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Who was that person who inquired as to the identity of the previous speaker?

The first time I remember associating the phrase who dat with New Orleans specifically was at a Dirty Dozen Brass Band concert at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. There was a fellow at the table near the front who was decked out—I think I can safely say that decked out is the correct term—in black and purple and gold, and had a black parasol with purple and gold fringe and the words WHO DAT! in shiny gold letters on, if I am not adding to the memory of it, each of the eight panels. This parasol was opened and bobbed about when the gentleman was moved to particular funkiness; this happened several times over the course of the evening. I thought of him as the who dat man, and clearly he was a transplanted N’Awlins fellow who was taking the appearance of the D12BB as inspiration to celebrate his home town, and transport himself in spirit to that place.

This was in 1993 or so, sometime in the early nineties, anyway, and as I understand it the who dat chant had not yet become specifically associated with the NFL franchise there. I hadn’t heard the chant as a chant, but I had heard the two-word phrase in other contexts. For one thing, when Chris Frantz led the Tom Tom Club in “Genius of Love” in the 1984 Talking Heads movie Stop Making Sense he cries out in his best Funky White Boy voice who dat, who dat/now who dat tryin’ to be bad, you mutha’. It’s plausible that I had heard the catchphrase in college sometime, either in my Jazz History course or in any stuff I read that touched on images of African-Americans in the broader American culture. I never took a proper course on the stuff, you understand, but it was one of those things, in college in those years, where people talked about the Signifying Monkey, and the representations of Other-ness. That’s when I became aware of some of the minstrelsy tropes, so it wouldn’t surprise me if who dat came up, but I don’t remember it specifically. And if it did, I didn’t associate it specifically with the Crescent City. Later, in the 90s, the New Jump fad had the Royal Crown Revue recording “Who Dat”, but again, not a New Orleans band in my mind. And during that period there was some increased general talk about minstrelsy in the general population, with the brilliantly disturbing Spike Lee movie Bamboozled making use of the nobody here but us chickens catchphrase, but not, to the best of my recollection, the who dat. Also in 1997 or 1998 or so was the Chris Rock Vanity Fair cover and some theater work I don’t really recall the details of dealing with the relics of minstrelsy in our culture. Again, I don’t remember if who dat came to my attention in any of that or not, and if it did, I wouldn’t have associated it with New Orleans or with the Saints.

Here’s the point I’m trying to get at: the who dat catchphrase was only vaguely familiar to me at all, throughout the 80s and 90s, and to the extent is was familiar to me, it was as a leftover bit from minstrelsy and vaudeville, hanging on through swing music and jazz generally. And I would have put it very much in the category of things white people should avoid saying.

Now, I’m not criticizing the fans of the Saints for having taken up the catchphrase as a chant. This is one of those examples of phrases that lose their power through overuse, or rather through taking on so much association in their current overused form that the remaining offensiveness very likely is swamped. I have not heard from anybody, anywhere that has taken offense by the adoption of who dat by the Saints and the fans thereof. I think it’s great that people aren’t offended by it. And, as was mentioned to me as I started talking about the whole issue, race is different in N’Awlins. And I am scarcely an expert in any of this stuff. I’m just saying—are any of y’all Gentle Readers made just a little uncomfortable by it?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

I'm made uncomfortable by the NFL trying to trademark the phrase. :^p


A whole different issue. But my understanding was that they were trying to trademark the combination of the phrase and the fleur-de-lis image. That is, they weren't trying to stop people from selling who dat shirts, they were trying to stop people from selling knockoff Saints shirts. Since part of the purpose of the league as a business entity is to control, and thus exploit and presumably maximize, the revenue stream, I can't really blame them.

Furthermore, the whole set-up of our stupid intellectual property, trade mark, service mark, all of that legal framework is such that it makes sense for the NFL to attempt to trademark pretty damn' near everything in the world, just on spec. That's not the NFL's fault. They are acting rationally, under their circumstances. Particularly as other sports leagues have received favorable rulings, on occasion, for things like three-peat and refuse to lose and cowboy up and so on. Actually, I think one of those was a loss, but I can't remember which. Still, the incentives are in favor of a trademark application, even if it is denied.

Wasn't there a story about MLB putting in a trademark application for Yankees Suck?

Thanks,
-V.


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