“The way of life depicted in this program dates back 300 years.
Hunting, especially alligator hunting, lies at its core.
Some images may be disturbing…viewer discretion advised.”
There are a few features I consider clutch, crowd-pleasing components of any standard reality show: character variety, diversification of activities, and changes in scenery. “Swamp People,” in its third season on the History channel, possesses none of these three. How it has survived beyond its virgin episode, I do not know, but it’s gotta be saying something about the American psyche.
The title “Swamp People” makes the show sound much spookier than it is. “Gator Hunters” would be far more apt. First off, the way of life depicted in the show does NOT date back 300 years. I don’t think that in 1712 refugee Cajuns from Canada zipped around in motors boats shooting alligators between the eyes with rifles, hanging their prizes up at the end of the day and taking group photos, baby nieces included. Summed up, that’s the essence of the show: a bunch of guys (save two women) out in a massive Louisiana swamp killing alligators during the 30-day alligator hunting season, a time crucial to their survival.
Barely two minutes into one of the episodes, hunters Troy and Junior have already killed a gator. Talk about lack of suspense. The show does try to stir up a little anxiety with jerky camera work during the gator killing scenes. Sometimes the camera shoots from beneath the water’s murky surface, plunging the viewer into a disorienting darkness. Sometimes there are intense Scottish beats, or a few snippets of thriller movie music. In one scene, the hunters are making a business deal, and the shot fades to CSI-esque reduced color, blurring at the edges. In another, one of the alligators is discovered to be still alive after having been dragged into the boat (rookie mistake), and is swiftly shot. But, for the most part, we’re up in the boat with different hunting pairs, watching them perform the same actions over and over again. They find the gator caught in a previously placed line, one guy holds the line tight to give the other a steady target, he shoots it, the gator dies, and they haul it into the boat. And… repeat.
In response to all this: WHY bother watching
A couple of possible reasons:
1) It’s one of those shows without a plot line, or any sort of development, so you can start and stop watching anywhere in a season or individual episode and let your brain drift off as you watch some gators getting owned.
2) We’re looking at Joe Sixpack, the hard-working family man. These guys have lived on the swamp all their lives. “I love this swamp more than I love my life itself,” says one of them. It’s a simple, pure, true-to-the-home lifestyle set apart from the main stream. What’s not to dig about that?
I guess the drowsy allure of the show can be summed up by this blurb on the its website: “At its core, 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, despite the many perils and trials that stand in their way.” And as dull as “Swamp People” does get, this reality-documentary mutt is a breath of fresh air, giving us real, unscripted, uninhibited, and unassuming people. Perhaps Swamp People are the true American standard, connecting us to primordial America.