Some news stories practically exist to be lampooned. So as this election-year Carnival season approached, the burning question was whether any target of ridicule could possibly trump Trump.
Amazingly enough, the answer was yes. So give it up, ladies and gentlemen, for Gen. Robert E. Lee and his long-dead Confederate compadres, who made the job of spinning timely satire on the streets of New Orleans easy.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s quest to remove Jim Crow-era monuments to Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and an insurrection by the white supremacist “White League” has been divisive in real life, and it divided those aiming to send up the controversy as well.
Some floats took aim at the monuments’ defenders. The Krewe of Muses, which staged a candy-themed parade in honor of its Sweet 16 birthday, pictured Lee clinging to a heart-shaped, Confederate-flag adorned box. Along the float’s side were those candy conversation hearts you see at Valentine’s Day, with sayings such as “The South Will Rise Again,” “I Live in the Past,” and “Be My Love Slave.”
On the flip side was Krewe d’Etat, which focused squarely on Landrieu. Its “Trivial Pursuit” float, part of a game-themed parade, recast the towering Lee statue as a monument to the “Lil’ King Mitch’s” ego (“One Voice, Mine!,” the statue’s base read). Members of the krewe’s always-topical Dancin’ Darlins wore crowns and sashes reading “Mee Circle.”
Just about every satirical group got into the act. The Knights of Chaos envisioned a politically corrected landscape where Jesse Jackson, not Andrew, lorded over Jackson Square on horseback, and the obelisk now celebrating the White League instead honored the “Yeah You Right” League. The proudly raunchy Krewe du Vieux, riffing on the iconic 60-foot column that supports the Lee statue, gave Landrieu himself some monumental anatomy. The distinctly local controversy proved so ripe for ridicule that even a krewe from Baton Rouge’s Spanish Town Parade got in on the act. This float depicted a monument-free landscape and asked, “Where have all the generals gone?”
Beyond the monuments, New Orleans gave Carnival krewes an awful lot to mock this year. The city’s constant, disruptive roadwork was a popular target, and inspired d’Etat’s “Mousetrap” float and Muses’ “Rocky Road.” (Full disclosure: I’m a member of Muses.) Same goes for the proliferation of AirBnB short-term rentals, which inspired Muses’ “Air Beds” float, d’Etat’s “Monopoly” and Krewe du Vieux’s rotating mattress float with an embracing couple on one side and slew of roaches on the other.
Chaos targeted the city’s newsy power struggle between drivers and bikers, with a float featuring Landrieu on a tricycle. D’Etat floats skewered the oft-indicted former St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta (“Y’at-zee!”), and showed Landrieu counting the newfound cash from higher parking meter rates. Muses christened City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell “Ms. Goodbar” for sponsoring an ordinance to make the city’s bars nonsmoking, and targeted musician and New Orleans Jazz Orchestra leader Irvin Mayfield’s money grab from the library foundation. “Irvin’s Heavenly Cash,” the float read. Krewe du Vieux zeroed in on the New Orleans Police Department’s legendarily long response times, offering a “911 Fast Pass” that, for $99 a month, puts callers at the head of the line. “Help Wanted. Free Donuts!” a sign on the float read.
As juicy as local politics proved this year, there also were plenty of floats that took on the presidential election. Muses offered up a “White Man’s Sampler” of Republican candidates, and memorialized some legendary political lies on its “Whoppers” float. D’Etat offered floats dedicated to Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders (“Candyland,” with “Candy for All”) and Democrat Hillary Clinton (“Pin the Tail on the Donkey”).
And of course, there was Donald Trump, whose narcissism would be easy to satirize even if his famously elaborate comb-over weren’t. Together, they made the GOP candidate an irresistible subject of ridicule. D’Etat finished up its parade with a “Trump Card” float, depicting Trump in a crown, holding a globe and declaring, “I know how wealthy I am.”
Muses, meanwhile, went minimalist. The krewe pictured the billionaire businessman as a faceless, bright orange atomic fireball with big pouf of Donald Trump hair.
“America, if you don’t vote for me,” it read, “you’re fired!!”
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.