Draining the Swamp

Terry Chea / AP

In American myth, swamps are threatening places whose stagnant waters conceal alligators and snakes, if not slimy monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In Hollywood westerns, by contrast, the desert represents a hard, honest purity, a moral ground that tests the souls of individuals. In the desert, you can see for miles, everything is clear, but a swamp closes in around you. In southern chain gang escape movies, the swamp is something you fall into and can’t escape. The swamp is a popular image of the unknowable, the mysterious, and the corrupt.