Last night my wife and I saw this preview for a new upcoming reality show on TLC:
I confess, we watch a fair amount of reality tv shows in our house. We were there to see Jon and Kate’s marriage dissolve on national television, chain-smoker Phil finally die of a heart attack on Deadliest Catch, Honey Boo Boo fart-joke her way into the hearts of millions, and the Duck Dynasty clan celebrate their combination of million-dollar holdings and down home swamp family values. But lately, over the past couple of years, we have noticed an interesting trend in the pseudo-reality show realm, the increasing number of programs that in some way or another involve people living, by choice, in circumstances less than all of what modernity has to offer.
First there were all these “Survivalist” shows featuring guys like Bear Grylls, or that other survivalist guy, or the survivalist duo of guys, or the survivalist married couple. Lots of eating grubs and drinking from coconuts etc. Then you started seeing all these shows based in the wilderness of Alaska, like “Ultimate Survival Alaska“, on the National Geographic channel, where four teams were racing through the Alaskan wilderness, having to traverse all kinds of natural obstacles. A litany of Alaska-themed shows has sprung up, such as “Alaska: The Last Frontier” and “Life below Zero“, (which is actually pretty good), both of which feature families and individuals trying to live off the land. There’s “Out of the Wild”, and “Alaskan Bush People“, the latter being a show which featured a family in very much the same manner that this new TLC show appears to be imitating and trying to expand upon. To the east of Alaska, our Canadian neighbors have given us “Ice Lake Rebels“, which documents the lives of those living as inhabitants of house boats on a lake frozen for most of the year in Yellowknife Bay in the Northwest Territories. The show “Mountain Men” features (of course) mountaineer-types living off the land in Alaska, the Rockies of Montana, and the Appalachians. But this new “reality” genre goes far beyond the Frozen North, with shows like “Naked and Afraid”, “Live Free or Die“, and “The Legend of Mick Dodge“. Mick Dodge is a man who the cameramen follow around the forests of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, where he has lived as a sort of roaming woodsman for decades now, bivouacking in mossy tree stumps and caves, eating things like wild mushrooms and fresh salmon. In a similar vein, I have also taken notice of several shows dealing with various “prepper” topics, such as “Doomsday Preppers“, “Doomsday Castle” and “Doomsday Bunkers”.
There are really too many shows like this to try and list every last one of them, but you get the gist. The real question for me however, has been, “Why exactly are they so keen to highlight this broader topic, with all of it’s subcategories and tangential pursuits…?”
Obviously, the surface-level answer would be simply that an increasing number of people are interested in these kinds of “alternative” lifestyles, whether they are actually interested in possibly trying it out themselves one day, or simply because the mundane routine of suburban living has somehow made the act of watching someone eat larvae out of a log or try not to freeze to death overnight seem entertaining when compared to the thrilling adventure supplied by driving our climate-controlled S.U.V.’s to the grocery store and back. But I would say that just because a large segment of the population finds a topic interesting/appealing, doesn’t automatically mean that the controlling hands at the helms of the major networks will oblige and produce content in that direction. There’s always a reason. Always an agenda.
Has anyone else noticed this surge in going-back-to-nature programming? Could this spate of survivalist, living-off-the-grid t.v. shows really have something to do with being a response to the increasing number of people getting weary of things like smart-meters and endless energy-rate hikes and internet surveillance..? Do you think it does more to romanticize and glorify these kinds of less-is-more approaches to life, or do they in the end actually serve to show just how difficult, if not darn near impossible, such a goal is in the societal context we now find ourselves in? Is it being relegated as something that is nice to imagine, but not so much to personally attempt, in some lame wave of reverse-psychology against giving any serious consideration as to how we might take tangible steps towards detaching ourselves from this artificial and entropic matrix closing in all around us…?
What do you think, does it work towards portraying the people who are living by such ideologies as brave and ingenious, or as crazy as paranoid?