As much as I’ve enjoyed watching Swamp People, one thing has bothered me about it. It felt exploitive. The Louisiana bayou is about as rural and southern as it gets in the US, and all the hunters on the show are unabashedly country. They’re the kind of people a lot of us like to refer to as hicks or rednecks.
When it comes to the ‘ignorant Southerner’ stereotype I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. I spent my childhood in a fairly rural area in east Tennessee and I wasn’t really a hunter or farmer but I bristle at the stereotype. After I became a ‘city boy’ I had regular clashes with one of my more smug friends (Swedish daughter of a Vanderbilt professor) who thought Southern accent = ignorant hick. So the choice to use subtitles for most of the Cajun hunters was pretty offensive to me at first.
After a few episodes I realized it was my own preconceptions and defensiveness that were the real problem. The gator hunters on Swamp People don’t sit in board rooms and they have thick accents but most of them are pretty sophisticated businessmen, and I’ve gained a new respect for the small business owner since my wife started up her own business. The profit margin on gator hunting isn’t so great and you have to plan ahead and run a tight organization to make a decent profit from the 30 day gator hunting season. Several of them own successful businesses like gator farms, and convenience markets that carry them through the rest of the year, and one guy even designs boats on the fly with nothing but a Sharpie and a big sheet of metal. He cuts and welds them right there on his property and apparently does a good business at it.
It bothers me a little that I’ve internalized the ignorant Southerner stereotype, but I’m glad to see a few Cajuns doing their part to get rid of it. I suspect that a lot of viewers still won’t see beyond the initial impressions, but maybe that’s just my imagination too.