I’ve been watching a lot of shows set in Alaska recently. Shows like Alaska: The Last Frontier, Yukon Men, and even (god help me) Ice Road Truckers. If you aren’t familiar with them, I wouldn’t recommend looking into them. They’re reality shows – which is already a big strike against them – that follow a person or people living in Alaska, dealing with the struggles of living that far north, living that far from metropolitan life, etc. Themes of isolation, self-sufficiency, and survival are quite common, if not universal.
The people in these shows are often quite remarkable, in that they come across as omni-competent pioneer-types who can do any job put to them because, well, they have to. Living hours from the nearest town means even small problems like roofing repair, plumbing, food procurement, etc, falls to you and you alone. We in urban centers tend to take for granted the availability of specialists, tools, and even food and clean water, but that far north, there’s no running to the grocery store because you feel like having some mac & cheese or a quick jaunt to the hardware store because you need nails. Especially with the issue of food and warmth, such basic needs, the shows all deal heavily with hunting, laying in supplies for the winter, and preparing structures like homes and sheds for winter.
Now, before I get to my actual point, I want to begin by acknowledging my own bias. While I have lived in rural locales at a few points in my life, and I have been camping a few times, I am pretty much exclusively a city-dweller. While I wouldn’t say I’m ignorant of the wild, I am not at home there. So maybe it’s for this reason that I watch these shows. And maybe its for this reason that I think of these people not as heroes to be emulated and admired but desperate victims who need to be saved.
These shows portray pretty much exclusively people dealing with, fixated on, and pretty much living and dying (sometimes literally) by the weather, namely winter. When winter lasts for most of the year, and you have the span of the summer months to kill food, secure your lodgings, and basically do all you can to survive to the next summer, one must question the viability of that lifestyle. If your whole way of life is based around surviving the weather, I would assert something needs to be re-evaluated. A constant struggle against the elements, a constant struggle to make sure you have enough food to survive isn’t a healthy way of life; its poverty. This isn’t a lifestyle worth admiring; its a cautionary tale.
People on the shows and in defense of these shows talk about the beauty of the lifestyle and the natural beauty of Alaska. No doubt, Alaska is a beautiful land, but people also speak really highly about their captors, too. It’s called Stockholm Syndrome. I know that line sounds facetious, but I really don’t mean it so. I know Alaska is beautiful but so is not fearing you or your family might starve to death. The people living in the wild north of Alaska aren’t living there; they’re trapped there.
Maybe such a life is fun. Maybe it’s exciting to live in apparently constant fear of freezing or starving or both. Such thrill seeking is certainly understandable as a phase in one’s life but not as a multi-generational lifestyle.
And again, I am aware of my bias, as a person who lives in the city. But when I watch these shows, I can’t help but feel like these are poor souls trapped, one inch away from disaster, just waiting for the rescue they so desperately need.