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Emily Tecchio

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Swamp People: The Original Environmentalists

The History Channel's "Swamp People" isn't just about alligator-hunting--it profiles a conservationist subculture.

Every episode of the History Channel’s “Swamp People” begins with the following disclaimer: “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 is advised.” While this warning may titillate 5.2 million Americans enough to tune in, it masks the less sensational heart of the show: the relationship between the ecosystem of the Southeast Louisiana wetlands and its residents. Louisiana swamps may look like something out of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel and the characters populating it may seem equally otherworldly to viewers watching from the comfort of an air-conditioned living room. But behind the staged, almost-eaten incidents and the Cajun tagline “choot ‘em, choot ‘em,” “Swamp People” offers a message of conservation and respect. Swamp people are environmentalists without petitions or boycotts.

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