Swamp People

Have you ever been alligator hunting, or fishing?  Curious even a little bit about the subject?  If so, tune in to Swamp People, another reality show on the History Channel.

Who are these swamp people you ask?  Culturally, they are Cajuns who make their living catching gators in the backwater swamps of southern Louisiana.  The show is about father and son teams who go out during the month long alligator season to bag the biggest gators possible.  At the beginning of the hunting season, they purchase a set number of tags, which legally entitles them to catch big alligators.  They must use up all of the purchased tags by the end of the hunting season in order to be eligible for at least the same number of tags the following year.  Since each gator killed can be sold on the market, these tags represent an economic investment.  The tag system is the way Louisiana controls and protects the population of alligators.

The show puts the viewer on the boats with these gator hunters, known as the swamp people, at least this is their TV identity.  When I first heard swamp people, I imagined it’d be a show about some indigenous tribe that had recently been discovered by a team of ethnographers speaking a language that no one had ever heard.  Also, a carnival freak show came to mind, but it really is nothing at all like that, except that the so called swamp people really do live somewhat isolated lives in rural Louisiana and they do in fact have a peculiar dialect that few have probably ever heard before outside of Louisiana.

How does one catch a gator?  Not with a rod and reel, that’s for sure.  Lines are baited with rancid meat.  The hooks and line are then suspended from trees, not far from the surface of the water.  A hungry alligator jumps up, snags the bait and sometimes gets hooked.  The hunters come along and wrestle with the gator line, pulling in the line with the snagged 600 pound 10 foot beast with bare hands, as the armored reptile aggressively splashes and rolls.  When they get the gator to the boat, the hunter shoots the gator in the sweet spot on the top of the head.  The gator dies instantly and is then pulled into the boat.

Ok, it is all kind of gruesome, but this is not done for sport.  The gator hunters make their living from this animal.  It is there livelihood.  There is a market for gator meat and skin, just as there is a market for fish and seafood.  The men have great respect for the animal.  The don’t harm baby alligators, they don’t over fish or hunt and despise poachers.

The show is entertaining and interesting.  The swamp peoples’ accents are a little difficult to understand to the point that they are sometimes subtitled. Linguistically, their English is influenced by Cajun French, also known as Marsh French.  They may be able to understand standard French, but the producers did not appear to be too interested in addressing the unique linguistic heritage of the swamp people.

The show did feature segments on other cultural aspects of the swamp peoples’ lives from their alligator gumbo, prepared for the family by the men to parties featuring zydeco music and Cajun style dancing.

One theme that ties the episodes together is the swamp as provider and the importance of carrying on the tradition of alligator hunting to the next generation of swamp people.  The fathers felt confident that their sons would be able to carry on their legacy and pass it on to the next generation.

Swamp People captures a slice of Americana that most people will never see or experience.  For this reason alone, Swamp People earns an A rating.  It is a real gem of a show.

This is the 6th in a series of reviews on American reality shows.  To read the other reviews in the series, click the links below:

Chopped, Master Chef, American Chopper, American Pickers and Pawn Stars

Pawn Stars

It’s hard to imagine pawn brokers as stars, but on the History Channel, they are – that is on the show, Pawn Stars. I’ve never been to a pawn shop before, but have peered into the window of one to find a depressing array of used furniture, musical instruments and bad art. I really had no interest in watching a show about the typical workday of a pawn broker so I kept passing Pawn Stars up when channel surfing until one day. I don’t know why I tuned in, but I did, and I have to say the show caught my attention. It wasn’t so much the transactions that intrigued me, compelling as they were, you know, a guy brings in some rare Pete Rose baseball cards and they turn out to be a fakes and so on. What the show really has going for it are the pawn brokers themselves whose business the show chronicles. I have to say, they are entertaining – funny, sarcastic, unpredictable, silly and always educational. It’s a cross between Antiques Roadshow, All in the Family and Street Customs.  What characters! There’s the “Old Man” who started the business, his son Rick and his son, Corey, “Big Hoss” along with family friend Chumlee, who plays the part of the store clown.  Corey and Chumlee are forever making mistakes – buying stuff at inflated prices that could never sell, like a hot air ballon and a power kite they got tangled up in telephone wires.  One of my favorite blunders was when Rick acquired a Dylan album and asked Chumlee to find Dylan in Vegas and have him sign it.  Chumlee miraculously ran into Dylan and had him sign it to Chumlee.  Rick was furious when he found out, because he would not be able to sell the record with a personalized autograph, and in disgust gifted the LP to Chumlee, to Chumlee’s great delight.

Maybe some of the scenes are staged, but they are fun to watch. And occasionally people bring stuff in that the Pawn Stars have professionally appraised by their expert friends who shed light on the items, which sometimes have significant historical value, unlike most of what is picked up on American Pickers.  Fun show.

Rating: A-

Second in a multi-part series of reviews about American reality shows.