Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Won’t bow: Don’t know how: Treme, New Orleans and American exceptionalism

Keeble, Arin



This article examines the depiction of exceptionalism in David Simon and Eric Overmeyer’s television series, Treme, and argues that the series uses its New Orleans microcosm to articulate wider points about American society. It begins with the unlikely convergence of the rhetoric of defiance, which characterizes many of Treme’s varied protagonists who refuse to ‘bow’ in the face of crisis and disaster, with the rhetoric of the programme’s primary off-screen villains: the G. W. Bush administration. I argue, however, that while Treme undoubtedly champions the unique culture of New Orleans, its depiction of exceptionalism is neutral. Treme maps out the ways that the exceptionalism its characters are intensely invested in, which is simultaneously rooted in the city’s unique cultural history and projected onto New Orleans from the outside, can both benefit and hazard its citizens. Moreover, this multifaceted vision of exceptionalism ultimately starkly contrasts with the belligerent exceptionalism of the ‘Bush Doctrine’. Additionally, it is my contention that the programme’s representation of exceptionalism develops over the course of four seasons and after building in important strands of discussion around multiculturalism or ‘creolization’, and neo-liberalism (mostly in the guise of disaster capitalism), actually has more to say about Obama-era America, the period in which it was originally broadcast, than the Bush era in which most of the series is set.


Keeble, A. (2016). Won’t bow: Don’t know how: Treme, New Orleans and American exceptionalism. European Journal of American Culture, 35(1), 51-67.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 2, 2015
Online Publication Date Mar 1, 2016
Publication Date Mar 1, 2016
Deposit Date Feb 24, 2017
Journal European Journal of American Culture
Print ISSN 1466-0407
Electronic ISSN 1758-9118
Publisher Intellect
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Issue 1
Pages 51-67
Keywords American exceptionalism; David Simon; Hurricane Katrina; Treme; crisis; disaster
Public URL