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Reality Check

January 26, 2012

Troy Landry, more informally known as “The King of the Swamp” and his son, Jacob Landry, look to take on a whole new group of gators in the Atchafalaya Swamp during the second season of “Swamp People.” – Photo courtesy of The History Channel

Does Louisiana-based reality television
portray authentic Louisiana?

 

Lisa Plaisance & Amie Rolland
Staff Reporter & News Editor

 

Louisiana is home to a variety of people, the most well known of which are rednecks and Cajuns. Since 2000, Louisiana has become a hot spot for more than a dozen reality TV shows, which explains why many people have come to associate Louisiana with mud riding, fishing and hunting alligators.

 

Some of the most popular shows are A&E’s “Cajun Pawn Stars,” The History Channel’s “Swamp People.” The newest additions are Country Music Television’s “Bayou Billionaires” and MTV’s “Caged.”

 

Although these TV shows have shed light on the numerous subcultures and traditions incubated throughout Louisiana, some natives are concerned that the shows portray the state and its residents inaccurately.

 

Taylor Mack, an associate professor of social sciences, said “Swamp People,” for example, only lets viewers peek into one region and one culture of Louisiana.

 

“They’re not portraying the whole state, they’re taking a subset of the state, a certain geographical area and the people who live there and applying it to the whole state,” he said. “I think that is one reason for the popularity of the show [“Swamp People”], is that it does show a distinct region of the South that is very different from most of the rest of America, but I think they play the differences up too much.”

 

“Swamp People” has received an immense amount of attention from Americans, so this is what many believe the Louisiana lifestyle is like. The History Channel follows these Cajuns through the 30-day alligator-hunting season on the dangerous Atchafalaya Swamp. According to History.com, “this is a uniquely American story of a proud and skillful people fighting to maintain an ancient way of life in a rapidly modernizing world.”

 

Mack said “Swamp People” portrays people as inarticulate and uneducated because the characters speak with such thick, Cajun accents that there are subtitles.

 

“Most of the people speak English and you can clearly understand them,” he said. “I think they kind of edit it to make it look like they’re dumber, but I think that’s true of whenever they’re doing the South. The South has always been portrayed as the dumber part of the country.”

 

Madison Butzman, a sophomore family and child studies major, said she often watches “Swamp People” and said she does not think the show is made to mock the people or their lifestyles.

 

“I like that “Swamp People” doesn’t make fun of people in Louisiana, it just highlights their uniqueness and individuality,” she said. “It’s a hard job and people who do it, do it because they love it.”

 

“Bayou Billionaires” premiered Jan. 21. This show captures the rags-to-riches story of the Dowden family from Bossier City. These modern day Clampetts discovered their home was built on the fourth largest deposit of natural gas in the United States.

 

CMT jumped at the opportunity to follow them on their journey of newfound fortune.

 

Some students like Elizabeth Hines, a senior child life major, do not believe the shows present Louisianans in a positive light. As a Shreveport native, she said she does not appreciate the way “Bayou Billionaires” is produced to negatively portray people from Shreveport.

 

“I’m embarrassed that this is how the people of the South are portrayed,” she said. “We are not all idiots that suddenly struck it rich.”

 

In MTV’s “Caged,” which premiered Jan. 9, the cameras follow small town Mixed Martial Arts fighters throughout the town of Minden while they battle to make something of themselves. Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker said, “Fighters who have little else in their lives except their fists try to become champs to gain fame, some money if not fortune, and – a distant dream—a career.”

 

Butzman said the unique people in Louisiana are part of what draws production companies here.

 

“Louisiana is such a hot spot for reality television shows because we have so much rich culture and we have some crazy traditions,” she said.

 

According to History.com, “Cajun Pawn Stars” puts a Southern spin on its hit TV show, “Pawn Stars.” Big Daddy and his crew at The Silver Dollar Pawn & Jewelry Center in Alexandria give locals and tourists the chance to trade and appraise their collectibles “the Cajun way.”

 

Basil Nwokolo, a junior construction engineering major, said the shows have displayed many stereotypes that other states have embedded in their minds.

 

“When I went to California last summer, they thought everywhere in Louisiana was swampy and everyone hunted alligators,” he said. “It doesn’t give a complete view of the culture down here in Louisiana. It just gives a part of it.”

 

Mack said although the presentation of these shows may not always be perfectly accurate, he still thinks the show has an overall positive effect on Louisiana and its residents. He says one reason the shows are successful is because of the real life situations portrayed by everyday people.

 

“I think most people around the country watch the shows and see it as a place that may be fun to come to,” he said.  “They’re hardworking but at the end of the day they have fun and I think that’s what most Americans do so they identify with that.”

 

Cari Sanders, a freshman family and child studies major, said she loves many of the reality shows based in Louisiana. Sanders is proud of the fact that the shows are showing people in everyday life, so everyday people can relate to them.

 

“Louisiana is all about the culture and traditions, and they depict that,” she said. “Also, the people on these shows are true to themselves. They’re real people.”

Email comments to lisap816@hotmail.com.

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