Is “Doomsday Preppers” prepping us for the doomsday?


If you haven’t seen National Geographic’s series “Doomsday Preppers” yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a reality show that profiles the lifestyles of the “prepper” community, highlighting the preparations being made by individuals who are convinced that an apocalyptic scenario is on the verge of breaking out across America. The tone of the show is stark, with a typical promo going like this: “An economic collapse could mean total chaos for the U.S. – looting, riots and civil unrest are top concerns.”

The preppers highlighted on the show tend to have divergent views over what exactly might precipitate the impending collapse of society, but most seem to believe that it will be the result of a financial meltdown, hyperinflation and/or the rapid decline of the dollar. Many point to the unrest in the Middle East as an example of what is probably coming soon to the United States, without specifying exactly how that situation will make the intercontinental leap. Some worry that it could be an environmental disaster that leads to the looming catastrophe, but climate change is rarely cited as a likely factor. While they might disagree on what precisely will lead to the end of civilization as we know it, all the preppers are in agreement that this collapse is coming and coming soon.

There also seems to be an unspoken agreement among all the preppers highlighted on the show that there is nothing that can be done to change the path that we’re on, or to alter the government’s fiscal policies that will eventually crash the economy. The tacit acknowledgment is that democracy is broken and rather than attempting to organize for change, a wise person is better off stocking up on food, water, and other basic necessities for when it all comes crashing down. All preppers seem to also agree that a key component of being “prepared” for the impending doom is to arm yourself to the teeth with an arsenal of guns and ammunition. The weapons are necessary, preppers believe, to defend themselves from their neighbors who will naturally try to steal their food and water supply when society collapses.

While most National Geographic viewers probably see the series as “just a show” with little substance behind it, there is another possibility – that someone in a position of authority has decided to popularize the notion that societal collapse is coming soon and that mass chaos will ensue. What’s perhaps most striking about the show is that the entire focus is placed on how individual people, and in some cases their immediate families, are getting ready for what is seen as inevitable: the utter collapse of society and with it, any semblance of moral order. There is no room for the possibility that people could in fact provide each other mutual aid in a crisis situation or even develop community-based alternatives to the current socio-economic system — the assumption is that human nature is rotten to the core and if you can’t defend yourself, then you will likely perish in a doomsday scenario. It’s a highly Darwinian and Hobbesian worldview based on a survival-of-the-fittest assumption about society at large.

Perhaps it would be naïve to think that in a crisis people would band together for the common good, but what’s remarkable about the show is that even though the preppers disagree about what exactly will cause the collapse, they are in total agreement that when the shit hits the fan, entire communities will implode and their neighbors will suddenly turn into mindless looters and killers. Neighbors are seen not as potential allies in a crisis situation, but as likely enemies, hence the need to stock up on guns and ammo.

Maybe the preppers are right; maybe it is best to assume the worst about people and take steps to provide for and protect oneself and one’s family from the marauding hordes of the apocalypse. It is interesting though that not a single person on the show ever talks about how we might as a society bring ourselves back from the precipice at which we find ourselves, or failing to do so, how we might come together as a people to face the upcoming challenges after the inevitable collapse.

The preppers not only have no faith in democratic governance or in their own countrymen, they also lack faith in themselves to do anything to prevent the collapse that is rapidly approaching. Meekly acknowledging their powerlessness in the face of unaccountable economic and political power, the preppers find some degree of power (or at least solace) in their ability to stock up on food, guns and ammo. And for some reason, an executive producer has decided that this is the sort of entertainment that they want to provide at National Geographic.

While the National Geographic brand has long been well known – and widely respected – for its factual and scientific broadcasting and publishing, it’s worth noting that the National Geographic company is now only a minority partner in the TV channel Nat Geo. It is actually News Corp (the owner of the right-wing propaganda network Fox News) that owns a majority stake (52.5%) of Nat Geo. Is it any surprise that the same company that employs the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would be pushing a show that reinforces feelings of political powerlessness, sows the seeds of paranoia and isolation, and promotes the idea of gun ownership as the only defense against a global economic juggernaut that is about to wreak havoc across the country?

Put another way, could you imagine News Corp/Fox News/Nat Geo promoting an alternative approach to dealing with these problems that involves political empowerment, citizen engagement and community organizing? Instead of “Doomsday Preppers,” how about a show called “Community Organizers” or “Agents of Change,” programs that would promote practical and pragmatic activism rather than isolation and paranoia?

A reality show that traces the hard work of community organizers and the challenges they face on a daily basis, highlighting both their victories and defeats, could be just as entertaining as a reality show that profiles gun-toting hoarders living in bunkers, but unfortunately the show about activism would probably be a non-starter with the News Corp execs.

Considering all this, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that there is indeed a political motive behind the show “Doomsday Preppers.” It seems that the viewers are the ones actually being prepped, being told in no uncertain terms that hard times are coming and being indoctrinated that human nature is essentially evil. There’s nothing you can do about it, the show’s producers seem to be saying, so you might as well stock up and arm yourselves for life after the apocalypse.

Or then again, maybe it’s “just a show.”


  1. Nice job Nat. I had no idea News Corp owned the majority of Nat Geo. Makes sense now 😉

    1. Thanks Carrie. I actually didn’t know that either, until I looked it up today. Then I was like, ah okay, that makes sense.

  2. Typical of you, Nat: well contemplated, well written and well researched. I too had no idea that News Corp owned the majority of NatGeo. Golly, is nothing sacred?! Why did National Geographic sell out to News Corp? And, I agree: A reality TV series about people who are on the front lines of trying to make a difference could be fascinating.

  3. Hello Nat:

    Nice article, even though I haven’t verified (as of this writing) that News Corp. owns the majority state in Nat. Geo. However, if you had discovered that Colt or Smith & Wesson owned a stake in National Geographic, I might have been willing to climb out on that conspiracy-theory limb with you. That aside (conspiracy theories aren’t my thing), some of your observations of Doomsday Preppers are certainly within the ball park and pass the red-face test for sure.

    Before I pose any of my counter-points for consideration, please allow me to introduce myself and my credentials for entering into and commenting on these important considerations. I recently authored an article for the award-winning publication, ‘Emergency Managers Mag’ which caters to FEMA, DHS and EMS readers among others, all of whom are well-studied and experienced in disaster preparedness; to wit:

    As you will notice if you review the list of regular bloggers at Emerg. Managers Mag., most of them have advanced degrees in their respective fields of study.

    By and large, my article was well received by both sides of the issues related to ‘Preppers’. And even with my depth of experience and background in disaster preparedness and survival, many of their readers likely have me out classed:

    I have researched and authored more than 60 articles in the field of disaster preparedness and related subjects, not to mention my book, ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press), which is being released in about a week:

    So, with that said, here’s the thing: Have you even been overseas and seen a crowd of starving people attacking a food aid truck, that is there to distribute the food to them? Have you witnessed the chaos, violence (rapes, assaults, thefts) that occurred immediately after Katina swept through New Orleans (even some police officers were caught looting)? Have you ever watched as well-fed people literally trample (to death in some cases) and injure others simply to get a deal on some new tennis shoes, or a new game at WalMart? Have you ever read ‘In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex’ (Nathaniel Philbrick)? You must have at least read about the incidents at Donner Pass?

    The reason I am conjuring these true events to mind is that they demonstrate how ‘un-civilized’ human beings act when they get more or less desperate. So in your thesis, are you suggesting with your comments that you are more moral or disciplined than other people? Or that in general, neighborhoods will act in a contrary manner to the evidence of historical human nature? Are you suggesting that most people will be able to overcome and control their primeval instincts for survival? Ever try to rescue a drowning man? Many rescuers have been drowned by the very victims they are trying to save! That’s the result of the survival instinct that takes full control over the higher thought processes, which might suggest cooperation with the rescuer.

    The problem is many of us won’t know how we’ll react until a real crises strikes and we are tested by the ensuing chaos, which by the way, DHS and the National Guard train for regularly (are they idiots wasting their time? I doubt it!). It’s easy to form some ivory-tower ideas of an ideal response by large crowds of people and communities in a serious continent scale disaster, such as an EMP event, or severe geomagnetic storm. . However, the historical data generally demonstrates that such ivory-tower notions are far too optimistic.

    It should be duly note that Europe and Canada have already spent many hundreds of millions of dollars hardening their electrical grids and related infrastructures against such man-caused and natural events. While over the course of the past ten years, the U.S. has spent its time dithering over a Report by a commission of leading experts that were appointed by the U.S. Congress (bi-partisan). Here are two such reports, which are beyond reproach:

    Even with a rudimentary understanding of science, these reports make it abundantly clear that we are facing a very serious and eminent threat to our society.

    So, with this very brief analysis as the backdrop for taking a perspective on Preppers and their disaster preparedness measures in relation to the premise of the show Doomsday Preppers, their actions do not seem illogical or unwarranted, as long as such actions are measured and proportionate to the risks.

    I fully agree that some of the methodologies that are being employed and depicted in the show range from the obtuse to the actionable to the viewership of Doomsday Preppers. Of course there are other considerations as well, which can take pages to discuss.

    Here’s the thing; I appeared on Doomsday Preppers (season 2, episode 15) and was awarded National Geographic’ title of ‘Best Prepper’ after earning the highest score in the history of the show, and so, some might think I am a bit biased. However, if you read my recent observational review of Nat. Geo’s latest show, ‘Doomsday Castle’, you’ll wonder if I am that same person… I can assure you, I am. Here’s that review:

    Cheers! Capt. Bill

    Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM
    Semper Veritas / Semper Paratus

    1. Thanks Capt. Bill for those well-reasoned counterpoints. I’ll grant you that people tend to lose it in crisis situations, as we have seen time and time again, including as you point out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I would add though that when it came to New Orleans, at least, the media tended to hype up images of “looting,” which essentially amounted to people gathering food and supplies, while downplaying or ignoring examples of people helping each other, which happened quite a lot.

      Did you ever hear of the organization called Common Ground that was established in the immediate aftermath of Katrina? It’s motto is “Solidarity not Charity” and it has been highly effective in rebuilding that devastated community. From the organization’s “About Us” page:

      “Common Ground Relief rose out of the immediate crisis created by Hurricane Katrina when tens of thousands of residents lost their homes, their possessions and their way of life. … Through Common Ground Relief, we have provided a vehicle for nearly 45,000 people of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer in the recovery of the area. We have gutted over 3,000 homes, provided for the basic needs of thousands of New Orleans residents and founded a, now independent, health clinic and women’s shelter. We meet the residents who need help in rebuilding their flood damaged homes and offer assistance for new construction at our Anita Roddick Advocacy Center.”

      A similar organization, Occupy Sandy, was established in New York and New Jersey following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

      So, my point is, while mindless panicking and mass hysteria might be part of human nature, so too is banding together and providing one another mutual support.

      I actual admire many of the preppers featured on “Doomsday Preppers” and do see the logic in maintaining some degree of preparedness for whatever situation may arise. It’s not good to be utterly dependent on being able to go to the grocery store every day to buy your essentials, which may not be available some day, whether it’s due to economic collapse or an environmental catastrophe.

      However, my problem with the Nat Geo program is that for one thing, it assumes that there is nothing we can do to change the path we are on, fatalistically presenting the possibility of economic (and societal) collapse as an inevitability, and secondly, it downplays the importance of community building as part of the “prepper” lifestyle. Everyone I’ve seen on that show has an arsenal of weapons that they maintain because they assume that their neighbors will attempt to raid their home in the event of a disaster, but no one on the show ever seems to indicate that they have done anything to reach out to those neighbors. If these people are so convinced that we are on the precipice of a complete implosion of society, wouldn’t it make sense to take some steps to build community ties?

      I don’t know, that’s just how I feel about it. That show bothers me and really makes me wonder if there is an underlying political message being sent by the show’s producers.

  4. […] Is “Doomsday Preppers” prepping us for the doomsday? ( (EXCELLENT comments section in this one!) […]

  5. I agree with Capt. Bill. All you have to do is look at human behavior in times of disaster to see that as much as we may all wish we’d just hold hands and take care of one another, it’s just not going to happen.

    When their children are starving to death, people will do what they have to to save them, and that includes attacking people they know may have food.

    And you’re wrong that there aren’t people on the show who are trying to get communities aware, and helping one another. I just watched an episode last night about a woman who is trying to help her community by getting prepared, learning self defense (YES, you should learn this, disaster or not, because even right now, with no disaster, there are attacks, robberies and murders every day), she held a dinner for about 30 – 40 people in her community using shelf sustainable food, to show them that the food doesn’t have to be unpalatable just because it’s shelf sustainable. I believe next week’s show is about a woman preparing to ‘help as many people as we can’. People WANT to help others help themselves, but they know that there are those who would rather take advantage of someone else’s hard work than to do any themselves. Bullies have always existed, and chaos brings out the best AND the worst in humanity.

    Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, TEACH him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.

    Preppers already ARE helping others, by telling them to GET PREPARED, but everyone simply laughs at them. They’re offering help every day; online, on tv, everywhere. If you choose not to accept help now, don’t expect it to be offered later.

    But that’s just my two cent’s worth. 🙂 Great article for discussion! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hello KraftedKhaos:

      I am an ‘old dude’ according to my 30-year old kids… but being ‘old’ isn’t all that bad.. if you’re paying attention as you go through life, you can learn a lot. One important lesson that I have learned is that; being strong (in every way; physically, mentally, emotionally, supplies, equipment, skills, etc.) allows you the ‘option’ to help others. If you’re weak, then you will be unable to render effective help in any situation, and that ‘option’ may not exist. I have a new book in the works that I am hoping with add many new insights into the priorities of prepping. something that is sorely missed by too many experts. The single most important first step is the adoption of a survival strategy that totally stacks the deck in your favor. Too many ‘experts’ are supplying what amounts to nothing more than a ‘work-around’ survival strategy, that is so defective as a function of inherent risks, you have to start-out buying guns and ammo just to have a shot (maybe) of a little extra time. I deal with some of this information in my current book, The Nautical Prepper (Ulysses Press – Amazon). I am still working with publishers on my new book, which I hope will be out sometime spring of 2014.

      Cheers! Capt. Bill

      Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM
      Twitter: @NauticalPrepper

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