Are Alaskans Unique Enough for “Reality” TV?

By , April 20, 2017

At an Easter dinner with friends, we enjoyed stimulating conversation on a variety of topics. One that struck me particularly focused on “reality” television shows. One of us asked: Why are people so interested in Alaska? After all, “we’re just like anybody else anywhere else.” She finds it hard to believe that Alaskans could hold the public interest and imagination well enough to justify television shows.

None of us in the conversation have television. We aren’t the kind of people who find “reality” shows believable or entertaining, so our opinions don’t reflect the mainstream. That didn’t keep us from offering those opinions, of course! (see Denying “Reality”.)

My family did what we often do in public; we listened, offered our initial reactions, cogitated on the topic afterward, then revisited it at the breakfast table.

After consideration, Michelle observed that part of what makes Alaskans unique is that we are largely a self-selected population. While many are here because of family history or businesses, indigenous cultural bases and the like, many more Alaskans made a conscious decision and effort to move here to make a life.

Being Alaskan is not a casual choice for most people; it takes effort to make life work here.

Alaska’s is largely a deliberate-living population. Much of the population lives in the Bush, pursuing difficult lives that require much from the individual and the community. In larger towns, many live close to the land, working and playing outside. Even in our cities, we give up a lot to live where we do.

This is not to say that we don’t have couch potatoes. Even here in tiny Haines, some people aren’t active at all, living no differently than they would down south. They’re just much more rare here than elsewhere in the country!

Alaska’s residents seem constantly in flux. People move away for myriad reasons. Often, they need better access to medical care for themselves, or to help elderly or ailing family down south. Jobs fail; people give up, or discover new life goals that lead them elsewhere. The conventional wisdom has long been that both members of a couple need to buy into Alaskan life—partnerships with only one Alaskan enthusiast rarely last here. And, truth be told, some simply find it too hard to fit in as a new comer in the face of Alaskan’s admittedly insular, provincial outlook.

Meanwhile, others aspire to become Alaskans. Not surprisingly, the most popular posts on this blog discuss moving to Alaska (see Free Land in Alaska? and Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend: It’s Not Just Free Money; be sure to read the comments). I rarely manage to keep up with all the email requests from around the world for advice and “farm hand” positions on the homestead.

I think part of the answer is much simpler: Alaskan “reality” shows thrive because the vast majority of Americans live vicariously. People watch The Deadliest Catch and feel, subconsciously, that they are out on the Bering Sea crabbing, too. This is why people who follow sports seem to feel that they are a part of their team because they watch the games. Those who aspire to live the Alaskan life can feel like they are doing so in some small way, simply by watching shows about it.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it must be an aspect of human nature, possibly a manifestation of empathy. If I didn’t feel the same way on some level, I’d never read any fiction at all.

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