So today I’m going to tell you all about some pleasures I indulge in that are really and truly embarrassing. This isn’t going to be a post about eating chocolate and watching The Bachelor (I’m so BAD you guys!). This is a post about listening to the Dave Ramsey Show and watching Alaska: The Last Frontier. I know. I know.
First up, the lesser of the two evils:
This a show about a clan of homesteaders who live off the land in Homer, Alaska. Most of the Kilchers live in cabins without modern plumbing or electricity. Each episode is basically people saying over and over again how important it is to provide for yourself and [emphasis theirs] your family with, as the opening song says, “blood, sweat and tears.” The evils of meat purchased in plastic packaging (as opposed to meat that you kill yourself) at the grocery store are invoked on a regular basis. This show is basically Little House on the Prairie with good-looking libertarian hippies. Why is it so appealing to me? Because it is basically Little House on the Prairie with good-looking hippies.*
Next up is possibly the most embarrassing culture I consume:
According to his website, Dave Ramsey “lost everything”** and then got out of debt trouble by working hard and living on “beans and rice” for two years. He produces a lot of media, but my poison of choice is his call-in radio show which is Dave telling people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps over and over again. It is really difficult to acknowledge the reasons I like listening to this show regularly. I tell myself that it’s because he uses “butt” and “rip” as expletives in a way that fires up my nostalgia for all of the Baptist men of my youth.
But the real reason I regularly consume both of these shows is awful: I love escaping into the fantasy that individuals (like me!) have complete control over their own lives. It’s comforting to have someone tell me over and over again that all I have to do to become rich is stick to a barebones budget for a couple of years and pay off every cent of my debt. Work hard, these shows tell me, and I’ll be okay in the end. Delay gratification for a few years, and I’ll be set:
These shows are doing a lot of terrible things on a cultural level. The worst, though, is that they obscure the role of wider communities and/or systems in individuals’ lives. The Kilchers are filmed growing their own produce, butchering their own livestock and clearing land for a new cabin. But of course we never see them filling their ATVs’ gas tanks or buying their Carhartt coveralls.*** Dave talks about how he started with “nothing” and became a millionaire by 26 through his own hard work. He of course fails to mention his wealthy parents and supportive wife. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t even occur to him to talk about his built-in race/gender/health privileges. Really, it’s probably too much to expect a conservative like him to publicly acknowledge any of his myriad privileges.**** However, I do think it’s irresponsible and downright cruel to tell literally millions of poor people that the only thing keeping them from being rich is themselves. Okay, I’ve talked myself into un-subscribing again. But I’m keeping my Alaska episodes.
Do y’all have a taste for evil culture?
*It’s worth mentioning that while looking for clips, I was for some time distracted by another, potentially worse guilty pleasure:
**The rich white dude version of losing everything, which is getting into massive amounts of debt in real estate holdings.
***To be fair, though, they often talk about bartering with neighbors and many of the episodes feature the three families helping one another out. Also, they do a lot of Depression-era-style recycling. This makes it okay that I have purchased not one, but two season passes, right?
****He could actually have acknowledged this stuff by talking about his “blessings.” Are “blessings” the conservative’s version of privileges?