Episode 13 – Alaskan Bush People

 

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

30:00 / Matt’s DUI in a Walmart parking lot

30:39 / Talking about the family’s history with technology (Billy’s book, YouTube video)

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

37:38 / Mike talks about the early documentary Nanook of the North; director’s involvement in staging some scenes

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)

40:54 / Discussing how important ‘reality’ is to ‘reality TV’ (Our Bridezillas episode is here and our Survivor: Borneo episode is here)

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

51:13 / JS inserts a brief digression on Billy’s marital history and history with Ami’s family

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

58:50 / Relating this image to Alaska’s reality (oil fund, federal subsidies)

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

1:03:15 / Mike brings up Frederic Jameson’s essay ‘Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture’ (Mike also briefly mentions our Paris Hilton episode)

1:06:25 / The relationship between reality TV and subcultural communities (Amish Mafia, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding)

1:07:23 / Announcing the results of our listener’s choice poll

1:08:45 / The boilerplate: contact us, Facebook, rate/review, and subscribe

Episode 2 – The Only Way Is Essex

 

This week’s discussion: The Only Way Is Essex, Season 18, Eps. 1-3.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Finding Bigfoot, Season 11, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Animal Planet. (cable sub required past first episode) Purchase on Amazon Video.

This week your intrepid hosts take a (somewhat unplanned) trip across the pond to take in the ‘scripted reality’ drama The Only Way Is Essex.  After venting about our hatred of this show, we analyze the pacing of the show and how its one-track focus on petty relationship squabbles might have left a sour taste in our mouths.  We then explore the definition of reality TV on a broader level and decide whether the concept of ‘scripted reality’ fits.  Finally, we look at how this show treats British stereotypes and grapple with our cultural unfamiliarity before ending with a discussion on why this show has been so popular despite the fact that it did not connect with us personally.

Show Notes and Links

1:03 / Introducing this week’s show

1:53 / The high concept of the show (Flub 1: Essex is in Southeast, not Southwest England)

2:25 / A quick peek behind the scenes of 42 Minutes of Reality

3:52 / The locale of the first two episodes: resort town of Mallorca; Mike mentions Season 4 of Jersey Shore

4:45 / Back to the high concept

5:33 / Quoting The Guardian’s TV Critic

6:11 / We hated this show

7:55 / The ‘Waiting for Godot’ of reality TV

8:35 / We summarize the only non-relationship parts we remembered from the first 3 episodes of Season 18

9:40 / Mike thinks there are too many people on this show, compares it unfavorably to Jersey Shore

10:11 / The Wikipedia page for Season 18

10:23 / JS talks about the rapid and formulaic editing structure

12:16 / Mike talks about ‘padding’ – concept borrowed from MST3K

13:40 / ‘Plot’ summary of the first 2 episodes – such as it was

15:26 / JS notes only one holdover from first season – but archetypal continuity

16:29 / Mike thought the sound mixing was awful

17:00 / We both needed closed captioning

17:25 / Mike did like the ‘montage’ style intros of some of the episodes

18:23 / JS finds a synthesis of our views on the pace

19:18 / We briefly discuss the virtues of swears v. bleeps

20:12 / We get into definitional issues – this is an edge case

20:45 / ‘Scripted reality

21:24 / Mike thinks the term ‘reality TV’ is ironic, because it isn’t truly real, but how far is too far?

22:08 / Comparing the structure to Curb Your Enthusiasm – is this a ‘bad soap opera’ with no script?

22:44 / Mike compares to Cheaters, which is even more fake, but actually entertaining

23:13 / A pro wrestling analogy

23:29 / Are the producers next leveling us?

23:39 / The camerawork is quite good – perhaps TOO good…

24:40 / Comparing camerawork to Jersey Shore

25:18 / Goes against the most clearly artificial reality TV conventions – living in same house and the confessional booth – which paradoxically made it seem less real; Mike mentions the granddaddy of modern US reality TV, The Real World

26:47 / JS talks about Arg and Lydia’s break-up scene and some suspicious audio

28:47 / The abortion that was TOWIE Live

29:40 / JS thinks the barometer leans towards ‘not-real’

30:10 / Some of the people in this have been on other reality TV programs

30:52 / Even with all these caveats, is this still reality TV?

31:25 / JS gives a hard ‘no’

32:37 / Mike thought it was the horseshoes of reality TV – close enough

33:57 / JS believes that there should be something authentic, even if there is some manipulation behind the scenes

35:46 / This show lacked that authenticity

36:28 / Mike thinks there is possibly some authenticity ‘beyond the camera’, but mostly thinks this because the show is so boring and obviously faked stuff is more exciting

37:13 / JS would have bought it more if there was more variety in the subject matter

38:05 / Mike says there is a bit more variety beyond the third episode, which might be influencing his opinion

38:35 / Maybe not real in the literal sense, but ‘based on a true story’

38:52 / How did these people all get off work at the same time to go on holiday?

39:42 / The people on this show seemed to be living in an invisible bubble. Where are all the other people in Essex? (Flub 2: Essex has 1.5 million people but not millions – the point still stands)

40:50 / Moving on to popular stereotypes of Essex

41:09 / Different from America’s Most Smartest Model, but both share a worldview that plays on stereotypes

41:46 / Controversy and pushback from Essex residents

42:15 / Mike thinks ‘breaking down stereotypes’ works for Sundance documentaries, but not successful reality TV

42:52 / Mike busts out his Wikipedia research and has JS play a guessing game

43:07 / ‘Essex girl’ stereotype

44:52 / ‘Essex man’ stereotype

46:44 / Mike’s Theory of the Week – are these stereotypes connected?

47:33 / JS wonders if there is a ‘nouveau riche’ component to Essex stereotypes – even in Season 1, these people seem to have no jobs, but lots of disposable income

50:14 / Mike mentions that there were a few people who seemed to own businesses

51:33 / Piggybacking on the last episode’s discussion – why has this gone on so long?

52:28 / A clarification on ‘seasons’ in the UK (?) context

53:08 / A doomsday scenario

53:36 / TOWIE in the context of the genre of ‘soap opera

55:09 / JS drops some soap opera knowledge

56:31 / Mike noticed a pattern in the Hulu ads – is there a gender component to the target demo?

57:17 / JS thinks the main component is age (and class?)

59:10 / Mike wonders if the banality of the show is the key to its popular appeal

1:03:05 / JS observes that with age, you are more likely to encounter weightier issues in life

1:04:46 / Mike wonders if some portion of the audience has problems, but watches for escapist reasons – part of the appeal is that there is a lot of drama, but nothing serious behind it

1:06:06 / It often seemed that there were more interesting things going on off-camera than on camera

1:07:24 / Announcing next week’s show

1:09:00 / We are on iTunes and have an email address: 42minutesofreality AT gmail DOT com