This week’s discussion: Alaskan Bush People, Season 1. Watch it on Hulu.
Next week’s discussion: Snooki and JWoww: Moms with Attitude, Season 1, Eps. 1-12, 39-40. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.
Due to some (still ongoing) technical difficulties, Mike travels to his folks’ place in order to bring you another episode while the initial portion of JS’s audio has a ‘special guest’ (our apologies). However, we soldier on with this week’s show, which was a lot more enjoyable than the last couple.
After doing the usual rundown of concept, cast, and episode highlights, we discuss this show’s troubled – to put it charitably – relationship to reality and use that as a segue to try to further define reality TV, particularly in comparison to the documentary, and figure out what makes reality TV unique.
We then dig into the show’s worldview of self-reliance, rugged individualism, and the virtues of living ‘off-the-grid’ as well as the interesting way in which the show positions the Browns – and, implicitly, Alaska itself – as avatars of both exoticism and traditional (white, Christian) American values.
Finally, we wrap up by locating the show’s appeal in its display of the virtues of rural living and community in an increasingly urbanized and impersonal modern society. Also, we announce the results of our Jersey Shore spin-off listener’s choice poll – since the world has been waiting with bated breath.
Show Notes and Links
1:08 / We rue our poor luck
2:02 / Introducing this week’s show
3:27 / Running down the high concept
5:00 / The cast of characters
8:11 / JS was a big fan of Bear
8:46 / Moving into the episode recaps
10:03 / Really playing up that flat tire
11:18 / Theme of first season is race against winter
13:34 / Talking about ‘Rick the Lumberman’
15:04 / The fingerprints of producers are all over this show; JS mentions Monica the Medium
16:18 / Talking about the ‘junkman’ and whether show is playing up the ‘roughness’ of these characters
18:22 / Delving more into the bartering ‘goose chase’
19:15 / JS drops some research about DVDs and rural Alaska
20:10 / The emphasis placed on barter as emblematic of bush culture
20:30 / Wrapping up the cabin-building arc
21:50 / Briefly summarizing the ‘boat’ episode
22:45 / The ‘clip’ episode aka ‘No, it’s real! Really!’
23:23 / Talking about the dentist’s office
24:05 / Our differing reactions to the believability of hospital care for barter
26:06 / How authentic we thought the show was prior to doing our research
28:11 / We start delving into the gossip on the show
28:40 / Talking about the family’s residency fraud charges
31:52 / The evolution of the show’s authenticity (living in hotels, etc.)
32:18 / Mike wasn’t surprised at the inauthenticity, but the level of fakery was beyond what he would have guessed
33:00 / Our final thoughts on the family’s ‘bush skills’ in light of the ‘revelations’
33:47 / Talking about the definition of reality TV vis-à-vis the documentary
34:34 / What is the line between documentary and reality TV?
35:02 / JS defines the line as the level of producer involvement in the action as it is happening; mentions the Heisenberg Principle
39:45 / Mike’s defining line is in the marketing and purpose (low/mass culture, entertainment-oriented, profit-driven vs. high culture, education-oriented, prestige-driven)
43:15 / JS thinks even the ‘fake’ reality shows qualify because they are at least setting up the expectation of reality, even if the execution is obviously poor (*cough* TOWIE *cough*)
45:00 / Segueing into the worldview and themes of the show
45:21 / Mike noticed a theme of self-reliance and freedom juxtaposed to civilization; mentions Dual Survival, the other Discovery reality show we watched
46:20 / JS thought the inauthenticity of the show undermines this message of ‘freedom from society’
47:33 / Mike wonders if freedom from civilization is really freedom or just subjugation to the whims of nature
49:10 / The show’s idealization and romanticization of ‘bush culture’
50:05 / Mike was struck by the masculine focus and tone of these ‘outdoor’ oriented shows
52:55 / The interesting blend of familiarity and exoticism in the portrayal of the Browns
53:53 / Alaska’s place in the US mental geography
54:22 / The importance of the Brown’s whiteness to the show’s appeal
57:28 / Mashup between 1850’s nostalgia and 1950’s nostalgia
57:55 / Show sells an image of rugged individualism, but there are cracks in that image
59:56 / JS talks about the appealing aspects of the show
1:01:05 / Mike thought this show could have been an interesting look at rural life without the hype (and fakery, obviously)
1:01:40 / The appeal of Gemeinschaft in an era of Gessellschaft
1:07:23 / Announcing the results of our listener’s choice poll