Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

The Hunger Games™, Franchise-Branding, and Rebellion

As part of an April fundraiser at my school, I paid a dollar to ‘dress down’ one day, and wore my homemade stenciled mockingjay t-shirt:
mockingjay stencil, by me.While a number of kids (though far fewer than I’d hoped) commented on it, their comments were kind of troubling.
The loud, popular, Type-A kids would usually ask me, “Do you like The Hunger Games™ or something’?”, as if they’d forgotten our society’s penchant for using t-shirts to proclaim to others the things which one enjoys.
The ‘geeky’ kids would usually just announce that hey, they liked my shirt (at which point I would try to drum up some business by offering to make and sell them one of their very own).
What nobody said, however, was “Hey, nice mockingjay shirt” or “Cool! District Twelve, represent!”(we are in Kentucky, after all).

(at which point the addition of a D12 salute would make me giggle like a schoolgirl)

In other words, because ours is a culture which believes everything has a price (and can therefore be bought and sold), even something as simple as an encircled-bird-holding-an-arrow ceases to be a symbol of hope and resistance against tyranny, and instead simply becomes a logo representing a profitable franchise.

ADDENDUM: I wore the same shirt to a first-grade classroom a few weeks later; a couple of kids saw the shirt and declared, “The Hunger Games are bad.” Indeed! The question then becomes: what changes in how our youth view the world in the years between first and eighth grade?

Because I spend a fair amount of time in a public junior high school, I see a fair amount of ‘Hunger Games’ merch, and I’ve yet to see a single item that hasn’t been emblazoned with the name of that franchise in big, flaming letters. Now, maybe it’s because I approach my various internalized fandoms from in-universe perspectives, but I find such branding—and most of the merch, for that matter—to be pretty generally disgusting.
(Especially tasteless is a movie tie-in booklet going by the title “The Hunger Games Ultimate Tribute Guide” which is little more than a collection of glorified headshots (literally, a pocketbook that allows teenagers (the franchise’s target demographic) to examine the faces of murdered peers, 70% of whose names we never learn).
For the record, let’s remember that The Hunger Games themselves are a yearly event in which two dozen children are coerced by the threat of starvation into fighting to the death for the entertainment of their society’s elites. So, my question is…do our youth believe they have no choice in how they are able to express their enjoyment of this franchise, save going online or to the mall and purchasing—and then wearing or carrying—branded merchandise which is essentially advertising for such a deplorably transparent, blood-soaked system of control? Why the hell a thinking person would possibly want to do this is completely beyond me.

Thankfully, however, the answer is Yes, they do have a choice, but most don’t see it. The first step in breaking the chains of consumption is, as always, to UN-COOL it (in this case by pointing out the ugly truths we’re not supposed to see/think about), and then DIY it (like by making your own mockingjay shirt, as I’ve done above). Personally, I’d be on cloud nine if a teen counter-emblazoned her The Hunger Games™ backpack with a big, red “FUCK”:

(I’d settle for “F— THE”, since our hypothetical activist is probably in junior high, and such profanity generally runs counter to dress-code decency rules)

(though I’d settle for “F— ”, since our hypothetical activist is probably in junior high, and such profanity generally runs counter to dress-code decency rules)

Can you imagine? Or think: if kids took copies of glossy Hunger Games™ movie tie-in ‘books’ and added stickers drawing attention to the non-fictional plights of actual child soldiers, coal miners, and trafficked humans—to say nothing of top-down wealth inequality, unsustainable resource extraction, or the coercive, oppressive nature of pyramid-shaped prison societies, &c. (as in most dystopian fiction, when the society in question is just Ours turned up to eleven, there is no shortage of applicable parallels to be drawn). Just think of it!

Sidebar: And since I’m already talking about unthinking franchise patronage, let’s remember that this isn’t an issue unique to The Hunger Games. I’m still completely unable to grasp last year’s petition—signed by over 34,000 people—for the US government to build a Death Star. Yes, that really happened! So, I guess people will just turn off their brains and click ‘Like’ for anything that even vaguely relates to whatever their profitable geeky franchise of choice is? I shudder to imagine these people’s thought processes: “Oh, hurhur, Death Star. That mean Star Wars. Me like Star Wars. Hurhur. <sign petition>.”
Even though the White House comically vetoed the petition, their explanation neglected (most troublingly) to mention the fact that the Death Star program— and the Tarkin Doctrine it represented—was the end-result of an evil empire of FUCKING SPACE-NAZIS!?!

So, anyway. When the teaser-trailer for Catching Fire came out about the same time, I was already kind of grumbly and had these things on my mind (because I always have these things on my mind!).

What I found especially telling was a line from Woody Harrelson’s character Haymitch, breaking the news to our newly-victorious heroine Katniss that “[her] job is to be a distraction from what the real problems are.
Boy, that about sums it all up, doesn’t it? In a nutshell, that’s a pretty good reason why I have a really hard time passively watching professional sports, sitcoms, televised ‘talent’ shows, big, loud superhero blockbusters, NASCAR, and other such mainstream bread-and-circuses (the panem et circenses from which Collins took the name of her novels’ dystopian nation):
I know what the real problems are, and I don’t want to be distracted.

In the course of the teaser, the obligatory title-cards flash up and inform us that “Every revolution … begins with a spark”. While I guess that’s true, wouldn’t it be amazing if (for once!) we saw through the age-old story of plucky, ragtag rebels fighting against the System, and stopped living vicariously through the pictures on the screen and took it to the streets?
I’m really hoping against hope that Catching Fire’s release this November will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back (glad to see I’m not the only one) and bursts the dam holding back all of our simmering anger and frustration—that people will finally WAKE UP to recognize the hidden workings of Our Culture—because what we need isn’t a Revolution, but a Revolt.
I say that because unfortunately, the ‘revolution’ depicted in Collins’ trilogy is the classic definition of that word—a purely political shakeup whose outcome is not breakup of power or a cultural evolution, but simply a change in leadership (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”), maintaining the status-quo notion that we’re all incapable of governing ourselves and need someone at the top of the pyramid to tell us what to do. If people get riled up and start doing something about it (which would be good) but model on THG (which would be bad), we’ll just be right back where we started.
At this point, however, I’d be completely overjoyed if Woody Harrelson (a self-identified anarchist, let’s remember) started throwing inflammatory, expressly political, apocalyptically-minded comments about Our Culture’s systems of control into every obligatory late-night-talk-show appearance or press junket he did in support of this film!

ADDENDUM: This is a good start:

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The Suburbs: ‘Rococo’

This is one of those songs (one of several on The Suburbs) that begs the question “how many ideas can you pack into a pop song and still have it remain a great piece of music”? In this case, a helluva lot; considering the fact that its chorus is a single repeated word and that the verses contain less than 115 words, this is an especially dense song.

Let’s go downtown and watch the modern kids
Let’s go downtown and talk to the modern kids
They will eat right out of your hand
Using great big words that they don’t understand

As we’ll see later in Sprawl II, we have to go downtown to observe this breed of millennial youth, because after growing up in the suburbs, these kids have been forced to move into the city to find their own kind. They’re probably educated (from a liberal arts institution, I’d guess), and they try to sound educated with their vocabulary of big GRE words. That third line, combined with the cooing sound of the chorus, makes me wonder if Butler isn’t equating these modern kids with pigeons…

They say, ‘Rococo, rococo, rococo, rococo…’

They build it up just to burn it back down
The wind is blowing all the ashes around
Oh my dear God, what is that horrible song they’re singing?

This verse brings back more of that conflagration-language from Neon Bible, as well as probable connections to Month of May that we’ll examine in more depth in that song’s entry.

They seem wild but they are so tame
They’re moving towards you with their colors all the same
They want to own you but they don’t know the game they’re playing…

Some have charged that Rococo as a whole (and the song’s final verse in particular) seems to hammer pretty hard on what many would identify as modern ‘hipster’ or ‘indie’ culture, and I’ll admit it’s easy to see why. Funeral– and Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire was almost universally embraced by the exact folks the band sang about (millennial kids raised in the suburbs), but when the band won their Grammy for The Suburbs, suddenly they had become ‘mainstream’—and since hipster culture is chiefly concerned with consuming media from origins of obscurity up to the point it becomes ‘cool’—and the kids who had made the band popular in the first place started jumping ship on charges of ‘selling out’.
I don’t think that the band is being too hard on these ‘ironic’ White kids in this song, but I am grateful that somebody with ‘indie cred’ has finally held up a mirror to these kids so that they might see that they’re just another cog in the Machine.
In this album’s conceptual framework, ‘wild’ is equated with the uncivilized and the anti-suburban; why then, if these kids seem so wild, are they really tame?
Indie media-outlet Pitchfork astutely describes the kids in Rococo as “a certain type of pseudo-rebellious, cynical youth” (emphasis mine). What keeps these plaid-clad masses from being truly rebellious is that these kids’ rebellion itself is a product of the corporate cool-hunt commoditized and sold right back to them. As long as they seek to define themselves by the products they buy, they are enabling the System to continue.

As another uncommonly-discerning, deserves-to-be-quoted-in-full SongMeanings user observed,
“It saddens me this song is being reduced to some “nana-nana-boo-boo” towards the hipster culture. This is a beautiful band, not only because their songs are big, but so seem to be their ideas and their hearts. This is a band that seems to love humanity too much to waste their time with some petty, hipster, turf-war anthem.
This song is not condemning youth, but feeling empathy and sympathy for them, no matter what music they listen to. They are being promoted an empty lifestyle of materialism and worshiping of the self. This promotion is a “dangerous game” being played [by] those selling it, because they are selling the soul of western-culture.
People are separated into tribes, based on hip-hop, country, pop, emo, etc.[“now the music divides us into tribes” (Suburban War)], but they are all being sold an empty road map for a vain and disconnected society where the most important person is the self. …
This is being sold by “wild” people, like Lady Gaga, but she is not Lady Gaga, but actually a rather “tame” woman from the Bronx. Lady Gaga is a McDonald’s version of the club kid scene, “downtown”, in places like New York City. I use Gaga as one example, but think of how many popular songs in any genre today are just commercials for the person singing them and an empty, materialistic lifestyle that goes along with it. They are commercials for the self and [have] nothing to do with how the self relates to others.
Also, the songs are usually meaningless at their core. Just some babble that is like an rated-R nursery rhyme. Yet no one is stopping to ask what it all means, when the answer would be: Nothing.
So, Arcade Fire chooses a seemingly gibberish phrase to use for their chorus in this song, yet if you look into its meaning, it actually describes most of popular music. Most popular music is just a disgusting effigy to the artist singing. So, modern popular music could be defined as “rococo art”.
They are saying they are trying to give you something, trying to send a message, and therefore, make a connection with anyone willing to listen.  (wastedhours, Song Meanings)

In the end, the album’s “first truly menacing song” (and the album’s first act) closes with screeching, apocalyptic feedback over a lone harpsichord picking out the chords, likely to connect this song to its namesake art-period.

Doomsday Preppers: Bob Kay

I’ve scheduled this to post on 22/12/12, so if you’re reading this, congratulations on surviving the ‘Mayan End of the World’!

Season two’s next episode (‘You’ve Got Chaos!’) opens with a very interesting look at Johnny-come-lately bandwagon prepper Bob Kay from southern California wine country:
Bob KayAs a nutritionist, he has apparently made a boatload of money with some wonder-vitamins or some such whatsit.
Living in SoCal, it’s only reasonable to be prepared for a massive earthquake that, as he says, “will change society as we know it”. I think that might be giving mother nature a bit more credit than she deserves. Change how the affected people live for a while, yes. But change Society?, I dunno.

So, it seems that just last year, Bob was watching what I’m guessing was the pilot episode of Doomsday Preppers (the one that looked at the guys who are now the unseen ‘experts’ on these episodes), when he said to himself, “Look at these guys, building a self-sustaining greenhouse in the backyard pool, and their homemade wood-fired pickup truck, and their deer hunting for food! Surely I can do better than them, and use my discretionary income to buy my way to preparedness!” And so, in twelve months, he’s spent damn near close to a million dollars on his ‘preps’.
Our narrator explains to us that “Many preppers dream about the elaborate things they would buy if money were not an object”, which, combined with the profile of Mr. Kay, proves my hunch that the current model of preparedness isn’t really about preparedness, but conspicuous consumption.
So how does all this spending break down? Bob has two-and-a-half acres of land and a probably-6,000-square-foot-plus McMansion, and he’s spent $35,000 on exotic edible plants to landscape the place. Their 35,000-gallon swimming pool cost another $100,000 (they purify and drink some of the water, giving us yet another preppers-toasting-with-glasses-of-something-uncommon scene).

Then Bob gets to show off his $110,000 convoy of dream ‘bug-out vehicles’. Now, if you told me you’d spent that much money on six ultimate BOV’s, I’d expect you to unveil some, like, NASA-designed, Swiss-made, carbon-fiber collapsible bicycles with tubeless Kevlar tires. But not Bob Kay. He just has six motorcycles, because y’know, “Nothing impedes a motorcycle! You can get pretty much anywhere on it!” Sure, assuming you have enough petrol to feed it and you don’t come across any large downed trees on your travels. But once your fuel runs out, what then?
Okay, for a long-term, civilization-ending catastrophe, foot or hoof travel is the only sustainable way to get around. But for all other scenarios, bicycles are best. Why?
Zero emissions: bikes require—and burn—nothing but calories. Remember, RULE #1: CARDIO.
User friendly: no motor = way less moving parts to break and potentially ruin your day.
Nearly-silent: stealth might become a big factor when bands of marauders run amok?
Lightweight: try carrying that motorcycle over your head while crossing the ’quake-buckled 105:
So yeah, motorcycles might be fine for the man with the mid-life crisis, but in terms of preparedness, they’re not that great. And why Bob feels he needs six (he only has a wife and two daughters), I don’t know.

Anyway, at least Bob has his older daughter on-board with his prepping, which makes for some quality father/daughter bonding. From the way it sounds, she thinks up what they need, and he buys it.
Then they go to what I swear is the same bulk-food-store everyone on this show goes to. Our narrator reminds us that an average family’s annual grocery bill is about $3,700, and “Bob just spent over ten times that in one day!” When he gets home, he tells his wife he made a very “reasonable” purchase. His wife asks him what he’s going to do with $45,000 worth of freezedried chicken and such. Bob should say, “Eat it!” but I’m guessing it goes into a basement hoard to be sealed until disaster strikes. You know what I do with my stockpile of dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and meats (all free and courtesy of our wasteful food distribution system)? I eat it, and then I replenish it! It’s food, that’s what you do with it!

So, Bob and his older daughter want to get some weapons training. She starts out with throwing knives, which is like throwing your baby into the deep end of a pool; she says, “But my videogames make it look so much easier!” Knife-throwing has a ridiculously high learning curve, and even once you get the hang of it, I don’t think it’s a terribly useful skill. However, I am a big fan of hatchet throwing—which is more intuitive to learn, harder to miss, and should you hit your opponent, more mass = more damage.
Well, she wants to learn to shoot guns too, so daddy goes out and buys her a personal coach, a $4,000 tricked-out black rifle and a few hundred dollars’ worth of those 3-D plastic ‘bleeding’ zombie targets (for the record, single-use products such as those are inherently Evil). I just saw a program on the gun channel that showed how to make a cheap, easy, and effective human-sized target with a couple of cardboard boxes, some duct tape, and an old t-shirt. It was more realistic (the shirt means you can’t always immediately see where your shots are hitting), and more importantly, reusable! What’s wrong with that?

Never content with what he has, Bob wants to up the ante on his bug-out plan (you’d think with that ten-annual-salaries’ worth of food hoarded, he’d focus more on home security and bugging-in).
He says, “Nobody’s getting out in a car or truck, so you’ve gotta take it to a new level!” Ooh, now I’m intrigued. Is he going to redeem himself after the motorcycles, take it to a new level of sustainability, and show off a family set of matching all-terrain bicycles?
Nope, he buys a helicopter. Pricetag: $500,000.

So yeah. The experts tell him to think renewably and raise some chicken or rabbits. Bob says that the freeze-dried stuff he can purchase is good enough. The experts also tell him to think about his saltwater pool, and what he will do if his desalination equipment fails.  In which case, it’s ridiculously easy to make a simple solar still.

He gets 61 points (including only 11 out of 20 points for food? I don’t know how), for nine months’ survival time. Bob doesn’t believe it, and says that doesn’t factor in “business activities, barter, and his ability to live a longer time.”; I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean.

Doomsday Preppers: Tom Perez & Steve Vanasse

Be warned: this is a ridiculously long write-up. But it’s not my fault!—this episode (‘The Time of Reckoning’!) takes a detour from the show’s usual format to focus on just a single group of would-be survivors. I understand the film crew spent almost two weeks with these folks, which is staggering, when you consider that someone like Chris Nyegres from Season 1 was with the film crew for just three days.
TomPerez&SteveVanasseSo, this group is headed up by Dr. Tom Perez; he’s a retired chiropractor from Houston, TX with a wife and three kids between the ages of seventeen and six or so. Living in a sub/urban area, Tom is concerned about a terrorist ‘dirty bomb’, but as with most of the folks profiled, what he’s really afraid of is the potential chaos of terrified people taking to the streets (as the caption reminds us, a dirty bomb wouldn’t likely be a WMD but rather a weapon of mass panic).

As part of their preparations, the family does an all-out bugout drill twice a month, from their 6,800 square-foot home to their rural retreat 300 miles west. Channeling last week’s Johnny O and his focus on redundancy , Tom has three backup routes in place to ensure he reaches their 700-acre compound.
For what it’s worth, if you’re all about ‘operational security’ and keeping your location under wraps, perhaps showing a satellite image of your property with a clearly-labeled map later on is not the best idea. Anyone with GoogleEarth and too much time on their hands could probably zero in on it pretty easily.

So, about this compound. Dr. Tom calls it ‘the Alamo’, and according to our narrator, he has poured  TWO MILLION dollars into its two cinderblock houses, which are supposedly bulletproof.
TomPerezcompoundTheir pantry is full of buckets of food from the company whose ads get shown during commercial breaks. Meta product placement! Tom claims that of their food stockpile, ten percent has been purposefully contaminated, and he’s apparently the only one who knows which. I have to wonder at this—first off, what’s the point of poisoning food? Is this some kind of ‘nutrient denial system’ to intruders should they take the compound—a kind of “If I can’t have it, no one can!” sentiment? Seems selfish. Second, why doesn’t he let his family in on the secret too? What if something happens to him, and his family unknowingly eats a can of poisoned peas? Now they’re all dead.

Food aside, he has a nice water-getting setup, which uses a windmill to pump sweet, sweet H2O directly from his local aquifer. This water he stores in a couple of massive concrete tanks. Tom seems to think that in a disaster scenario, the roving bands of marauders who get through his seven-foot-high perimeter fence will make it their priority not to attack his home, but his concrete water tanks. Well, you can’t be sure until you test it, so he mixes up some homemade ‘molotov cocktails’ to lob at the tanks. Unlike last season’s Pat Brabble, Tom keeps it legal by getting supervision from some local law enforcement, but he also bases his half-assed firebombs on high-proof liquor. Granted, he does go one step beyond Mr Brabble and adds some laundry detergent, but it’s still pretty dumb: a gallon of only 80-proof Kentucky vodka will run you twenty dollars or so, while you could get five gallons of unleaded petrol for the same price, and the petrol would make his little Molotovs actually perform like he wants. For what it’s worth, I recommend diesel fuel with a quantity of Styrofoam melted in, or petrol and laundry soap (not detergent).

While he’s got the (Border Patrol?) officers around, Tom decides to spring an ambush scenario on his family, with the off-duty LEOs playing the role of marauding ‘bad guys’. Basically, he comes inside, gives the code word for ‘someone’s coming!’, and everybody take ups what I’m sure are supposed to be ‘defensive positions’.
Pop quiz time! If you knew there was trouble on the way and were  in a bulletproof house, where would you go for maximum defensive advantage? If you said Outside at ground-level out in the open, well, congratulations, you think like the Perez family. Because that’s honestly what they do. We’ve been told the house is bulletproof; people are not! Stay in the house, go upstairs(at least one of the Alamo houses has two stories), and sight in your targets from a window. Faulty tactics aside, while this ‘ambush’ is going on and everybody’s making themselves into easy targets, one of the cops sneaks up behind Tom’s teenage daughter and disarms her. Well, the youngest son is watching, with his gun trained on the officer who has a gun to his sister’s head. I can’t believe I actually wrote that. And supposedly “the kids don’t know” that it’s a drill. Which begs the question—what’s to stop the kid from shooting the officer? Either dad made sure to lock up all the ammo before this went down, or the kids really do know it’s a drill. Because if not, that could’ve ended really badly.

Now, when you have 700 acres and a six-mile perimeter to defend, it’s a lot for just five people. That’s why Tom has joined forces with another Houston family to share  the work of running a prepper fortress. Help comes in the form of Steve Vanasse and his wife and daughter. Because he does radiation contamination testing for a living (as a “Nuclear Assessment Officer”), he also shares Tom’s apprehension towards the possibility of a dirty bomb attack in Houston.
To help make his family a valuable addition to the Brackettville compound, Steve takes his daughter to the gun range to teach her to shoot. Excellent! As an NRA Range Safety Officer, I’m all about teaching younglings the essentials of safe gun handling. Steve is surprised that his timid daughter is apparently a naturally good shot, but I’m not: in my own experiences and those of folks I’ve talked to, women are generally better shooters than men.

Back on the ranch, the Perez family is playing poker, with bullets as currency. Haha! Nice to see they keep themselves occupied while they’re practicing survival living, instead of just like, staring at the wall until it’s time to go home, though it’d be better if they were engaged in some sustainable, long-term activities like gardening. Anyway, dad decides it’s time to learn the boys how to butcher livestock. Wonder why his daughter misses out on all the fun?—hopefully because she already knows how. Tom thinks the sound of a shot will be too noticeable (or something) in his postapocalyptic wasteland, so he’s making the boys dispatch a goat with a knife. For what it’s worth (quite a lot actually), I’d personally risk the bullet and do it proper-like, and shoot Brother Goat from the back of the head (with such thick butting foreheads it’s not much use stunning sheep and goats from the front like you do with cattle). Regardless, that’s not as TV-dramatic as having your boy slit the trussed-up goat’s throat while it’s still alive, so that’s what he does. Afterwards, Tom dabs some of the fresh blood on his boys’ faces, as a kind of rite-of-passage. Which is good, because that’s something sorely lacking in this culture.

The Vanasse family decides they’re going to come out to the compound too, so they break out the Tyvek suits and Geiger counter, and bug out. And because they’re so concerned with simulating a dirty bomb attack, they seal up the car’s vents with Duct Tape…which means they can’t run the air conditioner!—which was probably the scariest thing yet for most of the folks watching. When they reach the gates of the ‘Alamo’, Tom uses it as an opportunity to test his family’s friend-or-foe training, or something. Even though I assume they’ve seen each other before, the Perezs train their guns on the Vanasses and treat them like they’re a pack of wild raiders. It’s dramatic and stuff.

At some point, the wide-eyed Steve quips something about how in a disaster, their families could “form the basis of a whole new society—maybe a better society!?” So that’s why these two families joined up?—so that someday they’d have two breeding pairs of youngsters to repopulate the earth? (Which means somebody’s winding up with his sister. Ewww.)

Tom and Steve go out in the bush and test out some more ‘defensive’ devilry. This time, Exploding Targets!!!1! (I’m guessing this is some of that Tannerite/Sure Shot mix I see in Sportsman’s Guide.)
The guys take it up a notch and strap their exploding target on a coupla bottles of petrol for a nice big fireball, which they observe from their hunting-shack-on-stilts. Well, Tom shot the first one, so it’s Steve’s turn next. Steve is armed with some kinda high-dollar black plastic short-barreled rifle with a 100-round magazine(!), skeleton buttstock, big honkin’ scope, and (as our narrator reminds us) a muzzle brake.
Apparently when he takes the shot, the muzzle was well inside their phonebooth-sized shack, and so the report is amplified so much that (even with fancy hearing protections) it knocks Tom onto the ground. Well, he’s stunned and dizzy and vomiting and generally concussed; of course he’s not bleeding out of his ears or anything, so it can’t have been that bad. Then there’s some friend drama when Tom threatens to cut Steve out of the group for being so safety lax, but eventually he comes around, and they barbecue the goat and Steve sucks out the eyes. Yum!

Whew. So, the experts assess them and say that their “food resupply plan is impressive”. Which is weird, because I didn’t see any gardening going on, nor did I see a huge pen full of goats. So what’s that all about?
The experts suggest that they should  “build a bunker under the Alamo, in case they come under attack”. Y’know, because it’s not enough to have two million dollars’ worth of bulletproof houses. Early on in the segment, Tom talks about how he likely spends five to six hours a day just “determining what [he] [has] prepped…to have the most current MREs, rifles, ammo &c.” That combined with the experts’ bunker recommendation just proves what I’ve always thought—that the Type I survival model (of which these guys are perfect examples) has little to do with actual survival and is just the latest iteration of Keeping Up With the Joneses. Look folks, if you have discretionary income, there’s always gonna be someone out there with something bigger, newer, or shinier than yours, so maybe take a big step back and ask yourself if more purchases will really help fill that empty place inside.
The experts give them 77 points (a new high!), which is supposed to equal fifteen months survival time.
And in the post-filming update, we learn that Steve’s daughter is taking defensive driving training (now, I know Tejas is pretty wild, but isn’t she like, eleven?), while he and his wife are learning fencing (not sure what good that’ll do in defending the Alamo), and HAM radio. Tom’s update reveals that he’s started homeschooling his kids (he calls it “Doomsday Academy”), and to my dismay, they’ve taken the expert’s advice and started building a bunker. Oh boy.

Doomsday Preppers: Big Al

They’re back! NatGeo has renewed Doomsday Preppers for a second season, and the interweb seems to enjoy my commentaries, so let’s get started.The season premieres with a look at a fellow called ‘Big Al’ from Nashville. The show says he’s a musician (who in Nashville isn’t?), but I’m going to guess that’s code for producer or maybe songwriter. We get to hear a little bit of some modern-country guy singing a novelty song about preppin’ (you can hear the whole thing here), and then Big Al starts on about how in all his studies of Russia, he’s terrified of nuclear war. It’s a valid concern; I certainly don’t want my gross body to be intraconverted into light and energy anytime soon, but I’m not sure we should be looking at Russia in this case. Sure, Putin has the makings of a Mark II Stalin, but if you’re worried about stray nukes, be worried about semi-rogue states with something to prove (Iran, N.Korea, etc.).
Mr. Al says that in his worst-case scenario, the missiles will start a-flying right after a “run on the dollar, closing banks, and the fall of the stock market”. Apparently, he thinks that Russia will only push the button once they’re absolutely sure our economy has fatally weakened. In the event that these red flags appear, Al’s plan is to hop in his van and bug out 1,800 miles to his mountain hideout, which actually looks nice, sitting on 40 acres up in the mountains somewhere. But his “underground house without windows” is a different story. Like most of this show’s homemade underground retreats, it’s pretty ugly and Hoarders-y. Al says he “prefers not to use” the word ‘bunker’, but apparently has no problem going on and singing songs about his ‘bunker stew’. He claims to have 1,500 cans of food, 1,000 gallons of local spring water (I’m wondering how he gets it into the bunker?), and five tons of firewood stored up, because—get this—he spends three full months out of each year ‘practice living’ underground.
Right after that fascinating development, the narrator informs us that isolation can lead to “acute anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, and uncontrollable rage or fear”. Well, that’s definitely going to color our impression of Big Al for the rest of the segment. Well-played, producers.

Now, what does Big Al do while he’s shut himself away underground for a season? Chops firewood and watches movies about the Motherland. I guess at some point in all this obsessive Russophilia, he learns about Ivan’s fifty-year-old hydrogen bomb, the Tsar Bomba. Well, that gets him all worried that there’s another one out there just waiting to be dropped on us, and so something something gamma radiation. Now, if you’re somehow lacking, Our Culture’s answer is almost surely going to be, ‘buy stuff to feel better!’ And sure enough, Big Al buys himself a big steel tube to be an “annex” for his bunker. Well, that apparently alleviates his worry, and he gets so excited he spraypaints the name of the bomb he’s afraid of on the side. For some reason. Of course, the producers never tell us the name of the bomb, so it just looks like he’s writing nonsense on the tank.
Anyway, this season the show has added a degree of superfluous quantitative-ness to the ‘expert’ analysis. Five categories (water, food, shelter, security, and ‘x-factor’ which I guess is just miscellaneous attributes), 0-20 in each one for a total possible score of 100. He gets a score of 69, which the experts say computes to equal one year initial survival time. What this really means is, The Points Don’t Matter.

In Al’s submitted post-filming update segment, he seems to have had an epiphany and decides that  he needs to really work on his health, and learning some skills to work with his hands to “be able to build things…instead of focusing on things that can be purchased”, which is a good lesson to be learned. Of course, if all these preppers learned that it’s mostly what’s between yer ears and not what you’ve spent on Stuff, the ‘experts’ would be out of a job.

Doomsday Preppers: Jason Day

The episode (and the season, I guess) finishes with Jason Day of Miamisburg, Ohio. He and his wife have four kids, and is worried about the economy collapsing (hey, that makes three in a row!).
He says, “If the dollar does drop, you’re gonna need some way to buy food and stuff.” Yeah, or you could, y’know, learn to grow it yourself?
He has a furniture repair shop on Main Street, and has spent everything he’s earned from the business ($100,000 or so) on his preps.
Unexpectedly wise, he observes that “every great nation comes to an end…America’s just the same way”. And so logically, like the past couple, he’s preoccupied with trading gold and silver; reckons he’s spent one or two thousand dollars on those shiny rocks.
He estimates that he spends fifteen hours a day engaged in prepping activities. I have to wonder, how does that work? He’s not teaching survival skills, he’s repairing furniture. Oh, turns out that includes time spent shopping for gear on the internet.
Then it gets really silly, because he takes his kids out into the woods—not to teach them some actually useful survival skills—to pan for gold. In Ohio.
At this point, an encouraging caption pops up to remind us that the Staffordshire hoard of Saxon gold (estimated worth: ₤5.3 million) was found by a hobbyist with a metal detector, just like him! Like, untold riches lay under the surface just waiting to be dug up by peasants like you! Unfortunately, it’s completely deluding—finding thousand-year-old Saxon gold in England is one thing, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find Miami Indian gold, seeing as how they weren’t big on the whole gold-smelting thing.

Because it is becoming increasingly clear (and troubling) that Mr. Day’s vision of survival is nearly identical to that of the previous couple—one based on maintaining one’s current civilized standard of living through capitalism (even if what you’re worried about is the collapse of said economy)—his dream purchase is apparently a $75,000 bunker.
Wife: “That’s the price of a house.”
Jason: “A house isn’t going to save us”. Oh, but a bunker is?

He shows off his stash of fairly high-end medical supplies:
“Here’s a tourniquet. If your arm gets blown off, you can clamp this down to stop the bleeding.” I guess he imagines people will start throwing grenades when the dollar becomes worthless?
“If someone has blood loss, here’s an IV.” Erm, well, that’s kind of worthless unless you have some blood in the freezer. And more importantly, do you know how to use that stuff? The wife works in a med lab or something, so why is the woodworker husband sticking the IV in her (incorrectly, some have observed)?

This is another one of those examples where the family isn’t totally supportive of what they probably see as Dad’s irrational hobby, so they just kind of go along with him.
Like a lot of folks on this show, they have a practice bug-in. And where does he think is the ultimate place to hunker down? In the basement of his furniture shop.
Jason explains how he thinks the best part of his hideout is the basement’s single entry point. Well, dude, choke points work both ways—it’s good that it’s the only way in, so you only have to worry about things coming from one place, but it’s also the only way out for you.
Personally, if I was him, I’d be in the attic or highest level I could get to. Larger field of view, no worry about flooding (from water as well as sewage), and if you’re anticipating taking fire (as he seems to), having the high ground is always most advantageous. He also says that down in the basement, “no one will know we’re there”. Well, if you enforce some sound and light discipline, your presence in the attic could go unnoticed too, but that would require changes in behavior, which seems to be the worst-case scenario for most people.

So, on their basement bug-in, one of the kids remarks that there are crickets and mice down in the basement. So? Set some traps and eat ‘em. But of course they don’t, so they eat some freeze-dried astronaut crap, which needs hot water to cook. So logically—since they’re trying to practice survival, remember?—instead of bringing some cold water and heating it up with a backpacking stove or whatever (y’know, like you might have to do in a real emergency), dad just packs in some preheated water. Really? Earlier in the segment, he said something about it being his responsibility to help his kids survive. Well maybe he should actually let them practice things they’ll need to survive (like how to heat water without a microwave, or whatever). Bringing hot water along for your little indoor camping trip is simply lazy and irresponsible.
But hey, what do I know? Maybe they don’t light a fire because they’re worried about carbon monoxide poisoning down in the basement? If that’s the case, maybe they need to pick a better place for their bug-in. What about sanitation? This guy seems to think they’ll be down in the basement for like, four months, so he’d better teach the kids how to shit in a plastic bag and dig slit trenches while they’re down there.

In the end, it’s too bad they end the season with this guy. Personally, I would’ve saved someone like Doug Huffman for the finale, to leave viewers with a pretty sustainable vision of survival. Because these folks—and their philosophy of survival through consumption—leave me worried more than anything.

Doomsday Preppers: Christine and John Sellers

Up next we have John and Christine Sellers, from Pennsylvania. They’re right-wing ‘newbie preppers’ in that they only jumped on the bandwagon a year and a half ago, and now their basement is full of 15,000 pounds of canned food, napkins, and toothbrushes.
Since they’re worried about the ‘collapse of the dollar’, instead of riding their Harleys around they’ve apparently decided to “forego luxuries” in the present to increase their chances of survival in the future. I like the sound of that, but the execution of their plan is horrible.
Because unfortunately, unlike Mr. Wayne or Chris Nyegres, who saw wine and stone arrowpoints as having real value post-disaster, this couple’s idea of “alternative” currencies don’t sound very alternative…“gold, silver, guns, and ammo.” Oh, come on. You’re Homo sapiens, you’re supposed to be creative and inventive, but that’s the best you can come up with? Technological inflation aside, those are the exact same things that Our Culture has been valuing for the last six thousand years—the same culture, I might remind you, that’s led to the collapse of your dollar. You’re not accomplishing anything productive by hoarding the things that your collapsed dollar represented.
And so, they go to the pawn shop and drop several thousand dollars on old silver coins which they bury behind their barn, so that they “can get to the silver stash without being seen from the house”, which they seem to think will somehow ensure their survival. Lady, (since it seems like you wears the pants in this relationship), maybe you should focus on how—should your home be “commandeered”(which is properly a nautical term)—to get to your food hoard instead? You’re selling your Harleys (because “you can’t eat your bike”), but you’ve sunk thirty grand of green paper into just another form of inedible ‘value’? I don’t get it.

Hey, there’s a different food bucket ad.

The husband drops a few more thousand dollars behind his wife’s back so they can have their very own shipping container—which they apparently think will instantly promote them from novice preppers to veterans, or something? This might be further proof that people who self-identify as preppers don’t really understand how they’re still fitting into the whole Machine. Folks, as long as you continue to compare yourselves to others and what they have (and desire to have what they have for yourself) instead of making do with what you already have, you’re still buying into capitalism and keeping up with the Joneses. As long as ‘preparedness’ (which let’s loosely define as the desire to be able to weather any kind of storm—natural or human-caused) is dependent on how much money one has spent or what one has stockpiled, it’s doomed to result in a bunch of deluded folks with dreams of rebuilding…*eye twitch*

And once again, the experts say get a garden, and learn to hunt.