An Instagram account with an unpublishable name that features New Orleans’ failing roadway infrastructure — including videos of broken water mains and burning telephone poles set to “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls and “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen, respectively — is now the subject of a research paper that set out to explore how, in a city of less than 400,000 people, it has attracted nearly 110,000 followers.
The answer is a distillation of everything that makes New Orleans unique, said Alex Turvy, the author of “Potholes and Power: A Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis of ‘Look At This F––in’ Street’ on Instagram,” a paper published this week in the journal Social Media + Society.
Instead of giving into rage in the face of widespread government ineptitude, the account, Look At This F—in’ Street, provides people a venue to express their frustration through satire and sarcasm. And that is the source of its power, said Turvy, a graduate student in the sociology department at Tulane.
“It highlights the city’s failure that we all know. But it also highlights the things we love about New Orleans, which is the creativity and ingenuity of the people that live here,” Turvy said in an interview. “There’s plenty of people that are angry on social media, and it doesn’t do anything.”
This somewhat lighthearted approach has made the account a potent tool for affecting change, he said. Sifting through the thousands of comments left below the account’s posts, Turvy found it has attracted the attention of the public agencies it roasts daily. Representatives with RoadworkNOLA, the Sewerage & Water Board and the Department of Public Works have all interacted with the account, either to communicate with residents reporting problems, or to tout the city’s successes in resolving those same issues, according to Turvy.
City spokesperson John Lawson said the city’s Public Works and Parks and Parkways departments have a “great relationship” with the account, which will share PSAs and other useful information with its followers at the city’s request.
“They will tag us in an issue they know pertains to us, and we will respond if we see an issue that demands our attention,” Lawson wrote in an email to Verite.
“There’s actually something pretty strange politically happening here where this silly, irreverent thing has turned into a way to make things happen in the city,” Turvy said. “I started to look around for other places where something similar happened, and I really couldn’t find it.”
The owner of the account, who has remained anonymous, started the account in 2019 as a place to vent his own frustration, according to interviews with WWL Radio and Big Easy Magazine. He said he found himself driving through the obstacle course that is often the streets of New Orleans and saying to himself: “Look at this f—ing street.” (The anonymous account handler did not respond to a request for comment from this reporter Friday.)
He initially focused his posts on potholes but graduated to street flooding and the never-ending roadwork that blocks traffic in nearly every neighborhood, from the Lower 9th Ward to Lakeview. Soon he was receiving between 50 and 100 photo and video submissions a day from his equally frustrated followers.
Using data provided by the account’s manager, Turvy broke down the followers by gender, age and location. About 60% are women and 40% men. Just over two-thirds are between the ages of 25 and 44. And nearly a third live in New Orleans, with the next largest group of followers coming from Metairie, at 5.8%, and Baton Rouge, 2.6%.
In his paper, Turvy described the Instagram account as a new form of citizen journalism that allows “residents to take back the narrative of their city’s infrastructure challenges, diminish and demean the powerful interests responsible, and ultimately attempt to reclaim the power lost to negligent or even bad-faith municipal authorities in New Orleans.”
After all, New Orleans has a long history of using satire to highlight the frustrating and oftentimes depressing problems that come with being a full-time resident. When a large sinkhole appeared at the foot of Canal Street near the Mississippi River in April 2016, some residents organized a “Sinkhole de Mayo” party with the theme: “When life hands you sinkholes, make margaritas.”
It is this type of satire that has flourished on the Instagram account. A recent video of a broken traffic light flashing like strobes at a rave, set to the dance track “Sandstorm” by the Finnish DJ Darude, garnered more than 47,000 views. Another of a car with its tail in the air and its nose slowly being devoured by a pothole with “Stuck on You” by Huey Lewis and the News playing in the background attracted more than 217,000 views.
And though these reels are irreverent and funny, what the account has exposed is not, Turvy said.
“The page ultimately seems to serve as an outlet for frustration with a broadly dysfunctional city,” he wrote.
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