Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Preppers Are Portrayed by the Media

I recently saw a mainstream magazine with a prepper-themed cover story. I haven't bought that particular magazine for many years  -- since their content was usually stories about things so far beyond my price range that I wasn't getting any value from it -- but this one piqued my interest so I bought it.

I'm not going to give the magazine any free publicity (however much a mention in our little blog would be) by naming it. If you're really interested in knowing which rag it was, it should be on sale for a few more weeks. You can't miss the cover story.

The title of the article is “XX survival secrets that will save your life”, with plenty of all caps. Any time an advertisement mentions a number, I get suspicious. The “20 piece tool set” is going to include at least 10 “throw-away” parts. This article is no different, in that most of the “secrets” are things like “keep matches on hand” and “a 12V inverter will let you run a 110VAC appliance”. Other throw-aways include:
  • Any use of the tern“ultimate survival” in reference to a product is a red flag that someone has something to sell, and as far as I'm concerned, it's generally a “throw-away”.
  • Listings of the “5 safest cities” are subjective and the joking tone of the descriptions (“the moonshine will keep you warm”, “Great if you don't mind ceaseless rain, or plaid”) further devalues the author's choices. 
  • The list of stuff “you may not absolutely need, but, boy, it'd be nice to have” (direct quote, somebody needs a better editor) includes a $550 parka, a $350 cooler, a $100 hammock, and a $200 pair of gloves. Waste of print space, but in line with the magazine's normal reviews of cars that cost more than $100,000 and similar extravagances. 
  • There is a “ticker” type bar across the bottom of the pages labeled “Prepper Jargon Decoded”, with pithy definitions of phrases and acronyms like WROL, TEOTWAWKI, and OPSEC.
  • Maybe it is because the weather is cold in most of the USA right now, but the great majority of the “secrets” dealt with cold-weather survival. This is great for people living in the northern half of the USA, but they almost ignore any other climate and how to deal with it. Very little mention is given to any of the other various sorts of nightmare fodder that some of us have to deal with, or at least be aware of.
  • The general tone of the article is evident in the heading of a section called “Prepping Lite”- “What preppers do and what you, a slightly less paranoid citizen, can do”. I'm not sure if the author was trying to be cute or funny, but the examples given of how a prepper acts in regards to water storage and communication are extreme and portray anyone who identifies as a prepper as being unhinged.
  • The suggestions for water. A prepper would calculate storage as 1 gallon per person per day “times ten- just to be safe”. A “casual survivalist” should keep a pitcher of water in the fridge and start filling containers/bathtub at the first sign of trouble. The first is rarely possible unless you live in a rural setting, and the second is not going to help because the first sign of trouble may well be the water supply being cut off or contaminated. 
  • For communications, a prepper will have established dead-drops that he has only shared with trusted “confidants”. Everybody else should look into amateur radio, which is not a bad idea for preppers in my opinion. Dead drops are for spies, not preppers. 
  • The suggestion for “Heat” of using candles inside upside-down ceramic flower pots (listed as a “less paranoid” option) is questionable. I've seen the idea on a few websites, but the math doesn't work out. Candles are made of paraffin wax which has a calorie content that is close to that of fuel oil or diesel fuel. The idea that you can heat a room by burning a few ounces of wax makes no sense from the physics involved. My kerosene space heater burns about a gallon (roughly 6 pounds) of fuel per hour and barely keeps a room warm, a half-pound of candles isn't going to duplicate or surpass that. 
  • A prepper will build an underground bunker, preferably not on the same property as their house, but regular people should just have a list of shelters available. One suggestion was a friend's basement, which also has a pool table. 
  • The magazine picked a few “survival experts” to provide insight and suggestions; an Air Force SERE instructor, an alpine search-and-rescue team member, and a dog-sledding tour guide. These three gentlemen have the experience and training to be good source of information, but the selections chosen for publication were extremely basic. Find water, build shelter, gather food, and build a fire are all very basic steps to wilderness survival and none of them were covered in any depth. I'm sure these gentlemen could have done a lot more good if they were given the space and seriousness they deserve.
  • There are a few obligatory zombie references – the “Barricade your house from the inside” section was conceived by a construction worker while watching The Walking Dead. They actually admitted that in print.
(Editor's Note:  listen to my podcast segment, Doomsday Preppers: A show designed to make everyone look bad, for more in this particular vein.)
They do mention the popularity of survival-themed reality TV, and take most of them to task for being less survival and more “how to live in the woods”. The author proclaims that Naked and Afraid is the best of the bunch. For those of you who don't watch much TV, Naked and Afraid takes a man and a woman, strips them naked, and drops them into a remote location for three weeks. I've seen a few episodes, and it is an extreme test of survival skills and the participants don't always get along. The gist of every show is always"build a shelter, find food and water, make some clothes, create tools to make living easier." The author's statement that, “it's good to know......that your body could actually function for a good chunk of time on stagnant water and snake meat” is followed by the quip, “What a great way to lose weight.”

All told, I'm almost sorry I spent $5 on this piece of misinformation and bias. Nothing positive was mentioned about preppers; we're all borderline lunatics as far as this magazine knows. I must be getting old, because the “funny” and “cute” style of reporting is starting to irritate me. If you're going to write a story for an established magazine that has been in print for over a hundred years, I would think you'd select a style other than the one you'd use for The Onion or on Comedy Central. I think Colbert/Stewart have influenced an entire generation of writers and reporters, and not for the better.

The only redeeming part of the whole magazine was an article in the back about restoring old tools, and that is the only reason I may keep this issue around.

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