Chase Caldwell Professor Gwaltney English 1102 14 March 2013 When The Levees Broke Rhetorical Analysis Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on the morning of August 29, 2005. The storm produced sustained winds of up 125 mph when it hit that morning. On that same day Katrina caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, spilling the waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the city and flooding an overwhelming majority of New Orleans.
The floodwaters destroyed countless homes and lives along the way. Some estimates of the cost of Katrina were up in the 200 billions but according to Kimberly Amadeo, “The actual cost of Hurricane Katrina’s damage was between $96-$125 billion, with $40-$66 billion in insured losses. ” This statistic makes Katrina one of the most expensive natural disasters to ever hit the United States. Money wasn’t the only thing that was lost; the storm killed roughly 1,500 people in Louisiana alone.
Floodwaters stayed in New Orleans for weeks leaving many people stranded and fighting for their lives. Post-Katrina New Orleans was a war zone with looting, shootings, robbery, and people desperately needing help from the government. Help was slow to arriving though. People went days and days without food or any kind of help at all. Many people died from all sorts of different causes. Deaths ranged from heat exhaustion in attics to drowning in the street and even in the victims own home.
The majority of citizens of New Orleans’ ninth ward feel like the government did not take the right measures in getting help to the victims of the storm and they also feel like the destruction altogether could have been avoided had the levees been built correctly. The story of New Orleans and the failing levees is right up one filmmaker’s alley. Spike Lee is known to make movies that examine race relations and political issues. The story of New Orleans during Katrina touches on both of these subjects immensely. Thus, When the Levees Broke was born.
The documentary is a heart-wrenching medley of eyewitness accounts, video news footage, and photographs of the destruction that mix together in a way that shows Lee’s dissatisfaction with what happened during Katrina. Lee was legitimately upset about what happened in New Orleans during Katrina and even toys with the idea that the U. S. government blew up the levees to rid New Orleans of poor blacks. Needless to say, Lee will not hesitate to tell anyone what he believes and is the center of many different controversies in Hollywood. His personality is best described as that of a ticking time bomb.
His feelings for the people of the ninth ward coupled with his outspokenness on political affairs and race relations were the driving force behind When The Levees Broke. Lee’s intended audience is really anyone who takes the time to watch his work. He really wanted to get the story out to the public and that is exactly what he did, he let the world see exactly what was happening in New Orleans without any sugar coating. Lee does not hesitate to put a floating, swollen dead body on screen just to let the viewers know the grotesque reality of what happened.
Lee uses this documentary to voice his opinion against how the government handled Katrina. He felt that the government did not do what it should have done during this time and he shows his disappointment with the federal government through the movie. Lee conveys a huge array of arguments in this film from the government blowing up the levees to George Bush not caring about black people. Throughout all of these arguments his barebones, central argument is that the federal government did not fulfill its duty to the people of New Orleans during the Katrina catastrophe.
Lee conveys this argument in a number of different ways. For instance, he conveys the argument by interviewing a multitude of people that lived through Katrina and has them explain their unrest and disappointment in the government on camera. He also shows photographs of posters and paintings that read things like “Where’s Fema? ” and “Fuck Bush”. These tactics make it quite easy to see that Lee is upset with the Government. He uses a number of appeals to get his argument across. He mostly uses pathos by using horrific eyewitness accounts and gruesome photographs to stab at the audience’s emotions.
The audience cannot help but feel terrible for the people who had to go through this. One of the worst feelings is watching someone cry over their lost home or hear an account of someone who comes home to their dead mother. Lee undoubtedly does a good job of evoking emotion from the audience. Lee interviews a melting pot of people in this documentary. It seems like there is an interviewee from almost every walk of life. In fact HBO explored just how many people Lee interviewed: Lee and his team selected close to 100 people from diverse backgrounds and representing a wide range of opinions to nterview, including Governor Kathleen Blanco; Mayor Ray Nagin; residents Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, Kimberly Polk, Shelton “Shakespeare” Alexander and Rev. Williams; activists Al Sharpton and Harry Belafonte; CNN’s Soledad O’Brien; and musicians Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and Kanye West. This works in his favor and adds to the ethos of the film. Since he is getting the opinions of a number of different people it shows more of the bigger picture and does not focus on only one person or one group of people.
Diversity and unifying people under their disappointment with the government is a key part of his argument. This shows that he is not the only person that feels this way about the government, in fact everyone in the movie feels the same as he does. This can cause some speculation. Spike’s argument is not perfect. There are multiple flaws in the argument that can cause it to be discredited. For one, the opinions of his interviewees are so one-sided that the audience does not see a single glimpse of the other side of the spectrum.
Not one person in the film seems satisfied with how the government handled the situation. In a way this discredits Spike Lee’s argument because it seems as if he is only showing you what he wants to show you. He shows you nothing good that the government did or people that are satisfied with how the government helped. The audience only sees the people who are disgruntled by Katrina who just want more and more help. It is hard to believe that there is not a single person in New Orleans who was not satisfied with the help that they received from the government.
Mr. Lee simply does not show the satisfied citizens of NOLA. If he had shown these people then his argument would be much stronger. Also, Lee does evoke emotion in the audience but after a while it just becomes too much. After 4 hours of seeing wreckage and dead bodies you almost grow tired of feeling sorry for people. The first time you see a destroyed home or a dead body you want to cry for the victims but after hours and hours of seeing the same thing you become used to seeing it.
Spike lee definitely evokes emotion but he should have done so more in moderation so the audience would not tire of feeling sorrow for the victims. Lee’s background as an outspoken critic that really just seems to love controversy also discredits his argument. It is as if Lee could be making this film to just stir up controversy in Hollywood because that is what he seems to love to do. He has had countless run-ins with almost every director in the business from Tarantino to Tyler Perry. He imply loves controversy so why would he not take this story and blow it up and make a huge controversy out of it? It would not be out of character for him to do so. That is why his argument can be somewhat discredited by his background. It is not unlikely that Lee took this story and made it a huge ordeal just to stir up controversy in Washington and against Bush, whom he does not support. The story is really just a perfect opportunity to pin people against Bush. His background, one-sidedness, and excess of pathos all hurt his argument greatly.
When the Levees Broke is a Spike Lee documentary that tells the story of the destruction that Katrina and a failed levee system had on New Orleans, Louisiana. The creator uses the film in an attempt to argue that the federal government did not do its part to help the people of New Orleans after the disaster. However, he fails at arguing that point due to his one-sidedness and his personal background. During the film, interviewees all agree on the consensus that the government did not help out how they should have but no one thinks that they did a good job of helping out.
This just shows that Lee is only showing the audience what he wants them to see. If he had shown both sides of this argument and disproved the opposing side his argument would have been much stronger. Also, Lee’s personal identity as one who loves controversy discredits his argument in that it appears to be just another one of his critiques. He has so many critiques of things that this argument really just gets lost in the sea of them all. Works Cited Amadeo, Kimberly. About. com. The New York Times Company. n. d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013. HBO. com. n. p. n. d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
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