A State of Reality

Edwin Edwards, we are told, might become the subject of a new reality TV show. Makes sense: What could be more real than the saga of a former four-term governor serving eight years in the pen and then, after being freed, marrying a woman 50 years his junior? If Edwards makes it to the plasma screen, however, he won’t be alone among Louisianians doing their own bit of reality. In fact, he is not even the most famous person from Louisiana. Troy Landry is.

Landry is the star of the History Channel’s Swamp People series about the lives of alligator-hunters. His command to “choot ‘em” is a death sentence for gators who, we are reminded, are overpopulated anyway. Not since “Who Dat” have two indigenous dialect words caught on with such fervor. Like the Saints’ mantra, Landry’s words now appear on T-shirts around the state, including the one pictured here worn by a fan at a festival in the Avoyelles Parish town of Vick. Spotting the T-shirt, I grabbed for my camera, thinking in my own way that I too needed to “choot ‘em.”

Yet, for as big of a star as Landry has become, he cannot even claim the entire state, or the History Channel, totally for himself. There’s Shelby Stanga to consider. Stanga doesn’t give in to pretense – as would be true of anyone who names his dog Piss Willy. He is one of several loggers from around the country featured in the series Ax Men. His specialty is recovering logs from bayous. The work can be lonesome and dangerous. When necessary, he mutters in his own dialect of Cajun, which reportedly only Willy the dog can understand. More reality.

What is just as real is Louisiana’s emergence as a setting for television, particularly in the age of cable. HBO’s Treme is more of a drama with melody than a reality show, though its feel for the texture of New Orleans can be quite realistic. Thankfully there is nothing real at all about True Blood, the vampire series (also shown on HBO), lest we all might be feeling a little anemic. Set in the imaginary town of Bon Temps, La., the critically acclaimed show has a cast of creepy types who we suggest should stay out of sight from Troy Landry.

Clearly this is the golden age for Louisiana as a television setting. Be mindful: Whatever lurks in the swamps could be TV’s next big star.

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