Even though I am a confirmed apocalyptoholic (I even watched The Divide all the way through to the end), I admit that I had only caught snippets of Doomsday Preppers until very recently, when I finally decided I had to sit down and watch all the episodes I could get my hands on. I only made it part way through the first season of the series: even taking into consideration the ominous implications of the name (let’s face it, if you are planning a thorough and non-sensationalized look at ways for people to be better prepared for negative eventualities, you aren’t going to be using the term “doomsday”) and the sad fall of the National Geographic Channel into near-reality television status (though it’s still not quite so bad as The “History” Channel… yet), I wasn’t quite prepared for how bad it would turn out to be. I’m not talking bad in the “gee, that’s not such good advice” kind of way, or even in the sense of inadequate production values. I’m referring to the soul-killing, civilization destroying tendency to exploit the confusion and neurosis of terminally (and illogically) frightened people for fun and profit that contemporary television has seemingly fallen into.
I remember the writer’s strike. Honestly, if I thought that this is what we would come to when the networks realized that they could get all kinds of cheap programming by moving to “reality” based shows, I would have gone to each and every picket line and begged the writers to take whatever deal they could get so long as they just went back to work.
But I digress…
I’ll have to devote more time and attention to the show in the future. I think it’s worth talking about why the show is so abysmally, crushingly awful, and what consequences that might have for the rest of us, especially in this dawning age of more frequent and more extreme storms. I think a real focus on what can make individuals and communities more prepared for disaster and more resilient in general is long overdue. Unfortunately, the kind of spectacle presented by Doomsday Preppers is not only not going to help with that focus, it will actually make it much more difficult (if not impossible) for us to have the kind of conversation about preparedness and resiliency that we desperately need to have. The parade of wingnuttery and frequent misanthropy on parade in any given episode of DP, along with the not-so-subtle mockery embedded in the framing of the individual stories makes it more likely that the average person to dismiss the whole idea of ‘preparedness’ as unnecessary and unproductive at best (not to mention complicated, expensive and extreme) and perhaps even a little unhinged.
The average person who watches Doomsday Preppers is not going to come away thinking, “you know, I should make sure I have a few cases of bottled water in the pantry and extra batteries for all my flashlights” and take some reasonable steps to make sure they are better prepared for the kind of likely emergency we all might face in the near future (fires, blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, tornados, etc…). That person is going to look at the people featured on the show and think, “wow, those people are completely crazy! I’m never going to do anything like that!” It’s Hoarders for the paranoid, conspiracy theory set.
And this comes from someone who does maintain a bug-out bag (because I’ve been evacuated to emergency shelters for both hurricanes and wildfires) as well as a deep pantry of emergency supplies (because more often than that, I’ve needed to hunker down in place to wait out a big snowstorm).
So, I’m disheartened, and a bit disgusted. Imagine my delight when The Simpsons decided to take on the subject and nail it in perfectly.