention came to a very public head in New Orleans, with actual chartered tour buses that continue to make rounds of the highlights of the city's devastation.

However, especially for the wider viewing world, there is the argument that the modern instantaneous transmission of images have become "literally part of the event" (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2003). Critical commentary on this phenomenon of interaction with disaster detritus can be seen in the aestheticization and incorporation of papers from the WTC into spontaneous memorials, as well as the construction of temporary neutral ground artwork that was removed with the debris it had been fashioned from. In the end, especially for those of us that lived through the worst of it, and came home to houses that weren't there anymore, public discussion and humor presents the abstract concept of death in a way in which it can be laughed at and dismissed (Smyth 1986).


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1. And with vastly altered demographics. Recent population estimates show Orleans Parish as whiter, younger, and wealthier than before the storm, and with reconstruction largely limited to the high ground along the Mississippi River.

2. Construction workers of all types have segued into an influx of Latino immigrants, who have taken jobs in the burgeoning construction industry, and have apparently become the new underclass group in the city; an ethnic group largely absent pre-storm.

3. Signs as folk art and a more personal form of communication, which is a long and extremely popular tradition in New Orleans, are explored in Sign Language: Street Signs as Folk Art by John Baeder. Harry N. Abrams, New York: 1996.

4. Though not the only billboards! Reconstruction of metal-frame street-side billboards, of the type so familiar along any Interstate, have progressed quickly. Though these were seriously damaged by Katrina's winds, sparking anger and questions of safety in area municipalities, those that have returned often sport very funny messages. A particular advertisement over the city's Central Business District states simply that "New Orleans Finest Drive Sewell" Cadillac, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the car dealership "liberated" of multiple SUVs by the city's police department during the storm.

5. From the side of a St. Bernard auto glass shop: "Katrina was bad. The old lady and the dogs were more trouble." Or a sign posted next to an obliterated house, with only the foundation remaining: "Garage Sale. Shoes. Games. Toys." Directly on a house that had floated off its moorings: "Wicked witch of the East was here."

6. Also, C'est Levée. These variations on "such is life" were promulgated most often during Mardi Gras.

7. For Mardi Gras Indian tribes, communal organizations centered in heavily damaged neighborhoods such as the Tremé, parading also carried an element of blunt defiance, both to the storm and to ongoing conflicts with the city and the police.

8. "As you know, FEMA stands for 'Fix Everything My Ass.'" - Jay Leno, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Also, "NOPD - Not Our Problem, Dude" (courtesy of Anne Kimzey, Alabama Center for Traditional Culture).

9. From a city boosterism campaign by the Young Leadership Council, "New Orleans: Proud to Call it Home." This is an extension of pre-deluge mockery theme, in which the slogan morphed into bumper stickers poking fun at local conceptions of drunkenness, in "Proud to Crawl Home," then to civic outrage at a lower Garden District Wal-Mart, who was "Proud to Kill Our Home," and finally to the satire of this section's title.

Jason Saul is a Katrina survivor in New Orleans and on staff with the American Roots radio program. This article was originally published in the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, Volume 16-17 in 2008. The original includes an appendix with examples of the humor.