Camille Was No Lady But Katrina Was A Bitch: The Hurricane In Popular Memory

Saturday, January 5, 2013
La Galerie 3 (New Orleans Marriott)
Liz Skilton, Tulane University
“Camille was no lady,” newspaper editorials and commemorative books declared describing the aftermath of a major hurricane that struck New Orleans in 1969.  Nearly four decades later in 2005, online blogs, popular t-shirts, and Mardi Gras floats compared the latest major storm, Katrina, to Camille; “Camille was no lady, but Katrina was a bitch!” was the consensus.  When reviewing these phrases with others in and outside the New Orleans area, almost everyone is able to easily identify the ending of the comparison for the two storms.  The popularity of the phrase, “Camille Was No Lady” or the peculiarity of calling Katrina a “bitch” is not shocking to audiences, but is instead common vernacular. 

My dissertation, Camille Was No Lady But Katrina Was A Bitch: Gender, Hurricanes, & Popular Culture, shows that Hurricane Camille was not an “unladylike witch” in the beginning and Katrina did not become a “bitch” on its own, but the terms are part of the historical development of American popular culture in the post-World War II era.  Throughout the dissertation while discussing the evolution of the naming system (e.g., Betsy/Camille/Katrina), I argue that the development of ideas about gender and hurricanes not only impacted the perception of them in the regions they affected but also the general rhetoric surroundings hurricanes, and more importantly, the environment globally.  Similarly, I show that hurricane descriptions became a product of global consumption and a potential tool of cultural domination through descriptive means during the post-World War II era that has had significant effects on the perception of hurricanes in popular culture through today.  

I believe that the poster session would allow me to showcase a significant amount of visual material I use in my dissertation (i.e., including over 2,000 hurricane related memorabilia ranging in everything from Mardi Gras beads to t-shirts collected from over 30+ cities around the world).  For the poster, specifically, I would be reviewing the effects and spread of gendering a hurricane (a U.S. phenomenon) throughout the world beginning in the post-WWII era and moving through to Hurricane Katrina.  By tracking statistics in gender usage and expression in newspapers throughout the U.S. as well as the memorabilia that has been produced after major storms, I also track the spread of ideas about disasters, meteorology, science, and technology globally and the impact of U.S. influence in all of these areas.

See more of: Poster Session, Part 1
See more of: AHA Sessions