Jewish World Review July 15, 2004 / 26 Tamuz, 5764

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

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The simple life, Cajun style


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | HENDERSON, La. — I thought Paris Hilton was a French hotel until my nephew Scott rode down to the swamp with me his last spring break.


One day Scott was minding his business, leaving the dock to go fishing, when a hot-pink pickup pulling an Airstream trailed by a film crew pulled into a local marina. Soon we would learn about Paris Hilton, her sidekick Nicole Richie and their TV show called "The Simple Life 2."


Best I understand, the show's premise is this: Two impossibly rich girls leave the Good Life and their credit cards and are "forced" to work and spend time with regular folks while driving themselves cross-country. The rubes they meet along the way are not shown in a flattering light, but then neither are the starlets. There's crudeness aplenty, deprecation all around.


It's one of those inane, scripted reality shows that bear no resemblance to reality.


A Cajun family named Mequet owns the little boat dock here and cooperated with the TV people. For some reason, nearly everyone cooperates with TV people. Your average Joe will run a mile to avoid a newspaper reporter, but will lay himself wide-open if there's a TV camera rolling.


The Mequet son, Jude, took the rich girls frog-gigging, and the Mequet daughter, Jenny, let herself be tarted up by the famous visitors for a first date.


Scott, too, was filmed as he left the dock in a skiff. That meant, of course, I had to watch the show to see if my nephew would be edited out — or included, in what I assumed would be the inevitable put-down of Cajun Country. I couldn't decide which would be worse, a disappointed or humiliated Scott.

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The Louisiana show aired last week. Scott didn't make the cut. Jude, who had taken the heiresses out frogging, didn't make much of a splash, either. The magic of TV made it look like the rich visitors were catching the frogs all by themselves.


Jenny played a big role in what passed for a plot, wearing Paris-chosen, over-the-top makeup and clothes that would have looked at home in a Manhattan disco or a low-rent truck stop.


The show went relatively easy on the Cajun family and the swamp. Which was a miracle, of sorts. The week before, the cameras had had a field day with Mississippi, and last year's visit to an Arkansas hog farm was painful to watch if you have any empathy at all for rural life. But here in Cajun Country, the rich girls retracted their fangs.


The Mequets theorized that this might have been because of their typical Cajun hospitality. The food is so good and the people so fun-loving and generous that it's hard for sane visitors to find fault with this part of the country.


The show didn't do any real damage, but then it didn't capture the complexities of the scene, either. Even flattering portrayals don't come close to explaining this not-so-simple life.


The day after "Simple Life" aired I was sitting on the porch in Henderson, not five miles from the featured boat landing, trying to enjoy that few minutes in the afternoon after it's cool enough to sit outside and before the mosquitoes fly.


A crawfisherman was talking loudly on his cell phone. He had to speak up because a four-wheeler was roaring through the sugar cane field behind us. Another neighbor had his Harley out for an airing. This life might be simple, for instance, but it's not quiet. One of the many paradoxes.


Nobody here had much to say about the TV show. So many movies and programs and Playboy spreads have been set in the swamp that local people don't pay much attention anymore.


Cajuns have seen themselves portrayed as bloodthirsty beasts in "Southern Comfort" and as reclusive half-wits in "Shy People." What's another Hollywood slur, more or less?


That's the joke, really, and it isn't on the Cajuns. Paris and Nicole might be hot stuff elsewhere, but in Henderson they were treated pretty much the same as every other tourist — with respect and genuine hospitality, the way we all like to be treated.



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07/08/04: You simply didn't strike out on family vacation in a dirty Buick
07/02/04: I fuss and cuss but know where my heart is


© 2004, Rheta Grimsley Johnson Distributed by King Features Syndicate