Trafficking in stereotype

Louisiana focuses on workforce development
January 21, 2014
Cyclists, motorist share the road on Southdown Trail
January 22, 2014
Louisiana focuses on workforce development
January 21, 2014
Cyclists, motorist share the road on Southdown Trail
January 22, 2014

It was about 15 years ago on a placid, moonlit night, that a fisherman from Chauvin named Marty Marie was teaching me the finer points of night shrimping in a 25-foot Carolina skiff.

We did this on a bayou west of Chauvin that ran off of Lake Boudreaux, and the skiff was one of about a dozen in line, scooping up shrimp from below, with the nets dropping their bounty onto the deck as the skipper turned his boat around, then beat hell to the bayou’s mouth while his girlfriend, Shoney Duet, separated shrimp from bycatch and put them on ice.

As he pushed the skiff’s motor to its limit, the nets swelling behind him just under the surface, Marty asked me a question.

Noting that I had traveled a few more places than he had, Marty asked if I thought, at some restaurant in New York or Washington, that someone eating shrimp might have given some thought to the man who caught it.

“Do those people ever wonder what I look like?” he asked. “Do they ever think about my face?”

The answer to that question is probably no, they don’t, although you never really know.

Marty’s face is lined and ruddy, from so many years of being out on the water. He has eyes that are the same steel-gray as Lake Boudreaux on a winter day. There is no question as you regard it that these are the features of a working man. And in that regard, if people don’t think about Marty while eating their shrimp, they are missing out on an experience.

Likely, if their thoughts do go to such a place, there are a good few choices for diners to focus on other than Marty. And they won’t be anything like Marty.

Marty has never said “choot ‘em” and so the characters who appear on “Swamp People” bear no resemblance to him, except in the most minor of cultural ways.

Marty keeps his spirituality to himself and does not judge his neighbors by who they love; he is aware that many black people had it rough in the pre-civil rights law eras, and so he is not anything like the north Louisiana folks on “Duck Dynasty,” although north Louisiana folks are in many ways different from those down here anyhow.

So now the latest insult to local culture and sensibility is appearing on the small screen, a CMT channel offering called “Party Down South.”

Because it includes a young woman from Gheens by the name of Mattie Breaux, the debut of the show becomes personal for all of us.

This representative of central Lafourche Parish womanhood spends much of her time on the series premiere wanting to drive even though she is drunk. Partying is, after all, one of Breaux’s favorite pass-times, according to the show’s promotional material.

The South as a whole has long suffered on so-called reality TV, beginning with Honey Boo Boo and ending who-knows-where. One of the greater insults is the “Cajun Justice” television series, which was mercifully short-lived.

The point here is that our society down in these bayou parishes is far more diverse than television would have you believe, that our people have far more dimensions to them than the reality shows allow, and that unfortunately the rest of the nation sees us through these stereotypes.

Our poster children are ill-suited to who we are as a people. And if I had a choice today to decide who should represent us, it would be Marty Marie. Or maybe someone who works in one of our banks. Or a hard-working landscaper. Or just about anyone other than who is being offered by the networks.

But that is also up to us. I have known people who didn’t fit the stereotypes, who have been approached by television but said no because they are afraid of how our people get portrayed.

I say that, just like the people who don’t run for office because they don’t believe in how politicians operate – which makes them the people who really should run for office – the people who say no to the television people are probably more like who we need representing us. So if you are a working, sober, sensitive freethinker and the television people ask you to be part of what they do, just say yes.

Just saying.