Remember when the History Channel was about, um, history? And by history, I mean Hitler? Well, over time, it’s shifted its programming lineup to focus on the cultural dissection and investigation of “redneck”/ rural/ blue collar people. There’s Ice Road Truckers, Mounted in Alaska (about taxidermy), American Pickers (guys who scour hoarders’ stockpiles for valuables), UFO Hunters, Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy, and about thirty different shows about Jesus, the Rapture, and scientifically proving the Bible. Now, the History Channel brings us…Swamp People. You asked for it, America! You wanted to see dentally handicapped, incoherent, poverty stricken Cajuns zooming around the bayou, hunting gators, and now you have it!
One episode starts off with Willie searching for a giant alligator he spotted briefly surface. Our hero is missing a front tooth, needs subtitles to be understood, and scans the swamp with a rapacious hunger for gator murder. The narrator informs us, “A gator this size will make his reputation on bayou.” I imagine the conversation:
“Hey did you hear about the gator Willie caught? 12 feet long!”
“12 feet long?!”
“Yeah, and 500 pounds!”
“Who helped him bring it in?”
“No one. He hauled it in by himself!
“Oh my God, I must blow this sexy swamp man!”
Eventually Willie catches the gator by hanging bait from a tree branch, suspending it just above the water’s surface. The gator thrashes, writhes, and snaps furiously on the line as Willie extends his tender hand flesh right up next to its jaws to pull him close to the boat. Perhaps no one told him that alligators have the strongest laboratory measured bite of any living animal. He then draws out an old pistol, aims point blank at the gator’s face, and blows its fucking brains out. This is in slow motion. Baaaaaaaam! The water turns red with blood around the gator’s head, its powerful body now 500 pounds of raw seafood. This scene is repeated over and over throughout the show—a gun fired directly into a gator’s face in slow motion. All swamp people do all day long is shoot gators’s faces.
I remember Steve Irwin would catch crocodiles and alligators with his bare hands, and then he’d turn to the camera, still holding the gator, and say something like, “These beautiful creatures are under threat from hunters and habitat degradation. I believe we need to do what we can to preserve them.” Cut to Swamp People—shot in the face in slow motion. Again. And again. And again. I know alligators aren’t endangered, but it’s only been a few decades since they dropped off the endangered species list in 1987. After watching swamp people shoot alligator after alligator, I started wondering if this practice could possibly be environmentally sustainable. I love alligators. They smile all the time, and sometimes they lumber out onto golf courses and devour rich old people. Nom nom nom. Watching them get shot in the face by swamp people is disheartening to me on some level.
After one kill shot, a hunter named RJ said, “He thought he was smart. He thought he was slick. But we outslicked him.” First of all, an alligator’s brain is the size of an acorn. If you can’t outsmart a creature that dumb, how can you even turn doorknobs or button your shirt (if you wore anything other than overalls, that is)? Second of all, you have advanced technology in the form of 22 rifles while the alligator can only wriggle helplessly on the end of a line. Third of all, why “outslicked” when “outsmarted” was just within your grasp? If you’re slick, it’s only due to accumulated oils, perspiration, and mayonnaise residue.
One of the subplots revolves around a man named Terral, wandering the wilderness with a crossbow, hunting a giant killer pig he’s named Big Wooly. He’s covered his whole body with leaves for camouflage and stalks slowly through the thick foliage. “This is the Moby Dick of the pig world,” he says to the camera. I cannot make this shit up. The narrator tells me feral hogs have 30 different diseases, attack humans on sight, breed like rabbits, and, because of their thick sinewy hides, are extremely difficult to kill. At any moment, the monster hog could lunge out and attack Terral—or hell, he could gore the cameraman to death for that matter. “If that bitch comes out, I’m gonna give her some of this,” says Terral, gesturing to his weapon (the rifle, you pervert). The narrator says Terral has been hunting this legendary hog for two years. That seems like a questionable use of two years of a person’s life, but who am I to judge? I’m wasting a whole hour of my time on a show about swamp people.
Finally, Terral spots Big Wooly surrounded by her brood of demon piglets from his perch in a tree overhead. Wow, two years of hunting, and that conceited bitch sure showed up quickly once the TV cameras came around. He shoots it, but it flees into the swamp, slowly bleeding to death. At this point, he hops down to the ground, switches to a crossbow, and tracks the dying hog by its footprints and trampled undergrowth. Silence. Then the ominous sound of oinking. “What the fuck was that?” he shouts in terror. I imagine the cameraman saying, “Alright, let’s go down the list. Cow go moo. Chicken go bock bock. Horsy go nay. SHIT WHAT GOES OINK I’M SO SCARED RIGHT NOW.” A few minutes later, they discover Big Wooly’s fat dead body up against a tree stump. By Terral’s expression, it’s clear in the long war between mankind and pigkind, mankind has won a major victory.
Swamp People depicts human beings fighting to control nature either by murdering gators that destroy expensive crawfish traps or trimming the populations of invasive species like feral hogs. For these thankless jobs, their lives are harsh, exhausting, and generally unhygienic. Their equipment is old and rusty. The swamp is an ever shifting labyrinth. Every transition uses b-roll of some other awful thing in the swamp: a snake slithering through the water, a spider devouring a fly, an alligator’s watchful eye just above the water’s surface. All I can think is: this place is a fucking swamp infested with mosquitoes and giant bloodthirsty reptiles! You have televisions! You can see you don’t have to live this way! Get out of there! But they’re happy living in the bayou, shooting gators’ faces despite all the hardships. There’s a lesson there about contentment maybe, but on the other hand, there’s a more important one about brushing your teeth and going to college.