Explaining the South on Instagram, one custom at a time

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If you had any kind of upbringing in the South, you probably know the strict hierarchy that dictates who brings the potato salad and cornbread to a covered dinner and who is responsible for the paper plates.

There's a good chance you know the difference between wandering and wandering. Just as you understand that a prayer request can be a genuine call for divine assistance on someone's behalf, and a loophole for passing on gossip without, technically speaking, engaging in it.

But not everyone can have that kind of workout at home, bless them. That's where Landon Bryant comes in.

He has covered all this and much more in his daily videos posted on social media about the customs and mannerisms he learned growing up in a small town in Mississippi.

“The Lord put it on my heart and we all need to lift it up because: insert information here,” Mr. Bryant explained in the video detailing how one can gossip through a prayer request.

“The prayer list,” he added, “is a kind of news source.”

With his silky shoulder-length hair and soft accent that belies a devilishly sly sense of humor, Bryant, 35, has become a fixture on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube with his explanation and exploration of what it means to be a Southerner. .

Much of it is food: grits, fried green tomatoes, sweet potato pie, divinity, corn nuggets, hot tamales and crab cakes are just a few of the delicacies he's talked about. She has delivered soliloquies on social etiquette (a phone call should never end with a quick goodbye), language (defining “could” and “getting ready”) and Mississippi weather (the humidity can feel like wearing “a sweater full of Vaseline “).

Since February, his posts on “Landon Talks” have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers, many of them from around the world, a testament to the strange fascination that has always surrounded the quirks, characters and complicated history of the South.

But many of Bryant's regular viewers are as Southern as he is, confirming another enduring truth about the region: There are few things Southerners love more than reveling in their own Southern character.

The comments on your posts can be as engaging as the videos themselves: abundant and passionate, but never as heated. Take, for example, the thread about the region's superstitions. A bird flying in the house is a sign that a loved one is about to die; a cardinal in the yard is a dead relative who registers.

“In this time of global upheaval and unrest, it's fun to think about deviled eggs,” said one frequent commenter, Patricia Altschul, the socialite and grande dame of Bravo's reality show “Southern Charm.” “People argue about a lot of these things that no one else cares about except Southerners.”

As light-hearted as it may seem, Bryant believes the conversation actually represents something more substantial: a sprawling family, plagued by bitter disagreements and painful histories, united by an abiding affection for home.

Her audience includes a certified “Daughter of the Confederacy” and one of the most liberal members of the Louisiana State Legislature. There are people from a mix of racial and economic backgrounds, as well as gay and gender non-conforming people. Its diversity may surprise some outsiders, but it reflects the geographic, racial, economic, ideological and gastronomic immensity of the South.

“By analyzing our phrases, expressions and traditions, Landon reinforces the idea that there is a rich history and culture in this area,” said Claire Thriffiley, his Instagram follower and director of an art gallery in New Orleans.

Bryant acknowledged that many of his videos are snapshots of a fading way of life. The matriarchs who set the tone for potato salad are aging or long gone. The “might might” is heard less and less.

The videos are also a kind of informal historical record. “It's just become this love letter,” Bryant said in an interview in Laurel, Mississippi, her city of 17,000, where she lives on the same street where she grew up.

But over time, he realized that the videos and the conversations they sparked weren't just about remembering an idealized version of the past. This was an opportunity to discover which Southern traditions were worth preserving and which were best left behind.

“Our generation will have to decide,” he said.

An elementary school art teacher until he became a full-time influencer, Bryant doesn't claim to be the definitive voice of the South, as if one could exist.

Still, regular viewers say he is an ideal guide. “Landon is funny and has a soft, calming voice,” said Mandie Landry, a Democratic state legislator from New Orleans.

“Very Mr. Rogers,” he added. “He could start a cult full of kindness and potato salad and I would join him.”

He never needed a camera or an Instagram account to launch into meandering monologues. His wife, Katelyn, encouraged him to start recording them and posting them online, if only to avoid being his only audience.

Over the past year, his life has been transformed. She has a contract to write a book expanding on his videos. Lingua Franca, a New York-based supplier of cashmere sweaters with hand-sewn messages, recently sold out of a line featuring phrases from her videos, including “Bless your heart” and “Might might.”

Some of her posts include paid promotions where she mentions certain products, such as white lily flour and corn flour blends. Bryant also produces made-to-order videos ($50 each) for Cameo, the service that offers individualized messages from various well-known personalities. So far, he has been hired to share a message from one twin sister to another to stop spending money at Starbucks and to resolve a dispute over whether to eat grits with salt and pepper or sugar. (“There is no right way to eat grits,” he said, “as long as you eat grits.”)

An inquiry about his favorite drink (a French 75) turned into a meditation on drinking in the South. “People in the South have a favorite drink,” she said, “or you pretend like you don't drink anything and don't make eye contact at the liquor store.”

Now strangers recognize him in public, including on a recent family vacation to Disney World. The attention has been surreal, she said, and even a little uncomfortable. Still, she noted that entry-level celebrity didn't feel all that different from living under the watchful eye of a small town.

One recent afternoon, while running errands in Laurel, a man yelled at him from a passing pickup truck: “Can I have your autograph, Landon?” He turned out to be the husband of his wife's cousin.

His wife, who was one of his best friends growing up, has been surprised by how his emergence as a social media influencer has brought Bryant out of his shyness, but not so surprised by the connection he has made with viewers. “She feels like she's talking to you,” she said.

He has the observation skills that those who feel strange in the place that is supposed to be their home usually develop. As a boy, he was small and a little clumsy (he needed to grow his ears), as he put it, and he preferred eavesdropping on ladies at the beauty salon than hunting, playing sports, or other difficult manly activities. who surrounded him. For a while, he even tried to lower his voice to better fit that mold of masculinity.

However, the whirlwind of the past year has taught him that it may not be as strange as he once thought. “I didn't realize how much I'm from this place,” he said. “I'm also a Southern man, whatever that means to me.”

He keeps a list of possible video topics on his phone and continually finds new inspiration, even the other day when his grandmother stopped by and asked him how he was feeling.

“She literally told me, 'I should feel better if I died,'” he said. She made a mental note to put that on the list.

He wants to spend a year before broaching any topic again. But after that, she would like to correct the record on a few points, namely deviled eggs. In her first video about them, she mentioned covering them with cookie crumbs. The reaction was quick.

He is eager to explain himself. But he also wants to remind his fans that he knows his place when it comes to a shared meal.

He's the one who brings the paper plates.



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