Accepted Paper:

The simple life: house building, barter, and self-support in the reality show "Alaskan Bush People"  


Daniel Klug (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

The reality show Alaskan Bush People documents a family surviving apart from civilization through thrift, barter, and hunting. This paper analyses how these aspects are presented and staged as social key values for a simple life but good life within reality TV entertainment.

Paper long abstract:

Nature adventure reality shows focus on people who by choice live in the outback under rough conditions and with only little modern technology. Such shows address social and cultural values of possession, consumption, self-support, and solidarity. Based on reality TV's "claim to the real" (Holmes/Jermyn 2005), they document living in and with nature and challenge the understanding of common standards of the good life.

This presentation uses the example of Alaskan Bush People (2014-), a show about a family surviving without money, electricity or a permanent home in the Alaskan wilderness. The show is aired on Discovery Channel in its fourth season with 47 episodes up-to-date. It is mostly filmed in the outback of Chichagof Island, Alaska, and uses documentary-style reality TV narratives and aesthetics, such as interview statements, dramatizing music, or hand camera shots. In this context, I will analyze the presentation and the staging of the show's recurring themes of thrift, barter, self-support, and home improvement skills regarding the family's struggle to build a suitable home with whatever they can find and afford. In contrast to their rough lifestyle all family members emphasize their freedom, independence, solidarity, and being at one with nature as advantages of living in the wild.

Overall, Alaskan Bush People deals with traditional social and cultural values of Western societies by presenting a more basic, 'wilder', and less materialistic life. However, the subtle themes of idealism and escapism are highly criticized due to the show's questionable reality status.

Panel Sui02
Thrift and dwelling: popular media representations of 'appropriate' ways of being in the world