If you were to move away from the circles you normally run in and ask Joe and Jane Public on the street what they thought of preppers and prepping, you’d likely get some responses that will sting your ego, if you care about such things.
Their opinions would range from lighthearted mockery to outright character assassination and perhaps even fearful wariness. You might be puzzled to hear such derision and contempt from your fellow citizens over such an innocuous thing. To be fair, most people don’t need a reason to mock anything beyond “I don’t like it,” “I don’t understand it,” or “it scares me” but, jeeze, wouldn’t be nice if their contempt was at least anchored in reality?
The reason for their opinion of preppers in particular and a lifestyle of readiness and self-sufficiency is simple: they have been told to disdain it, trained to disdain it, and the instructions have come straight down from the mothership of, you guessed it, the mainstream media and popular entertainment.
I’ll level with you, readers, this article is really more of a rant against the disservice and slander doled out against good citizen by the media, but I am going to devote some time to teaching you how to best bust those negative stereotypes that may see you unfairly labeled a wackadoo by peers, associates and even family members.
Rant Mode: On
Gentle reader, this article is well outside the scope of my typical instructive and review-based articles. If that is the kind of content you are cruising for you will find much of that written by me here on this very site and elsewhere. Thanks for your patronage! However, if you, like me, have that shard of disgust simmering away in your heart at the way many of our fellow citizens deride and sneer at the concept of being able to take care of yourself and your family and your neighbors not matter what happens, then strap in: the hate train is on the rails.
I am fed up with the portrayal of readiness and self-sufficiency in all forms of media and the news in general as some sideshow oddity, at best, or at worst a dangerously fringe, cultish, clannish lifestyle. Sick of it, and I hope you are, too. Maybe you don’t care, or maybe you can even laugh such things off still, and do so coming and going. That’s great, but I would still be grateful for a moment of your time because the situation may result in a more insidious end than you are aware of.
I am going to make a big sweeping assertion to show you what I believe is at stake and then stop the train so we can dissect what is actually happening. My hope in doing so is to call your attention to precisely how you are being packaged, labeled and shipped in the lens of public perception (an important metric to be aware of in trying times) as well as gift you the knowledge to stem the flow of bile so unjustly besmirching you.
Here’s the crux of the problem:
Politics are downstream of Culture.
That’s it. The long explanation is much longer in the telling, but I’ll unpack that part right now. Simply, politics, and ergo policy, is downstream of culture, i.e. the collected beliefs, values and other societal elements that contextualize a population’s behavior. Much of culture in the 21st century is shaped in ways great and small, by the media, and by entertainment like movies, shows, games and so on.
It seems sad and sick, but it is undeniably true: ideas, wants, virtues, right, wrong and more are all transmitted effortlessly and instantly, 24/7 through computer monitors, TV’s and the gently glowing screens of the omnipresent smartphones into the fertile minds of consumers who thirst for it. Stop and really appreciate how whole ideas, entire concepts, are transmitted so easily and completely, far and wide. If you don’t think so, consider the emergence of new slang words, fads, sayings, jokes, and other memes that rip through society at the speed of light.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that is fine and ripe for dismissal, but ideas turn into ideologies, and those have consequences. Insanely, bizarrely, the opinions of actors and other celebrities, even the ideas presented in their works, jump the gap from entertainment to legit belief among the rest of America (and much of the world) with frightening ease and rapidity.
That brings us to the broader problem: preppers, prepping, self-sufficiency, even basic prowess at anything approximating a vital skill when lives are on the line, is consistently portrayed in the news and in popular entertainment as fringe-dwelling, cringe-worthy and odd or even dangerous behavior, with very few exceptions.
Again, you may not think that is a problem, but regardless of your thoughts I can guarantee you it is molding the opinions of the viewers who have no other positive models in the category.
A Broad, Yellow Brush
The eternal maxim of any media purveyor is simply “get viewers.” Viewers mean money. Money means broader reach. Broader reach means more viewers, ad nauseum. To get viewers, major peddlers of entertainment and the new propaganda that is packaged as “news” will choose to create or run programming that will captivate the attention of as many people as they can for as long as they can.
The easiest way to do this is by eliciting any one of several negative emotions: anger, disgust, shock, outrage, etc. Wheeling out a target made easy to mock and ridicule is another.
You can think of dozens of examples from just the past 8 hours of media you have viewed, I am sure. Part of this is forgivable, in its own way: without viewers and the money that generates, any creator or would-be news mogul is headed for bankruptcy and the poor house.
With competition for just the passing attention of any given person being so ferocious in our age, you can see why any media type has to pull out all the stops just to hold our gaze. The consequence of this is that any given show, channel, etc. is nothing but a non-stop barrage of salacious, shocking, bizarre and downright slanderous programming masquerading as anything but what it is.
For years now, the majority of “serious” preppers portrayed on any media have been trussed up to appear in negative light: borderline lunatics, awkward, incompetent or just plain unlikeable. Not the kind of people you want in your neighborhood, in other words.
A few instructive shows saw their stars portrayed more or less fairly, but even then shows themselves run the gamut from pretty good portrayals of survival techniques and situations to programs that have more in common with Saturday morning cartoons, no matter who was helming it.
Worse by far were the shows that portrayed “everyday” preppers and their manifold ideas on impending crises and their defenses against a variety of threats.
No matter if the subjects were articulate and socially polished or not, a little (or a lot) of editing and careful staging of the show always gave the impression that these people were just not “right”, or in the case of one well-to-do and well-equipped prepper, incompetent, as his accidental shooting of his own hand was featured prominently in the show.
Others, ones who are preparing for events that are either entirely in the realm of fantasy or so bafflingly, screamingly unlikely to happen that audiences are left to draw only the conclusion that they are probably unwell, are presented as a “normal” or “typical” prepper, making “prepper” a convenient label for utter weirdness.
I have long lived with the aphorism, “Control perception, control reality” in my mind, and the full implications of that truth are on display prominently whenever the media is trying to shape public opinion on a topic.
Even if the people who were featured on the show were as urbane, completely normal and as typically and upstanding American as Bald-Eagle Pie you can rest assured the creators of the show would have stitched together the audio and footage in such a way as to make those people easy to deride or mock.
Forgive me if this sounds like nothing more than the grumblings of a perennial grouch, but I believe the implications are serious: for one, this unfairly paints adherents to the prepping lifestyle, of whom I have many associates, as misfits, rogues or even lunatics, when in actuality the majority are well-adjusted, grounded, family-centric people simply taking total responsibility for their own welfare on all fronts, against all threats.
That is the kind of rugged determinism and responsibility that made our grandparents and great-grandparents so vaunted! That should not be made a subject of mockery.
Second, this slow, steady cultural tar-and-feathering has the effect of generally raising people’s suspicions about people they know (or think they know).
It is not innocent: Pretty soon Tammy thinks Bob may be a dangerous right-wing militia nutjob because he practices rucking with that big pack of his. Tom thinks John may in fact be a burgeoning domestic terrorist because of his lack of faith in the government. And all those guns…
You can see where this is heading. It is all just another thread in the tapestry of societal and cultural corrosion inflicted on us by people who think they are our betters. You may not really care, not one iota, but this battle for public perception will affect you.
By portraying preppers as socially fringe, erratic and even dissentious or dangerous, the media is packaging up that lifestyle as one that is non-desirable.
This label comes with its own shorthand set of traits that the uninitiated can recognize; things like stockpiling food and supplies for “the day” or “the event”, a too-enthusiastic approach to self-defense and pouring over the details and planning for “SHTF” or “The End of the World.” General mistrust of government to provide for every living citizen will be rebuffed into “mistrust of government” and political partisanship.
In short, they make prepping and preppers easy to hate for a certain sector of the populace by issuing a completely unearned stereotype. This is not simply a matter of harmless opinion. In our tense and turbulent era, political brinkmanship and siccing authorities on people you don’t like is the tactic du jour, and even at the least the revelation that you practice self-sufficiency and survival skills will see some people mistrust you from the get go.
You can think through all the consequences this can have for you professionally and socially. In essence, the media has turned anything even remotely resembling prepping beyond keeping a flashlight and spare case of water in the closet for a power outage socially undesirable, a new Scarlet Letter.
I know that were I to cross paths with almost all of you anywhere out in the world I would not be able to pick you out of a crowd based on your lifestyle choice, and I say that’s good: most people are not a walking bundle of clichés, and we all have that one friend who is way, WAY out there when it comes to what they are prepping for. Even so, our over-enthused brothers and sisters tinfoil-hattery is almost always harmless.
Sure, I could make an educated guess on several of you and probably be correct: a manufacturer’s logo, paracord bracelet or feet perpetually shod in lightweight technical hiking boots would tip your hand to the eagle-eyed, but that is a far cry from the machete-toting, camouflage clad fruit-loops who wear it on their sleeves in the middle of town.
No, most of you will be otherwise entirely normal in every respect of your lives save the fact you take your responsibilities to their logical zenith and live accordingly. I don’t think you are weird, or worthy of mockery.
I will wager a princely sum that most of your family, friends and associates don’t either. After all, they have known you for some time and are probably acutely aware of your “why” when it comes to prepping.
I will however bet that if your activities were to pop up in conversation with a stranger that it would, at this point in time, negatively influence their opinion of you. This leaves preppers with a choice: either keep this information completely secret or start practicing a form of apologetics for dealing with the sneers in casual company and side-eyed glances at holidays.
This should not have to be this way, but thanks to the culture drivers in Hollywood and in the media, this is how it is today. The best we can hope for is that any doubting heckler will give you an honest shake because you defy the expectation set against you by the people cranking out the tripe.
The onus is on you even more to “bring people into the fold” if you want to call it that, and extol the virtues of living and leading a life as completely self-sufficient as possible as the moral and civil prerogative it is.
It is easy to simply give up, or not care, but good people and good leaders try to lift up those around them, strengthen them, and show them a better way forward. You cannot, and will not “save” everyone, but those that you do, even if it only gets them to read Prepping 101, will be better citizens, better family members, and will be far less likely to become casualties in a whole host of disastrous scenarios.
The mainstream media has successfully painted prepping, in any capacity, as a cringe-worthy, embarrassing and weird lifestyle choice, one that has been pre-approved as “safe to mock”. This cultural hit-job unfairly prejudices people against those who simply want to be as responsible as they can for their own well-being.
You must now work harder to buck the stereotype you have been unfairly saddled with, but buck up you must: it will be up to you, me and all the rest of us to present preparation as a positive part of our culture, and part of being a responsible and productive citizen.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.
3 thoughts on “How the Mainstream Media Makes Preppers Look Bad”
The terms “mainstream” and “prepper” are an oxymoron, sort of like “government intelligence”. None of us are in the mainstream. Hopefully we can pick a few folks out from the “mainstream” to fit into our circle. We just won’t give them any info until necessary.
A very thought provoking ‘rant’, Charles. As I have stated elsewhere before, I got ‘burned out’ on a lot of the ‘prepping’ stuff, and drifted more towards homesteading. The two are not mutually exclusive, and have a lot in common. That said, when I do discuss ‘prepping’ with folks outside the prepping and homestead circles, I focus on the things that tend to happen with some regularity, locally. Weather events, mostly. And even couched in such simple, relatable terms, it gets looked at sideways a lot of the time. Even talking about FEMA/govt recommendations of having 3 days worth on hand (and citing ‘their’ beloved sources) isn’t enough to make most think twice about doing anything. So with that kind of response, I just don’t even bother ‘pushing the issue’. If there is a glimmer of interest, I let it go, get to know the person a little better, and take it from there. If they are happy just being ready for the next short storm/power outtage, fine. If they want to know more, that’s fine too, and I am happy to provide resources, such as this blog and a few others. I am much more OPSEC oriented than I was in the beginning of my journey, but also tired of the ‘dumb’ looks when you even talk about being prepared for the latest upcoming weather event. I agree with your perception of media events. I will add to that, how the media ‘plays up’ how lone wolf players might also have been into preparedness, and how that adds to the unfavorable perception of ‘prepping’ overall.
I also have to laugh, as soon as I left here, I came across THIS article, about prepping is becoming mainstream!