The last few years reality shows featuring Alaska took off big – and they each present a quandary in their own way. Remember when it was ex-Gov. Sarah Palin’s reality show? Hunting, fishing, hiking glaciers – all shown as a family together. Thrilling have-it-all womanhood, Alaska style. The fiction mixed in for creating a dynamic show posed an irritant to most of us like a spring crop of mosquitoes. It confused on the lines between real and unreal. Lesson: if this is what it takes to capture a country’s attention, it won’t be truthful and it will make us cringe.
Along comes the Ice Road Trucker reality series, the Alaska State Troopers series and even one from our end of the road on the homesteading Kilcher family. Now, National Geographic moves in and wants some action on the Russian Old Believer lifestyles. There’s no end to new reality series spins producers are willing to dream up.
So that means we need to wise up. They aren’t going to leave us alone anytime soon.
On the one hand, it’s not our collective business who gets picked up for a reality show. That’s between producers and individuals. On the other hand, it’s good to watch out for one another when they are approached by the glitzy false promises of a Hollywood debut – perhaps not Hollywood, but certainly a national debut of some kind. What’s happening here is an exploitation of Alaska stories showing up in a pattern, a damaged appropriation with ramifications for years to come.
It will distort the real facts because a smackery of false impressions are given in a near constant diet. In other words, Alaska the freak show trumps out our real stories, which, hey, maybe they don’t rise to the level of a dramatic point every two seconds. They add up to a life instead, with its curves and zigs like points on a heart monitor.
What to do when reality TV fingers your life for a possible story-tell?
Be sure to ask for a contract up front that lets you know terms and pay. Ask for the ability to review stories before they air on national television. Talk about the script so that you can see which direction the thing is headed.
Of course, just as in the olden days folks to the south liked to think we live in igloos and it snows 365 days a year, maybe people today enjoy a certain perception of us: wild and lawless, as depicted on the Alaska State Trooper series, bar-fighting and brawling. Or perhaps they like to think of the tough bravery in a turgidly chaotic Bering Sea as men fish for crab. Maybe they like to think this is a place with rugged old men that get in big trucks and drive hundreds of miles down a perilous ice road. Big stories, large personalities.
But maybe the rest of us just don’t like that perception at all.
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